There is a kiss of optimism for England that every Adil Rashid delivery carries. The one that turns, the one that turns the other way and the one that does not – all carry hope. They have troubled the Indian batsmen, against odds. They have placed him atop the wicket-takers’ chart after the third Test, against all odds.
India’s 2-0 lead in the series may be unassailable. A series win may not be a possibility, but a drawn series is still on the cards for the visitors. England will, thus, hope Rashid spins one back in their favour.
If India master the leg-spinner, and keep at bay his support cast like they have managed to so far in the series, the Chennai Test could be a dead rubber. But among a host of England’s loose ends, Rashid’s performance with the ball has been their most assured end.
Come the fourth Test, the mighty Indian batting unit will go into battle with Rashid. Not once in the last three Tests have the Indians managed to bully the leg-spinner, barring spells where he may have taken time to find the breakthrough. That is one aspect of the opponent’s game the hosts will be desperate to conquer.
Joy at the Wankhede
England could not have chosen a better venue for their spinner to continue to flourish. Four years ago, England came to Mumbai after the defeat in Ahmedabad. Series over, many had predicted after the first Test. But Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar decided to rewrite the script.
Wankhede’s surface offered bounce and turn. And England’s spin duo thrived on it to stun the Indian batsmen. They sent 19 of the 20 Indian batsmen back to the hut across the two innings. The best players of spin in the world had succumbed to spinners of a country not renowned for their prowess with the turning ball.
It was the start of a theme that would follow for the next two Tests as well. The turnaround that started at the Wankhede, continued at the Eden Gardens. England demolished India in Mumbai, took the lead in Kolkata and sealed a historic series triumph in Nagpur with the draw.
But Wankhede was the catalyst that spurred the England spinners to initiate the revival. Panesar’s delivery that pitched on leg and turned square to beat Sachin Tendulkar’s forward defence en route crashing into off stump will be mentioned often in the game’s history. The left-arm spin of Panesar scalped 11 in the game, while Swann’s off-spin dismissed eight Indian batsmen.
A five-wicket haul in the first innings of the first Test meant Swann, though, had enjoyed a decent personal start to the series in 2012. Much like Rashid in 2016.
India’s batsman haven’t got the better of Rashid
The wrong ‘un especially has troubled the Indian batsmen. It ended Murali Vijay’s stay in the middle twice in the first Test. It continued Ajinkya Rahane’s nightmare run with the bat in the series when he was trapped leg-before-wicket for a duck at Mohali.
The big turning leg break has wrapped up the last couple of batsmen with ease. While, the ball that skids has left an impression too – Virat Kohli, who cannot seem to stop scoring, was out hit-wicket by a ball that hurried on to him.
It is a soaring self-belief that Rashid is riding on. “It is important to have that belief in yourself that you can get all the best players in the world out. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. The days when things don’t go your way, that’s when the self-belief helps,” he expressed.
Prior to the series, Rashid had endured a mediocre start to his Test career. He had been in and out of the side, with only 15 wickets in five games. But 18 wickets in the first three matches has placed him on a higher pedestal, one from where he can launch his most lethal attacks in the series so far.
But back in 2012, England found another protagonist in Panesar at the Wankhede to complement Swann. The duo then combined to spin India into submission. Not a majority of the people expected the English spinners to be the stars of their team’s unlikely triumph then.
Not a lot of people expect the England spinners to kickstart a fightback now. But the Wankhede will allow captain Alastair Cook to believe. That this could be the Test where Moeen Ali hits the kind of form he did when India toured England in 2014. That this is the game where if England play either of Gareth Batty or Liam Dawson as the third spinner, he remains more than a support cast.
Can England chase the win?
But England will have to chase – wickets and the win. They did it on their last trip, but it will be tougher now. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin, among the men who could matter with the bat, have survived from then. They will recall the turnaround the English spinners can weave.
Kohli, Pujara and, especially, Ashwin are better batsmen now. Kohli has established himself as one of the finest in the world, Pujara has hit sublime form again and Ashwin has discovered the batsman in him not many knew existed. Them, combined with assistance from the lower-order, which has been the trend, along with the return to form of Vijay and Rahane could shut the door on England.
The last time Cook and his men played at the Wankhede, India offered a turner. The hosts believed that they could roll the visitors over and wrap up the series. But, instead, Panesar and Swann outshone their Indian counterparts and led England to a shocking victory. If India roll out another turner, it will be the prerogative of the Indian batsmen to avoid another spin-triggered collapse in Mumbai.