The perception before India’s tour of England in 2014 was that they might struggle against the pace but not against spin.
However, India’s 1-3 loss in the Test series was scripted not just by the pacemen but also by off-spinner Mooen Ali, who surprisingly picked important wickets.
There were passages of play when fast bowlers James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan, Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes couldn’t trouble India much. But still the wickets fell, thanks to Ali.
The off-spinner finished with 19 wickets in five matches, including a four and a five wicket-haul.
During the recently-concluded ODI series, which England won 2-1, Ali and Adil Rashid spun a web around the India batsmen, accounting for eight scalps. The leg-spinner, in particular, was impressive — dismissing India captain Virat Kohli on all three occasions.
Former India team manager Lalchand Rajput feels Kohli & Co. must choose their moments better in order to succeed in the five-match Test series starting next week.
“Since (Graeme) Swann and (Monty) Panesar, they (England) haven’t had a good spinner. But we saw last time (in 2014) that Moeen (Ali) took the most wickets for his side,” Rajput said in an interview.
“Yes, spin is England’s weak link but India must target their spinner(s) with caution this time around. If Anderson and Broad are able to create pressure from the other end, spin will come in handy for the hosts.”
Pressure on Rahul
Kohli, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane seem certain to start. Either Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul could open alongside Vijay. The 32-year-old Dhawan is likely get the nod on the back of a rollicking century in the one-off Test against Afghanistan in Bangalore last month.
While Rajput expects the same, he feels Rahul will definitely have a role to play at some stage.
After smashing a match-winning 101* in the first T20 at Old Trafford, Rahul couldn’t do well in the next four games (6, 19, 9*, 0) before getting dropped for the series-deciding ODI at Leeds.
Rajput, who worked with Rahul during his U-19 days, said that the Karnataka batsman needs to develop the habit of scoring big centuries across formats.
“On current form, Dhawan could open with Vijay. Rahul will surely have a part to play at some stage.
“As for Rahul, I think he will be under pressure to perform. Inconsistent shows can lead to him being dropped, just like Rohit (Sharma), who deserved the axe after a poor showing in South Africa,” Rajput added.
Asked which spinner should make the cut for the first Test at Birmingham, Rajput said: “(Ravichandran) Ashwin should be the first choice. He can even bat and same is the case with (Ravindra) Jadeja. I think Kuldeep (Yadav) will have to wait for his chance.”
Asked about India’s chances, Rajput said, “That’s (the 3-1 loss in 2014) history now. But as compared to last time, they are better prepared. Above all, fitness will be tested the most.”