Zaheer Khan (left) hasn’t looked the threatening bowler he was and hasn’t been as quick as one would like © PTI
In one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent times, an inspired English team is challenging the might of India in their own backyard. Some opined the Englishmen could not play spin, others were pointing at their poor record in India in the pre-tour analysis. But Alastair Cook has led the way in transforming the fortunes of his side. The job isn’t done yet, but quite clearly nobody will doubt at this point if they go on to win the series – one of the most difficult jobs for a national cricket team touring any country.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has copious problems. His players haven’t backed his decisions with performances and the fortress at home looks vulnerable to attacks. The batsmen aren’t getting the runs even after he has won the toss. The spinners haven’t used the conditions and failed to justify his demands for helpful surfaces. One can say that India have failed as a unit in the last two Tests and it isn’t a particular department that can shoulder the blame on its own.
As discussed in the previous article, India’s batsmen are failing to build on their starts and that has been their undoing. In this article, the focus would be on the bowling – a department that hasn’t always been India’s strength, but can be a force to reckon with in home conditions. In the ongoing series, Pragyan Ojha has been the only one who has done well – albeit with little or no support. Zaheer Khan and Ravichandran Ashwin are finding it difficult to pick wickets and that is hurting India big time.
Zaheer’s struggle has been prolonged as his form has plummeted for quite some time. Although India is known as the land of spinning surfaces, Zaheer has made vital contributions in a number of victories at home. He would provide the breakthroughs early on. But, his role with the older ball was even more important as reverse swing would come into play.
With the overemphasis on spin, Zaheer may not have had much to do in this series. However, he hasn’t looked the threatening bowler he was and hasn’t been as quick as one would like. There have been occasions when he has bowled a few good spells, but the consistency is missing. The dropped catch off his bowling – that too of Cook – is proving to be very costly and Zaheer might wonder what might have been.
In the first Test, Umesh Yadav was a part of the eleven and that added some spice to the contest. With his pace, he was troubling a few batsmen as it added a different dimension to the attack. Harbhajan Singh replaced him in the line-up for the Mumbai Test – which looked a bizarre move. The off-spinner hadn’t done enough in First-Class cricket to make it into the Test squad, let alone the eleven. The fact that he was under-bowled when compared to Ashwin and Ojha reflects the confidence the captain had in him.
Ashwin’s struggle has been surprising as he was built up as India’s surprise weapon for the series. England struggled against Saeed Ajmal early this year and some felt that Ashwin may have a similar effect. Ashwin is no Ajmal, but certainly has enough deception – something that has been missing. With his variations and a number of unorthodox methods, he could have spun a web around England.
In the first innings at Ahmedabad, Ashwin was effective as he broke the back of the top-order. Since then, everything has gone downhill for him and he hasn’t looked effective. Prior to this series, Ashwin boasted of a fantastic record at home – which has taken a beating in the last few innings.
In contrast, the orthodox and classy Ojha has looked more effective. He hasn’t backed away from giving the ball air and has been rewarded for his courage. Unfortunately, he ran into an in-form and aggressive Kevin Pietersen at Mumbai. Cook has looked to sweep Ojha a number of times and has been successful. The left-arm spinner must find a way to get past that shot and perhaps dismiss the England captain.
India mustn’t lose hope despite the overwhelming task ahead of them. The Eden Gardens has seen them script remarkable comebacks and that should give them some confidence. Who can forget the game against Australia in 2001 when an Indian defeat seemed to be the only possible result? Fast-forward to 2010, India bowled South Africa out for 296 in the first innings after the tourists were 218 for one at a point in time. India went on to win that Test match as well.
On both the occasions described above, the hosts were 0-1 down in the series and pulled things back to level matters. This time around, the series is tied 1-1 and both teams are pushing for the advantage.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)