Moeen Ali picked the key wickets of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in the first innings of the Southampton Test © Getty Images
Moeen Ali picked the key wickets of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in the first innings of the Southampton Test © Getty Images

The Indian batsmen wouldn’t have taken Moeen Ali too seriously and have put in all their energies in focusing on the pacemen. After all, why should they have worried about a part-time off-spinner, when they play that breed very well. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about Moeen’s bowling performance and looks back at some of the part-time spinner’s performances against India in the recent past.

 

There was one passage of play in the afternoon session that signifies India’s struggle at Southampton. Against the spin of Moeen Ali, two talented young batsmen fell to their temptation of clearing the boundary, leaving India in a further middle. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane had played well and fought hard to construct a stand. But, Rohit tried to smash one down the ground and offered a catch and Rahane got a bottom edge off a half-tracker.

Though Moeen is the only spinner in the side, he isn’t exactly a frontline bowler. He is a part-timer, who gives it everything in his bowling. There are those lose deliveries, which are often put away — the odd one produces a wicket like that of Rahane. But, a part-timer often invokes those temptations. Batsmen, believe that they can take a few more liberties with them and perhaps milk a few runs to break the shackles. It does work quite a few times, but it can also go horribly wrong.

When it comes to Indian batsmen, part-time spinners are their targets. Having been born and bred on surfaces that aid turn, the Indian batsmen can read the turn on the toughest of surfaces. On unhelpful pitches, it is a cakewalk to pick them. That is perhaps what Rohit may have thought. He had already stepped out and lofted Moeen for a four once and then rocked back to pull one over mid-wicket. At times, there were a sign in his trigger movements; he was waiting for that chance to step out and smash another down the ground.

But, when such shots don’t come off it looks ugly. Particularly, when it has to do with a player like Rohit, who has that typical lazy elegance, it looks as if he has thrown it away. Even Rahane’s dismissal looked like that as he tried an aggressive shot, off a ball that was meant to be hit, instead he got the edge. Alastair Cook’s gamble of persisting with Moeen paid off.

Captains have to be smart using the part-timers. In one-day cricket, they are often brought in to get a couple of wickets, tempting the batsmen to take chances. When it comes to Test cricket, similar tactics may apply when the opposition fancies a certain style. Indian’s love facing spin; so why not invite them out of their shell by giving them a cake?

In the last decade, Michael Clarke has been an effective part-timer against India, having picked 14 wickets. He has mainly two spells of note. On a minefield at Mumbai in 2004, he recorded astonishing figures of six for nine. When Nathan Hauritz was being played with relative ease, Ricky Ponting unleashed his trump-card. Then he bowled that superb spell at Sydney in 2008, where he mainly snared tailenders.

 

 

One can name numerous occasions when part-time spinners have bowled against India and taken crucial wickets in the new millennium. Sachin Tendulkar was bowled by a beauty from Michael Vaughan when he was in the 90s at Nottingham in 2002. Imran Farhat bowled Rahul Dravid on 270 in 2004 when the batsman tried to reverse sweep. Simon Katich had Virender Sehwag caught in the deep when he tried to clear the ground on 195 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2003. Marlon Samuels gave India numerous problems as they tried to chase down a target on the final day at Mumbai in 2011. And finally, Narsingh Deonarine ended Tendulkar’s Test career with his innocuous off-spin last year. One can go on.

Such things happen from time to time. But, when a unit keeps making errors against a part-timer, it doesn’t speak to well about them. Moeen is now the most successful part-time spinner against India since 2002 (India’s last tour to England). Though Clarke has five more wickets than him, Moeen has taken his nine in only three games compared to Clarke’s 21.

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(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)