India in England 2014 August 31, 2014

England need disruptive strategy to counter spin

Alastair Cook needs an out-of-the-box plan that veers India from the set pieces. One of those plans could be an early Powerplay

England have struggled to work the spinners for singles to break the stranglehold © Getty Images

India have won two ODIs impressively and comprehensively - two more than they did on their last two tours outside Asia - but MS Dhoni has pointed out on both occasions that he wants more from his bowlers. There was nothing in the South African and New Zealand pitches for Dhoni's spinners, which is a stark difference in the series so far, but it hasn't missed Dhoni's attention that England have been 53 for 0 after 10 overs and 75 for 0 after 17 in the two ODIs played so far.

It shouldn't miss England's attention either. They have thrown away two really good starts, kind of starts big hitters such as Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler should thrive on. It would not be unfair to say, though, that they haven't as much thrown them away as they have been snatched away from them. Both the slides featured a chokehold from the spinners, which resulted in silly shots. Not hitting a boundary between the 18th and the 34th over is damning, but more worrisome is the 40 dot balls between boundaries. It is a skill to work the spinners around into the gaps, but so far apart from Ian Bell no England batsman has suggested he can.

It is clear England are struggling against spin, and that can play tricks with your mind even when the ball is not turning. India will keep surrounding their batsmen with spinners: they have two full-time spinners, a pretty handy part-timer and at least one more to roll his arm over. They will keep rushing through their overs, time will keep running out even before England realise, and India will be hard to beat. Dhoni is as good as any with this kind of captaincy.

"We didn't play the spin very well," Alastair Cook said after Trent Bridge. "Obviously, we didn't in Cardiff either. But they bowled well, and did turn it. Ashwin and Jadeja are very good at one-day cricket spin bowling. We had a few soft dismissals, and a few good balls as well. Every time you tried to build a partnership, you lost wickets, and that obviously keeps holding you back if you want to play aggressively. I think we [just] need to start playing better. I don't think it's so much the strategy of it. There are some good players there, who are not showing it."

England might have good batsmen, but they will struggle against Dhoni and India as long as they don't find batsmen who can milk the spinners for 80-90 runs for 20 overs without losing more than two wickets. It involves use of the feet and wrists to manoeuvre the ball either side of that short straight midwicket and cover. You can't develop that skill overnight. England might need a quick fix. Cook might be right that overall strategy is not at fault, but they need an out-of-the-box plan that veers India from these set pieces. One of those plans could be the early Powerplay.

Dhoni likes to get rid of a few quick overs from Suresh Raina somewhere between the 15th and 20th over. It is also the time the England batsman are just coming to terms with spin. If they ask for the Powerplay then, England are basically asking Dhoni if he wants to risk continuing with Raina or bring back his quicks.

Ever since it was introduced, the Powerplay has seldom been used before it becomes mandatory. Teams have found out it interferes with the flow of their innings, and they want it to arrive just before they are about to tee off in the last 10 overs. It is also like playing with fire; you can lose wickets while feeling obliged to go for runs in the Powerplay, which can leave you in rebuilding phase once it ends. Whereas if you take it in the 36th over, as is compulsory if not called for earlier, you have only 10 overs to go. You don't need to rebuild during that phase. This fear of losing wickets has kept teams from maximising the possibilities: around 36th over, you are going to begin hitting out at any rate, why not get yourself five more overs of field restrictions somewhere in the middle?

The risk factor, however, often tips the scales in favour of convention. In England's case here, though, there is a larger tactical use of the Powerplay. Dhoni likes to get rid of a few quick overs from Suresh Raina somewhere between the 15th and 20th over. It is also the time the England batsman are just coming to terms with spin. If they ask for the Powerplay then, England are basically asking Dhoni if he wants to risk continuing with Raina or bring back his quicks. It will not only delay the introduction of spin at both ends, but will also force Dhoni to use his lesser spinners in overs he doesn't want to. It also means a longer early spell for at least one of India's quicks, assuming Dhoni trusts R Ashwin to continue bowling into a Powerplay.

South Africa did something similar in the 30th over in Johannesburg late last year when they forced Dhoni to split Jadeja and Raina, and had Mohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami coming back earlier than they would have wanted. They eventually got 34 for 2 from the Powerplay, but they had upset India's plans and had set themselves up for a prolonged slog in the end. South Africa's call came more from supreme confidence in their own game rather than fear of spin, but even here an early call for the Powerplay will set up a new and interesting set-piece.

