India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 3rd day

Advantage squandered

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

Sidharth Monga

November 25, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

R Ashwin broke the double-century stand, India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day, November 25, 2012
R Ashwin claimed the wicket of Alastair Cook but it was a rare success for the offspinner © BCCI

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

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Posted by CricketLifer 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.

Posted by arvsingh 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?

Posted by Percy_Fender 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Nutcutlet 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..

Posted by Un_Citoyen_Indien 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.

Posted by   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.....

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist 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.

Posted by RD36 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......

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor 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.

Posted by Rahul_78 on (November 26, 2012, 5:47 GMT)

The team selection left a lot to be desired. I dont blame MSD for under bowling Bhajji. Ashwin is the lead spinner of this Indian side and he let down his captain who backed him. Bhajji hasnt done anything consequential recently to merit his selection in the national team. He got in through his reputation. England have 5 right handers among their top 7 hence the wisdom of choosing an off spinner as a choice of 3rd spinner should be questioned. One could have thought the new selection commitee would invest in some new blood when it came to spin bowling. The likes of young Harmeet singh should have been given a chance. Pujara and Kohli are good examples of youth coming through with good results when backed properly and given opportunity. Ashwin is a smart cricketer and will learn from this experience. Indian cricket is a transitional phase and selectors and fans need to show lot of patience and needs to back young talent rather then going back to old horses who have ran their course.

Posted by   on (November 26, 2012, 5:40 GMT)

Miserable batting and bowling performance. India got outplayed in their own backyard by effectively a 4 player team. Good job England. Great fighting spirit.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (November 26, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

It is the Indian batsmen that lost India the test match and not the bowlers. It's only Sachin's record that speaks for him on the pitch and not his bat anymore. It's time, he sticks to Ranji Trophy in case he doesn't want to retire from cricket yet. Ajinkya Rahane, Unmukt Chand, Raina, Naman Ojha too should be allowed into the Tests! The era of Sachin, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni are over.Yuvraj and Dhoni are bereft of technique! Let them stick to ODIs and T20s. Gambhir may have been the top scorer in the 2nd innings, but IMO, no batsman who plays spin with his pads deserves a place in the Indian test cricket...and that holds good for Sachin too! What is Zaheer doing in the team anyway? Umesh Yadav will definitely improve when he gets the responsibility of the strike bowler.

Posted by anver777 on (November 26, 2012, 5:22 GMT)

Surprisingly !!!!! Instead of Ind the visiting English spinners are dominating on Ind spinner friendly pitches ......... except for Ojha, the two others Bhajji & Ashwin is basically doing nothing on favorable conditions for Ind !!! not a good sign for future Ind cricket on slow wickets ?????

Posted by Johnny_129 on (November 26, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

The quote from Gambhir, "It was just that one partnership took the game away", says a lot about India's mental approach to a fight - that sort of reflection would be better post-match rather than during!!!

Posted by   on (November 26, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

It is disappointing to see Indian spinners out-bowled at home on a square turner. Even worse was the way the Indian batsmen were out-batted- I haven't seen India struggle so much against spin since the Mumbai test against the same team in 2006. Ashwin and Harbhajan will need to take a cue from Ojha's bowling and as for the batsmen- it's high time Tendulkar retires, he has contributed more than enough for the team, he should give the youngsters like Rahane, Badrinath a chance. It is so painful to keep watching him struggle. Kohli and Dhoni's places should be on the line after their failures in this series so far and Dhoni though he is a good captain is almost absent with the bat. maybe if he continues to fail he can be replaced with Dinesh Karthik and Kohli can be made captain- but then Kohli's place also does not seem assured- lot of issues for Indian test cricket at the moment. It's been a rocky transition so far to say the least

Posted by baskar_guha on (November 26, 2012, 5:12 GMT)

Reality is that Ashwin is not a world class offie. Neither is Bajji, any longer. Ojha is a decent second spinner who can really tie down batsmen if wickets are being taken at the other end. Anything better from him is gravy. The bright spot in the Indian bowling attack is Yadav who happens to be a fast bowler. India need more talent like him, fast or spin. Until they do, to win, India has to out-bat the opposition - with the change of guard in their middle order, that won't happen as easily or quickly.

Posted by   on (November 26, 2012, 4:02 GMT)

Lets make it clear.Ashwin is no Kumble. Anil on these kind of pitches used to run though the sides.Most people here are not willing to accept the fact.It was during Ganguly's tenure that Bhajji was perceived as no1 spinner ahead of Kumble. And it continued till he retired.Today Bhajji has lost his touch and people are glued to Ashwin. Clearly Ashwin is a good player with bowling and batting skills.But to brand him and expect big from him is ridiculous.India badly need one successor for Anil kumble if they have to be alive in test matches.Its a strange period for Indian test cricket-During Azhar's era they were invincible at home and during Ganguly's era,they started winning abroad.But now in Dhoni's era losing everywhere.

