India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 3rd day November 25, 2012

Advantage squandered

India's spinners were outbowled on their own patch as MS Dhoni's demand for a turning wicket backfired

Bounce? Check. Turn? Check. Toss won? Check. Three spinners? Check. Good first-innings total? Check. Quality spin bowling? Conspicuous in its absence.

MS Dhoni will, or at least should, live and die by the spin sword, but he and India will wonder if the basket they put all their eggs in is reliable enough. Even before the series started, while good for general cricket, it was considered a gamble to play on square turners because the young India spinners came with reputations that were built through wickets against West Indies and New Zealand. So far, only one of them has added to it.

If India can't manage a miracle on day four - and it will need Gautam Gambhir to continue playing his blinder for another session - they will have done the equivalent of South Africa losing a Test after winning the toss on a green top in Johannesburg. Wait, that has been done before, so that's not the end of the world. These things happen in cricket, but what will irk India is how the England spinners made the pitch look much more menacing than India's did. And that should not be happening. Truth be told, the pitch was menacing.

Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen played really well but when you saw the ball snarl at the India batsmen later in the day, you knew they should not have been allowed to make it look that easy. Scoring runs against India spinners is okay, scoring what looked like easy runs is not. One of the reasons, Gambhir said, was that Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar found the right pace to bowl on a pitch where you didn't necessarily need to beat batsmen in the flight. The sharp turn from the surface did a lot for you.

However, when they sit down and introspect, India will know that alone was not the story. Firstly, it doesn't say much about their cricketing sense if their two offspinners bowl 63.3 overs between them without discovering the right pace. Secondly, pace was not the only issue with R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh. Swann and Panesar clearly put more action on the ball, giving it the best chance to spin.

Ashwin, on the other hand, kept bowling about one short ball an over and hardly ever bowled a decent string of deliveries in one spot to get the batsmen driving. It was his ninth over of the day when Ashwin finally bowled six consecutive deliveries that brought the batsman forward. The last of those six balls was slightly short of driving length, creating space between bat and the pitch of the ball, and Ashwin finally got a wicket, his second in his last 85.2 overs, including the one of a switch-hitting Swann in Ahmedabad. The relief on Ashwin's face was obvious as he finally took a wicket, but the virtue was soon forgotten.

With the new ball against the new batsman, Jonny Bairstow, Ashwin was back to trying too many things, bowling carom balls and into the pads. Dhoni's fields didn't help. Perhaps he wasn't left a choice. For almost the entire first session, India had fields for poor bowling with as many as four or five men on the boundary, giving England easy singles. The dominating Pietersen kept finding boundaries with even those spread-out fields.

The problem was, Harbhajan wasn't much better either, more disappointingly because this was his kind of pitch, with turn and bounce for the bat-pads to pop up. It took him 20 overs to bowl his first maiden, despite starting decently. For some reason, he didn't enjoy the captain's confidence. He was brought on in the 25th over after the other two spinners had opened the innings without any success. He bowled 21 overs, Ashwin 42.3.

"If you are playing three quality spinners, one of them is bound to be underbowled," Gambhir said. "You can't look at the scoreboard and bowl them all for an equal number of overs. If you look at it, all three bowled well. It was just that one partnership took the game away.

"I didn't say their spinners bowled better than us. I just said they bowled at the right speed. It's not that our spinners didn't bowl well. If you take out that partnership, none of their batsmen contributed in a big way. That showed our spinners bowled pretty well as well. Important on this wicket is to bowl at the right speed. Maybe they got the idea of bowling at the right speed. That is what Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar did."

Pragyan Ojha, though, stuck to it, and even though he didn't bowl as fast as Panesar he was accurate, building pressure through dots. That's what he does. You won't see him running through five-fors for 30-40 runs, but he was spirited in the face of the onslaught from Pietersen. Right now, though, India need more than spirit. More like miracles. If they can't conjure one up - and odds will be against them - it will be an emasculating defeat for them. They have thrown what they thought was their best at England, and yet it is on the verge of being proven not good enough.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P on November 26, 2012, 17:02 GMT

    In the last couple of years, esp. against England, India seems to give up quite readily! Team is clearly under performing and this time they should not have very busy schedule as an excuse. The breadth of under performance is alarming - starting with selectors, bowlers, batsmen, fielders, wicketkeeping and captaincy. Bowling has been of sub standard level for a long time and some strong batting line up had hid that flaw. Other than some success by Ohja, not a single bowler made any impression - Zaheer, Harbhajan, Ashwin and Yuvraj all totally flopped. Time for some youth and energy. Time also to change the selectors.

  • Arv on November 26, 2012, 15:25 GMT

    Monty and Swan were better spin bowlers than the Indian spinners. Monty looked the best of the five spinners and deserved the man of the match award with stellar performance in both innings. Cook and Peterson played spinners better than the Indian batsmen. Today, Srilanka (Mendis), Pakistan (Ajmal), England (Monty & Swann), West Indies (Sunil Narain), all have better spinners. Indian spinners looked ordinary with a mediocre Ojha looking the best of the three Indian bowlers. Harbhajan was underbowled and used too late in the inning. Looks like Dhoni did not want him in the team. Ashwin is highly overrated by favorable sports writers and do not deserve to be in the team on his bowling. What happened to the much hyped "Mystery Ball" from Ashwin?

