Hit-wicket is an unlikely mode of dismissal. It is unlikelier when a spinner accounts for a hit-wicket. And, it is almost unthought-of for a batsman, who is swift and balanced at the crease, to step onto his stumps off a spinner’s delivery.
But the exact unexpected scenario was played out when Virat Kohli went too far back in his crease to counter the leg-spin of Adil Rashid. The Indian Test captain pulled the ball towards mid-wicket. To step back into his crease and tackle the spinners is Kohli’s bread and butter. But on this occasion he took a step too far behind to the Rashid delivery that had skidded on.
The hit-wicket to a spinner surprised Kohli. The overall success of the English bowlers surprised India. Just one game into the series, but Rashid, Zafar Ansari and Moeen Ali’s command over the famed India batting came through.
Rashid troubled Murali Vijay. He disturbed the Indian opener with his googly almost every time. And expectedly, he sent him back to the hut in both the innings. Ajinkya Rahane looked clueless: first against Ansari, then against Ali. Both of them knocked his timber over.
The Mushtaq factor
And on each instance when any of the three English spinners would land an Indian batsman, renowned for their ability to conquer spin, a knockout blow, the camera would pan to Saqlain Mushtaq in the English dressing room.
The intelligent Pakistan off-spinner is in the English camp as a spin-bowling consultant. He was scheduled to travel with the England team only till after the second Test, but his stay has now been extended at least till the end of the third Test.
Mushtaq had bamboozled the Indian batsmen himself with 24 wickets in three Tests when Pakistan toured India in 1999. That experience, along with praise from the England spinners, validated Mushtaq’s extension.
“He acts as our cheerleader to some extent,” Ansari said. “He boosts us and makes us feel good about ourselves. And as someone who has been so successful to come in and say, ‘I think you’re a good bowler and I think you can take wickets at this level,’ that gives you a lot of confidence and that is important for Test cricket.”
Flat-track bullies – with the ball
The visiting spinners scalped 13 wickets in the first Test. The Indian counterparts could muster only nine. But what must remain India’s biggest concern is that the game was played in Rajkot.
Those who follow domestic cricket will know Rajkot boasts of one of the flatter surfaces in the country. If the English spinners could trouble the hosts on that wicket, they could threaten further on wickets that turn square. They could dream bigger. Maybe, they could even dream of a repeat of 2012, when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar trumped the Indian spinners en route England’s series triumph.
Even when the cracks had finally opened up generously on day five in Rajkot, the English spinners stole the limelight from those in the home camp. India had 38.3 overs at Alaistar Cook & Co on the last day. But all Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra could manage between them were three wickets. In the 52.3 overs England had, their spinners had scalped five of the six Indian wickets to have fallen. Their success handed India a fright in the process.
The Indian trio, though, came into the Test with a bagful of expectations. Mishra had had a fabulous ODI series against the Kiwis. Ashwin and Jadeja were much improved from four years ago. And together, the three of them had ripped apart South Africa and New Zealand.
Maybe their recent success, coupled with England’s shock failure against Bangladesh’s spin, added to their complacency as well. But the England batsmen came better prepared. And faced against a unit well equipped to counter their spin, the Indian spinners did not have another stroll in the park.
The failure to repeat their recent success in the first Test would have left the Indian spinners wounded. It is a wound that will only heal if they can banish the memories of the Rajkot game and run through the English line up in the matches that remain.
Keenest of the lot will be Ashwin. Considered among the clever off-spinners with the red ball, he has had success against most nations – except England. He averages 53.40 against them with just 20 wickets in seven Tests. Even in the first game of the series, with him expected to run his record around, all he could manage was three wickets.
Of the remaining four Tests, Visakhaptanam, Mumbai and Chennai are guaranteed to offer prominent turn. Post India’s trouble to even hand England a scare on the Rajkot wicket, even Mohali could be made to meet India’s demand for turn.
The Rajkot pitch had grass on it. And it did not please the Indian captain. “I was quite surprised to see that much grass, to be honest. It should not have been the case,” Kohli had remarked post the draw.
One statement from the Indian captain and the message had been delivered. All the green on the Visakhaptanam surface was shaved off on Monday. While it is another venue that hosts its inaugural Test, it is the same venue where Amit Mishra ripped apart the New Zealand side with a five-wicket haul in the fifth ODI last month.
India have spun South Africa and New Zealand into submission at home. They will believe that they can hand England the same treatment on a pitch that the spinners can feast on. England, on the other hand, will be buoyed by their success in the opening Test. Swann and Panesar were spinners of a higher class, but the start in Rajkot will propel them to borrow motivation from 2012. If the wicket turns, the tourists will believe too.
Come the second Test, it will come down to whose spinners are hungrier. The English spinners would want to prove that lightning can strike twice, while the Indian tweakers will want to set a long-pending ordinary record against England straight.