Routed by spin? Nothing new in it!

Rohit Mahajan

The clinical dissection of Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane by James Anderson on Day 5 of the Chennai Test was a lesson in bowling craft. The wily old paceman, on his fifth Test tour of India, showed how the semi-old ball could be reverse-swung even on the last day, even in times when saliva can’t be applied on the ball to make it heavy on one side, and when spinners are expected to rule on a worn-out surface.

Anderson’s twin destruction of the stumps of Gill and Rahane in one over was reminiscent of what Shoaib Akhtar did to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in Kolkata in 1999, castling them off consecutive balls. The young Akhtar had extreme pace, the old Anderson had controlled reverse-swing.

Anderson picked up three crucial wickets in the second innings, to go with two — of India’s No. 10 and 11 — in the first. That’s good pickings for a fast bowler in the autumn of his career, who will be 39 in July.

Anderson is among the few English pace bowlers who have five-wicket hauls in India in this century; the others, such as Matthew Hoggard or Stuart Broad or Ben Stokes, have done it once it. Anderson has done it three times.

There’s been no 10-wicket hauls by England pacemen in India since 1985, when Neil Foster took 11 to help his team beat India in Chennai.

Spin trouble

Anderson’s three remarkable strikes were the talking point, but it’s the English spinners who damaged the Indian innings the most in Chennai, ending up with 11 wickets, five of them in the second innings.

Old-timers worry about Indian batsmen’s falling skills against spin, and it’s true that once they get into the national team, they rarely play First-Class cricket at home. This means they play practically no quality spin bowling in high-pressure situations on Indian wickets — except in Test matches! That’s the worst time to recall and try to implement lessons learnt years ago.

Yet, it’s not that Indian batsmen haven’t capitulated to spin bowling in Tests when greats such as Gavaskar and Vengsarkar and Amarnath were around. Going back no further back than the 1980s, Phil Edmonds and Pat Pocock picked up 13 wickets in Delhi to send India crashing to a big defeat in Delhi; the Indian XI had the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil, Ravi Shastri, Kapil Dev, Syed Kirmani and Manoj Prabhakar in it.

Greg Matthews and Ray Bright picked up 17 Indian wickets in Chennai in 1986 in the Tied Test. A year later, Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed routed India in Bengaluru by picking up 18 wickets for the game. When New Zealand beat India by 136 run in Mumbai in 1988, off-spinner John Bracewell ended up with eight wickets for the match — even then, the peerless Richard Hadlee did two better, with 10.

Thus, it can be established that even in the 1980s, when India had batsmen were undoubtedly more adept at facing spin bowling, and had better defensive skills, the team was frequently ambushed by the foreign hand — or foreign fingers, so to speak, for none among those named above was a wrist-spinner.


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