In 32 Tests, Moeen Ali has 88 wickets, five-Test old Adil Rashid has 15 scalps, eight-Test old Gareth Batty 15 and one-Test young Zafar Ansari two. Between them, they have three five-wicket hauls. This is the combined strength of the spin attack on which rests England’s hope of taking on India in their backyard.
The last time England went into battle in India, in 2012, they had Graeme Swann (Total: 60 Tests, 255 wickets) and Monty Panesar (50 Tests, 167 wickets), who had already played 46 (192 wickets) and 45 Tests (142) respectively.
The two played a starring role in England’s historic series victory with Swann claiming 20 wickets in four Tests and Panesar 17 in three.
The inexperience of their spin attack this time will be a massive disadvantage. Most importantly, in such situations the bowlers don’t know how to react when the opponents change their game plan.
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This was exposed by the Bangladesh batsmen in the recent series, skipper Alastair Cook admitted at a media interaction at the Cricket Club of India on Saturday.
Bangladesh, known to be happy with draws, were expected to be defensive. “They attacked. We have got (spin consultant) Saqlain (Mushtaq) to pass on that experience,” said Cook.
“This is a very different bowling attack. Swanny and Monty four years ago were at the peak of their powers. Swanny was a very good bowler and Monty did an outstanding job in the three Tests he played. He held one end for us to bowl consistently well. Unfortunately, we haven’t got that experience and probably top quality spinners, but we have got guys who have been very successful against India in the past. Rashid has bowled very well in one-day cricket. We have not quite seen the best of him in Test cricket yet.
“We have actually got more options in this squad than we had in the last squad. There are different options. We may bowl a few more overs of seam in these tough conditions than we did then but the balance allows us to bowl six bowlers, whereas in that series, we had four.”
To add to England’s challenge, the bowling attack is further depleted as another of their bowling heroes from the last series here, James Anderson, is recuperating from a shoulder injury.
In 2012, Anderson claimed six wickets in the third Test at Kolkata to play his part in the 2-1 win.
He was a doubt for the entire series but on Saturday, there was some cheer for the visitors when it was known that Anderson will join the team early next week and should be available midway through the series.
“It’s really good news, he’s probably a week ahead of where we thought he was going to be. He’s ready to come out, so it’s about trying to get him out to Rajkot as quick as we can. I heard he may be on the same flight as Straussy (Ex-skipper and director-England cricket, Andrew Strauss) on Tuesday, hopefully, but that’s just hearsay. It’s great that he’s put the effort in rather than take the easy option and come back in July. He wants to make a difference in this series.”
Given the limited resources at his disposal and the current form of the two sides, Cook is happy to dub his team the underdogs. “Yes, this is different conditions and we know how hard it could be, but being underdogs takes a lot of pressure off us.”