It is still in the early stages of the Test series. It is 1-1 after two Tests. But India’s defeat at Mumbai has triggered postmortems. The reasons for India’s loss at the hands of England in the second Test have raised numerous questions. However, it is too early to make judgments on the home team.
It is a bitter pill to swallow particularly after India’s nine-wicket win at Ahmedabad in the first Test. India were on top then and swords were out on this same English team. Doubts were there whether they can play spin or not. But it was a turnaround of fortunes as England turned the tables in Mumbai. It is the other way around now. Now, people are asking whether Indian batsmen are capable of playing the spin or England’s spinners are better than us.
If one analyses what went right for India at Ahmedabad and what wrong at Mumbai, it is the pitch that was the key for England’s success and failure for the home team. While the Motera wicket was a slow turner where the ball kept low, the Wankhede pitch had the bounce and turn. Turning wickets can also vary. It would not be the same at Eden Gardens or Nagpur. There are few wickets in India that have bounce and turn like Mumbai.
Since the nineties, Indian cricketers are more accustomed to playing on low and slow wickets. “These type of wickets does not help cricketers in any way, neither the batsmen learn to play and improve their technique nor the bowlers get to learn the art of bowling on bouncy tracks. But against the visiting teams, it is advantage to the Indian batsmen and bowlers. There is not much of back foot play and the home team batsman play more freely. The same is the case with spinners where there is every chance of LBW decisions,” said SL Venkatapathy Raju.
Raju said it is a different ball game on the bouncy wickets of Mumbai, where the batsman has to adjust his technique, playing both on the back and front foot. “For the spinners, the length is the key,” he said.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha benefitted from Ahmedabad wicket as the ball kept low. Of course England made a blunder by omitting Monty Panesar for the first Test. The left-arm spinner relished the Mumbai wicket for the simple reason that there was bounce and turn. Bowling with good speed, Panesar, who has strong arms, long fingers and who is full of energy, probed the Indian batsmen with tantalising line and length. It needed tight defence and solid technique to play Panesar. It requires lot of skills also and batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly could prosper.
As Indian skipper MS Dhoni said Panesar and Swann put a lot of pressure on the Indian batsmen with their speed, guile and flight. On the other hand, Ojha, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh were slightly on the shorter side and much slower off the air. Alastair Cook and K Pietersen could play them comfortably as they were waiting on the back-foot for the ball to turn and were able to play. However, one fails to understand why Dhoni did not utilise Zaheer Khan’s reverse swing. He bowled only 15 overs in the whole match. Dhoni might have missed the injured Umesh Yadav, who with his fast reverse swing, provided the crucial breakthroughs.
Finally, any Test-match win is based on one or two big partnerships. India had three, between Virender Sehwag & Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag & Cheteshwar Pujara and Pujara & Yuvraj Singh. Interestingly, whenever Sehwag fires, India always benefits from his blazing starts. At Mumbai, Sehwag failed. The top order batsmen also flopped, except for Pujara. There was one partnership between Pujara and Ashwin. It hurt India badly.
But for England, Cook, who scored his second successive century, and Pietersen, who according to many played one of the best knocks, took the game away from the Indians. That partnership was a game-changing one. It sealed the match in favour of the visitors before Panesar and Swann nailed the final coffin.
The win made England regain their confidence. It is back to basics for India now. It is advantage England ahead of the Kolkata Test.