Posted by MiddleStump on (November 26, 2012, 2:25 GMT)

Without question it was very mediocre bowling by the Indian spinners. On a turning and bouncing minefield, Ashwin and Oja went for over a hundred runs. The Indian fielding was also sub standard. Sehwag has no business to field at slip when he has so much difficulty in bending down. The captain Dhoni is guilty of unimaginative leadership. His vice captain Kohli threw away his wicket with reckless shots in both innings. Yuvraj and Dhoni continue to fail with the bat while Tendulkar is caught in a slump. The pitch has made Zaheer redundant. Only Pujara has performed creditably. The Indian team has been outplayed in all departments of the game in this test match and England deserves to win.

Posted by   on (November 26, 2012, 0:38 GMT)

Biter bit! Serves them well. For years now it is obvious that India's bowling cupboard is bare, a point brought out by Harsha Bhogle in an earlier article.Time to show some old fogeys the door. I mean, to call up Harbhajan Singh! C'mon give me a break!

Posted by Gizza on (November 26, 2012, 0:30 GMT)

To an extent, it does not matter how pitch is which countries are playing. Some things in cricket are always the same. On every pitch in the world, a short wide ball will be cut for four. A full toss on the stumps with be swathed to the midwicket ropes. A ball down the leg side will be flicked to square or fine and if there's no fielder in that area it will be another four. A particular type of pitch can increase the margin of error for particular type of bowler whether it be spin, pace/bounce, swing, seam etc. but you still have to land the ball in roughly the right area for something to happen.

Posted by intcamd on (November 25, 2012, 23:17 GMT)

This is what IPL does for you. All you produce are mediocre cricketers who can bowl 4 overs, not necessarily to take wickets but concede 7 runs an over instead of 11. If the best bowlers you produce are measured by such yardsticks, of course, they are bound to be mediocre and will not take wickets invests against quality teams. Ditto for batsmen, raised in IPL, and used to bashing the ball for easy runs on flat beds. Indian test cricket seems permanently destined to be mediocre.

Posted by landl47 on (November 25, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

Another article, and no doubt comments, which underrates the England spinners. England made a colossal blunder, as Flower admits, by not picking Panesar for the first test. Swann was left to toil on his own, since Patel is a limited-over bowler, not test class. England made 400 in the second innings of the first test and made Inda bat again. Had Panesar been playing, India might well have got 150 less in their first innings and then the game would really have been on, with Panesar and Swann bowling on a wearing surface. They are both excellent bowlers in subcontinental conditions, as they showed in the UAE and Sri Lanka earler this year. Bring on the turning wickets for the last two tests- I like England's chances.

Posted by srriaj317 on (November 25, 2012, 21:05 GMT)

It is no secret that English and Australian spinners have more technical ability than Indian spinners and the reason is pitches. If you grow up on dustbowls where anyone who can snap a finger turns the ball, you won't learn to use your whole body to generate spin. But in Australia, the ball turns from Day 2/3 onwards but spinners are forced to use all their body and power into their deliveries. That is why Australian pitches bring the best out of bowlers where only those who work hard will get the wickets.

Posted by tinysteelorchestra on (November 25, 2012, 19:37 GMT)

I don't think this is game over yet by a long way. Gambhir is still in and Harbhajan can bat. I would not bet on England scoring more than 100 to win on this pitch.

Posted by A_Vacant_Slip on (November 25, 2012, 19:07 GMT)

Panesar isn't even England first choice spinner, and yet he pick 10 wicket out of 17 Indian wicket to fall. Panesar could end game with 13 wicket! And yet Ashwin - who is supposed to be the finest talent the "first choice" India spin bowler he had 2 wicket. Conclusion - England second choice spin bowler is better by a country mile than India India top line spin bowler. As they say in America - go figure.

Posted by Nampally on (November 25, 2012, 19:07 GMT)

Sidharth,With all due respect to the Indian Selectors, the best left arm spinner in India is M.Kartik. He has been repeatedly by passed.He would have matched or bowled better than Panesar on this wkt. What is worse is that Indian batting fell like nine pins against Panesar! Middle order was totally decimated - Tendulkar, Kohli, Yuvraj & Dhoni. On a pitch where KP & Cook totally dominated the Indian spinners, how can the Indian batting be so irresponsible? Panesar ran thru' the Indian batting like hot knife thru' butter.Dhoni has to" walk the talk or stop talking" & asking for Spinning wkts. Dhoni's captaincy was poor. Field placing alone cost India 50 odd runs. Including Harbhajan was a huge mistake. With one off spinner already in XI + Sehwag available to bowl, Rahane would have been an excellent batsman. Yuvi,an allrounder, did not bowl!. Bhaji, Tendulkar, ZAK & Yuvraj did not contribute. India needs a new captain+ XI contributing players.The Selectors should make this top priority!

