When England came into this tour from Bangladesh, having found it increasingly difficult to deal with Mehdi Hasan Miraz’s conventional off spin, they were written off by their own press, their players admitted that it would be an uphill task against India’s rampant, in-form spin trio, and in general, there was a feeling of being under-cooked for such a big series.
After winning the toss at Rajkot, piling up runs on the board and giving India a scare on Day 5, it felt like those odds were getting shorter going into the second Test. However, with the scheduling resembling Ravindra Jadeja’s overs – quick and unforgiving with no time to reflect – England’s performance has only gone downhill, with the Bangladesh nightmare rearing its head up once again.
Let’s get this straight – there have been no minefields in the series so far. Not yet, at least. It is the fear of the devil rather than the devil itself – see Alastair Cook’s dismissal in the second innings in Mohali – which has meant every other batsman playing for vicious turn when drift and revs are all there has been to contend with. Yes, there has been uneven bounce – England were beneficiaries in Rajkot themselves – but it is hard to think why batsmen of their class would lose the mental battle repeatedly against discipline, leaving no need for a hint of genius.
Without going into details, the differentiating factor between the two sides has been that clichéd trait – consistency. India’s spinners have had the precision of an atom gun pinging a set target, knowing fully well that it is only a matter of time before a nuclear reaction ensues. According to CricViz, throughout the last two Tests, they have landed more balls within that uncertain, do-I-push-or-step-back zone between 3m and 6m from the stumps, targeting the stumps at least 15 percent more often than their English counterparts, while generating greater drift on the ball. None of these are influenced by the pitch directly, and it just goes to show how mental strength and superior consistency could be the difference on sporting wickets.
All of this brings us to the composition of the spin attack itself, or as Michael Atherton chose to put it on air – India’s “three all-rounders”. It sounds odd to hear that, considering India have found it hard to find one of Test quality all these years. While it’s all unravelling rather too quickly at the moment, it is not a stretch to say that Ravichandran Ashwin has only grown in ability and confidence throughout this year. From playing crucial innings in the West Indies, to upping his consistency during the home season, his batting form bodes well for the future, irrespective of the conditions. He might not bat at 6 on pacy Antipodean wickets or overcast English conditions, but it is a bonus for any side to have someone batting with assurance at that stage of the innings.
Despite promising signs through these two home series, Ravindra Jadeja’s press conference on Monday sent out as much of a message as his batting did, telling us not to get too excited by his exploits. While explaining why he chose to hit out at 90 instead of getting to a maiden Test hundred, he admitted to being “bored by England’s tactics”. Quick runs are surely up his street, but a long-term all-rounder’s role might not be.
The revelation this series, though, has been Jayant Yadav, who has taken to the game’s longest format as if it were second nature to him. Ashwin himself acknowledged at the end of the game in Vizag, that Jayant bowled and batted on his debut like he was a veteran of tens of Tests. Coming in to bat twice now with India yet to wrest control, he has hunkered down, batted with discipline and taken them to positions of strength by the end of the innings. His fifty on Monday was no surprise, considering he averages nearly 45 in First Class cricket, with seven fifty-plus scores, including a double hundred.
At this point, it all sounds a bit too good to be true, with three men going about their day jobs with precision and guile, while also rescuing their side with the bat. England are among the most successful touring sides in the subcontinent over the past decade, and these performances should give them a lot of heart.
Wickets might not come easy with change of pace and discipline alone at all times, but this tour has also banished that often unfair accusation – that India benefit from dustbowls at home. This has been simple, percentage Test cricket, and while Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara’s runs sure have contributed a great deal, they would be happy to admit that it is their spin trio that has been the difference in more ways than one, going beyond their brief to put India 2-0 up in this series.