England turned to Merlyn in the search for answers as to how to play India's mystery spinner Kuldeep Yadav, whose five-for had left most of England's batsmen dumbfounded at Old Trafford. They set their spin-bowling machine to feed them the various contortions with which Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal, the legspinner, had bamboozled them in the first T20I.
But the doubts lingered. Merlyn can feed you all those variations, but could England's batsmen read the Indian spinners from their wrist? They could not, at least not convincingly. But there was no shame. Even Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni struggled against Adil Rashid, who had the former stumped brilliantly.
However the main reason that England succeeded today, against Kuldeep especially, was that they played him deep in the crease or used their feet to meet the pitch of the ball. No one did this better than Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow, two men who were left severely embarrassed in Manchester. Hales had been bowled trying to sweep on leg stump in the midst of a tortuous innings. Bairstow failed to read his first-ball wrong'un and was stumped.
Variations apart, Kuldeep's strength has been that he gives a lot of flight to the delivery. He makes life difficult for the batsman by bowling as slow as possible. If the batsman fails to read his hand, and tries to lunge forward from his crease, he is always asking for trouble. If he tries to sweep more in hope than with belief, it can still hurt him.
However, today, Hales and Bairstow stayed back and reaped their rewards. After intensive work with their coaching think tank, lead by acting head coach Paul Farbrace, the pair understood that if Kuldeep continued to bowl slowly, they could negate any variation by waiting for the ball to come at them. On the occasions when he fired his quicker one into the pads (which comes in at around 65mph compared to his usual 55mph stock balls), they could negotiate that just as well on the back foot.
It proved to be a good plan and it irritated Kuldeep. When Bairstow came in to bat, Kuldeep was into his third over. Unlike at Old Trafford, where he stood at the top of the batting crease, Bairstow stood at the back today. Kuldeep challenged him to come forward, but Bairstow managed to negotiate him without much fuss. By the time Kuldeep came back for his final over, England needed 39 runs from the final four overs.
Frustrated by Bairstow's strategy, Kuldeep changed his own and flighted the ball slightly fuller. Bairstow pounced fiercely on the opportunity and swept successive sixes to put England within reach of the target. Kohli, who was standing on the deep square leg boundary, was left frustrated as he urged his spinner to push the ball in further and not allow the batsman the room to sweep him.
Kohli admitted the main reason for the defeat was the way England dealt with Kuldeep. Chahal said England were more focussed against Kuldeep and took their chances when they arose. "They played him with more attention. They choose which ball to hit or not. The risks they took against him [Kuldeep] were very calculated. They did not attack him in the first three overs."
Going wicketless after a five-for will no doubt hurt Kuldeep, especially when his fellow spinners continued to find success. He now knows England can play him. What stands in his favour is he has had a few similar experiences in the IPL in the past two years. His strength still remains in varying his pace. And if the pitch is dry, slow and turning - any of the three or a combination of either - Kuldeep becomes a dangerous opponent. And when he does, England will SOS for Merlyn once again.