Posted by afs_talyarkhan on (November 25, 2012, 18:37 GMT)

Well put Sid. The insurance policy India has been banking on for the last 20 odd years is about to come crashing down around their ears. Now England's policy of 3 warmup matches before the first test is beginning to look quite sensible is it not - and who knows what might have happened in the first test if they had had 4 warmup matches? And yet the BCCI sends India abroad sometimes with no warmup matches before the test series begins! First class cricket, we are told, is the nursery of test cricket - what is being done to improve the structure of Indian first class cricket? Such cavalier contempt for the rudiments and basics of the game is why test cricket in India is condemned to long and ignominious decline. Where are the fast bowlers with the motivation to bowl fast, long spells, spinners with the patience to bowl long spells dropping the ball on a halpenny, batsmen with the patience to play long innings of 8, 9, 10 hours, going to come from? Can anyone see any on the horizon?

Posted by crindex on (November 25, 2012, 18:25 GMT)

It was a bad show by Indian spinners and equally bad show by the batsmen. Story ends there.

Posted by usernames on (November 25, 2012, 18:05 GMT)

The one good thing--and I'm being optimistic here--that this loss may do is awaken our selectors. It's not time to go back to the likes of Yuvrajs and Harbhajans. You have to take hard decisions, and not populist and emotional ones. Heck, it's not that we don't have options, just that we are too scared to even try them out. I also mentioned this earlier but there was no sense going in with two SLAs and two offies. Someone like Mishra would have added variety, though that may not have had an impact on the results. I hope this puts the Harbhajan admirers to rest for a while--he's a shadow of his past and doesn't seem remotely interested in taking a wicket. Ashwin's new, he's trying and he will get better with time. In the middle of the series, there's no sense in making drastic changes but come the Australia series, there is a need for some major changes. There have been such periods in the past and we have come out of it; there's no sense in not giving the non-performers the boot.

Posted by usernames on (November 25, 2012, 18:00 GMT)

Excellent analysis. Ashwin's problem has always been that one rank poor delivery he will bowl in an over. I mentioned this earlier but he needs a lot more patience. He's got things easy till now, and maybe even in the Ranji Trophy matches, but he will learn. I'd still pick him any day over Harbhajan who doesn't even give you the feeling that he wants to be there (same with Yuvraj, which is surprising). Tomorrow, when we lose the match, it will be because of poor bowling and even poorer captaincy. I don't think the selectors will change the captain in the middle of a series--and it's understandable to an extent--but it's time for Dhoni to go now, both as a captain and as a player. I've been a big admirer of his but his captaincy has got more insipid by the day. He can't captain, can't keep wickets, can't bat and there's no place for him then. Saha is a much better keeper, and an okay batsman. I'd rather have him. Kohli would be the captain, even if he fails, for another year or two.

Posted by   on (November 25, 2012, 17:39 GMT)

As a pakistani fan of indian batting i am very much disappointed by their show in this match as well as in the first match where except pujara others were abysmall and i knew one man cant win you all matches in a series so we have seen here pujara got out early and collapse is here done . I don think even target more than 100 will be threatening for england as winning test matches needs motivation and desire to win rather than improbable records and tens of thousands of runs . Target above 150 can be interesting but looks far from possible .And regarding legend sachin he should nt be dropped right away he should be given full 4 matches and then his fate should be decided .

Posted by X.2. on (November 25, 2012, 17:31 GMT)

i still feel it is 50/50 for both teams if india get a lead of 100 then the game is on

Posted by   on (November 25, 2012, 17:31 GMT)

I'd say India never had any advantage, it was just a matter of England adapting to Indian conditions. As soon as England found the right balance in their team the tables turned. The biggest problem with team India is that they are looking for problems on the outside(pitch, umpiring) when the problem is within the team. Many players are playing on borrowed time based on their past performance. The biggest tragedy is that the land of wizards of spin cant produce a bowler who can support Ojha ably. Harbhajan is past his prime and Ashwin looks more of a batting allrounder than a bowling one. Sachin needs to think about his future because no one has the guts to ask him to step down. Yuvraj never looked like a test match batsman, even in his prime and dhoni needs to look at the english keeper to understand how useful no 7 can be. India r yet 2 find a replacement for Zaheer who probably wont last more than an year.If these issues r not sorted fast I see a dark days ahead.

Posted by hhillbumper on (November 25, 2012, 17:13 GMT)

England still have to bat which is a bit of a worry given their propensity to go a bit south but India do not look that good at present.But for the first innings and proper team selection we could have taken the first test

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