Pragyan Ojha’s five-wicket haul outsmarted the English batsmen in the first innings and bundled them out for 191. It was a magnificent display of bowling as he relied on flight to create doubts in the batsmen’s minds. While Ravichandran Ashwin was said to be India’s trump card considering his unorthodox variety, Ojha’s art may have been underestimated a touch in the lead-up to the series. However, England’s recent history in Asia would suggest that the orthodox left-arm spinners have been their nemesis.
Talk about England’s weakness against spin started when Saeed Ajmal spun a web around them in the Middle East early this year. The then No 1 side slipped to an ignominious 0-3 defeat and certainly played well below expectations. Ajmal is perhaps the most deceptive spinner in world cricket today as his variations haven’t been picked by the best in business. His 24 wickets in the series were instrumental in Pakistan’s famous victory and would have given the England batsmen a number of nightmares during that tour.
Through all that, one generally tends to forget the contribution of Abdur Rehman – the Pakistani left-arm spinner. With his 19 wickets in the series, he wasn’t far behind Ajmal. However, the unique style of Ajmal brought him the limelight and pushed the more orthodox Rehman in the background. It was Rehman who delivered the series-winning spell in the second Test at Abu Dhabi. Pakistan were defending only 145 in the fourth innings and Rehman scalped six wickets to bowl England out for 72.
A month or two down the line, England travelled to Sri Lanka to exorcise the ghosts of their Middle East sojourn. The interesting thing is that the Lankan’s were without the typical unorthodox element in their spin bowling department. They fielded the classical left-arm spinner in Rangana Herath and the off-spinner Suraj Randiv. Herath was England’s wrecker-in-chief as he took 19 wickets in the two Tests. The series was drawn 1-1, but Herath made his mark in both the Tests, particularly in the first where he picked 12 wickets to win the game for Sri Lanka.
Graeme Swann, England’s off-spinner said in the lead-up to the series that India doesn’t have a mystery spinner like Ajmal. Ashwin has his own variations, but isn’t as deceptive as Ajmal. However, the mysterious element isn’t imperative to trouble England in sub-continental conditions. Left-arm spin may be the way forward for India and they must back Ojha through the series to deliver the goods. Rehman and Herath proved that early this year and Ojha did the same in the first innings at Ahmedabad.
Ojha’s flight is undoubtedly his biggest strength and he gives it air and a good loop. The wicket of Kevin Pietersen was the pick amongst all his wickets. The flamboyant England batsman doesn’t enjoy playing left-arm spinners and he was left in two minds while negotiating a well-flighted delivery on the middle. As one of the commentators pointed out, the dismissal of Matt Prior would have also given Ojha tremendous satisfaction as he deceived him in the air and hit the stumps even as the batsman made room.
The English batsmen have done well in the second innings as they have negotiated the spinners. It is now up to Ashwin and Ojha to capitalise on their gains in the first innings and convert the advantage into victory. A resilient fight from the Englishmen has made this an interesting Test. England aren’t out of the contest yet.
(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)