When asked after Trent Bridge if he had given any thought to calling for an early Powerplay, Cook didn't say much, except that yes it had been a thought, but India had the fields up anyway. That's different, though. With that field up, India have the option of sitting back if one boundary is struck. Not in a Powerplay. Cook ended his answer with, "Possibly." It might well be a possibility, if it happens it should bring a new dimension to the game, but for that possibility to arrive Cook and Alex Hales will have to put together a good opening partnership third time in a row.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 1, 2014, 14:38 GMT

    I don't know how Rajeshj can class Ian Bell in the chronic failure bracket. In the 3rd ODI he was the only one looking comfortable against spin, he was gradually recovering the innings for the side, working the spinners into gaps at nearly a run a ball only to be run out by a unbelievable throw from the boundary. As Sir Ian said - 'the odds are always on the batsman however'.... I only wish he'd been there later in the innings when I sure he would have taken the part time spinners apart after seeing off Ashwin. Remember what he did to Steve Smith!!

  • Rajesh on September 1, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    The problem with Cook is that he is fixated to chronic failures like Bell, Bresnan, Dernbach, Stokes etc. The ODI team should be vibrant and it shoud have ample energy to win key moments.. The current England team looks the most sedate ever seen and excepting Morgan, Hales and Butler, I really doubt it anyone would care to watch the rest of the team batting.. Joe Root was a miserable failure in Australia and so can he be trusted enough for the World cup 2015 in Australia.. It would be best to replace him with some one else in ODI.. They need to give enough matches to Moeen Ali and Bopara as they would be very vital in the middle overs.. Cook always thinks in one-dimensional manner and he is not the best choice to lead England to world cup... Above all, what is Moores doing these days??? and what are his inputs about the world cup campaign.. Is anyone bothering to listen to him or he has nothing to offer???...

  • front on September 1, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    As an England fan, what concerns me is that regardless of the format, England it seems is always searching for a "strategy" to "overcome a weakness". In tests it is the short ball, it ODI's it's spin. It seems that we're only good when the ball comes onto the bat nicely without any deviation in air, or off the pitch. Ironically, this is what India delivered in the tests bar our utter humiliation at Lords.

  • Vaughan on September 1, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    Amusingly - an england xi of players not selected in the squad could probably do a better job.

    Lyth, Balance, Taylor (capt), Bopara, Roy, Samit Patel, Kieswetter, Kerrigan/Batty, Bresnan, Gidman, Onions/ Brooks.

    Im not sure about the bowlers here but the batting lineup and 5th bowler is spot on!

  • John on September 1, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    much of the problem we have is in the mind. Battingwise we don't look to push on and dominate bowlers

    Ref last game. We get Rayudu.Looking at his stats he has 1-57 - 9 overs in ODI cricket which means that if my maths are correct he had taken 0 for 49 runs in 7 overs at an ER of 7 and bowls roughly an over every 2 ODIs.

    Vs Eng he went for 8 runs in 2 overs. Now if you dominate bowlers like this from the off then

    A - It gives the captain a headache B - You'd surely gain confidence for when you face better bowlers

    How are you going to have the confidence to score of Jadeja if you are being bogged down by Rayudu?

    Not against taking powerplay overs earlier but we need more dynamic batsmen than Cook up top if we're to go that way. Problem is that I see us as being pannicky rather than calculating when taking PP overs. Our 50 overs game seems to be mirroring the test game these days - not surprising when most play so much test cricket and so little 50 over cricket

  • ian on September 1, 2014, 10:05 GMT

    @VillageBlacksmith on (September 1, 2014, 8:20 GMT). Yes, I understand your defence of Cook's batting at the top of the order. It's been acceptable - an earnest effort to give England a decent start, with the exciting Hales. Full marks to AC for effort, as ever. My comm was a take on his captaincy - and presumably he has his say in the selection of the side - so that is a facet of his captaincy role. There, for example, his caution is evident: unadventurous might be the kindest thing to say about recent selections. I'm sure that the selectors are also much of a muchness with Cook. Neither they nor he is capable of thinking out of the box. Again, that's unsurprising: Cook is their man -- two playing cards propping each other up. What lies under it all? IMO, it's fear - fear of failure; fear of introducing too many new players at once. Where is the rule that says you can't have, say, three debutants? If you go on doing what you've always done, then you'll get what you've always got.

  • Champion on September 1, 2014, 9:53 GMT

    Moeen Ali: Man behind the test series success is still not used by England in ODIs. Cook should plan his recipe with the inclusion of Moeen Ali in playing XI, this could be the only way to put some pressure on men in Blue

  • Aruun on September 1, 2014, 9:48 GMT

    Ashwin not yet used Carrom ball in this series and taking wickets only using his off spinners

  • John on September 1, 2014, 9:46 GMT

    @ Valavan on (September 1, 2014, 8:55 GMT) Thing is Ballance has probably been the worst offender in terms of SR in ODIs.

  • Sean on September 1, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    @VillageBlacksmith Cook in 2014 - 1 fifty and a strike rate of 73.62; Bell in 2014 - 4 fifties and a strike rate of 90.2; Morgan in 2014 - 1 ton & 2 fifties and a strike rate of 90.02... But hey, let's not let facts get in the way of wild claims that other senior players are performing worse than Cook!

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