  • P Subramani on November 26, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    Swann and Panesar put more action on the ball giving it more chance to spin. I would like to amplify that a bit. Panesar usually bowled at around 87mph on middle and leg stump pitching it just over good length. This caused batsmen to come forward and engineer their own dismissals.He flighted the ball well. From what I saw on the TV analysis, the flight looked above the likely eye level of the batsman of the moment. Swann bowled mostly around 85mph and flighted the ball just like Monty but the line was just outside off and coming in. Both Ashwin and Harbhajan have all the skills no doubt but were inclined to bowl short a lot. That is what made Pietersen and Cook seem invulnerable.I am sure, both of them have learnt from their mistakes which I am sure would have been pointed out by Duncan Fletcher and his team. Dawes may not know much about the nuances of spin bowling though. Eden gardens Calcutta has been a great venue for Harbhajan in he past.But I am not sure if he will play though.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    The Indian team lacks will to play tough.Contrast this with South Africa who are hanging on tough to draw the game with Australia today.Good teams never give up but with India we have seen time and again they put their heads down and just give up.No one was prepared to hang on with Gambhir. They could have hung on for atleast ten overs each without trying to hit silly shots. Kohli, Harbhajan and Zaheer did not have any fight in them.

  • ian on November 26, 2012, 6:48 GMT

    Hmm. interesting. A few thoughts occur after reading yr article, Sidharth. You focus on the comparison between India's spinners & England's duo. You point an accusatory finger at Ashwin for not bowling at the right length, like Swann & MP. Well, isn't that what the captain on the pitch & the coach off it are for? Was Dhoni speaking to Ashwin about it, over by over? (you tell me pls, because with the poor BCCI telecast, we never saw what was going on between overs as the scorecard blanked whatever was going on pitch-wise). Ashwin, prior to this series, was regarded as India's premier spinner; the was even a panegyric to him (excluding Ojha) on cricinfo! I remarked at the time that I thought Ojha the better of the two, but never mind.. It seems that you like many in India, get carried away by yr obsession with the individual without considering the man in his team context, captain & all. Let's face it, India was poorly captained in Mumbai, & we haven't even mentioned the Indian batting..

  • N on November 26, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Urgent remedial measures to be taken:

    1) Get Rahane in the team in place of Yuvraj. He was never test match material to begin with (the problem with him is one of both technique as well as temperament).

    2) Shift Sehwag to the middle order. It's what he wants as well. Have M. Vijay or Rahane open with Gambhir for the next game.

    3) I'd say sack Sachin with immediate effect. But if that's not possible then retain him. In any event, he needs to be dropped after this series.

    4) Drop Harbhajan or retain him depending on the wicket at the Eden Gardens.

    5) Ensure that DRS is implemented for all games involving India going forward.

    6) M.S. Dhoni needs to be dropped from the test team and someone else needs to be entrusted with the captaincy and wicketkeeper's role. Perhaps W. Saha or Dinesh Karthik for the 'keeper's slot and Sehwag/ Gambhir for the skipper's?

    To some, these changes may sound like they are drastic but they may be the only way for Indian Cricket to move forward.

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    Why are we sticking with Ashwin who has clearly shown that even if the track suits him he is no good... barring ojha no one was good enough on this track from indian side...... and he just did not have suppoer... and why do we keep calling bhajji back there have to be some good spinners in domestic cricket who could be given a chance.....

  • Srinivas on November 26, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    In the 2nd inning, India got bowled out for around 140 and the post-mortem is on our bowling!!! What a tragedy this is to ignore our poor batting. Take away Pujara's first inning century - our batting failed in the 1st inning too. It was obvious in the 2nd inning when Pujara also failed for a change. Please drop Statchin for the next match and bring in Rahane. Harbhajan has to go. Hopefully Yadav is fit for the next match. It'll be a huge blow if Yadav isn't fit for the next match.

  • Rahul on November 26, 2012, 5:54 GMT

    Can we stop blaming our losses on the partnerships posted by the opposing teams' batsmen? That's their job, as it is the job of our bowlers to break those partnerships. Tendulkar had come up with the same excuse post the debacle in England & Australia, and now Gambhir. Time to be frank and admit that our bowlers just aren't good enough, be it a green top or a rank turner......

  • Kannan on November 26, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    Boycott nailed it on the head when he said that the English spinners are better than the Indian ones. A spinner doesn't amount to much, if he cannot put a batsman on the defensive. When it comes to Indian batsmen, all one needs is 4 fielders in front of the batsman in various silly positions and they go into their shell like a snail. After that it's a matter of time bundling them out. Nothing has changed in the past 40 years. I've seen Indian crumbling to spin and close-in fielders combo right from the days of the West Indian Lance Gibbs. I've always been amazed by the regular crop of really talented Pakistani spinners over the past 4 decades. On turning wickets, the Pakistanis will rout the Indians every time! The English kept the boundaries flowing as well as the singles while facing the Indians. They kept up the aggression in contrast to the Indians. Bhajji's era is over. I don't see him ever taking the front line batsmen of any team out.

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