In the two days of training at Manchester, Virat Kohli has been pounding sweep shot after sweep shot. On Monday, he headed straight to one corner of the training area and had a support staff member bowling off-spinners, which he kept meeting with the horizontal bat, getting down on one knee.
He did that at the start of Tuesday’s net session as well. Then, Ajinkya Rahane worked on the stroke. He was followed by Murali Vijay. At the other side, Shikhar Dhawan was also perfecting it, albeit trying the paddle sweep more. Gautam Gambhir also practiced it briefly.
At the start of the series, Moeen Ali was the bowler to be targeted for easy runs by the India batsmen. After Southampton, the off-spinner commands respect and has demanded a change in strategy from the visiting batsmen.
There seems to be a realisation that the earlier game plan of hitting the offie over the top and out of the game is fraught with risk. In trying to do so, the batsmen have played into the spinner’s hands. Ask Rohit Sharma. He will be cursing himself for stepping out and hitting Moeen against the spin. Rohit was Ali’s first victim, caught at mid-off, at Southampton and that sent him on his way to a dream performance. Moeen then had Ajinkya Rahane mis-hitting, trying to smash him over mid-wicket.
Bouyed by the first innings success, Moeen ran through the batting line-up on the final day. This time, he had the batsmen caught in the slip cordon playing defensive strokes – Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli among his six victims.
Realising that they may have underestimated the threat posed by the off-spinner, India are looking to counter him with the comparatively safer option of sweep shots. To confidently hit over the top, the key is to reach the pitch of the ball, with quick use of the feet. However, gradually through the series, Ali has got quicker in the air to keep opponents guessing. The result: Moeen Ali’s haul in the second innings of the third Test are the best figures by an England spinner versus India since Ray Illingworth’s effort in 1967.
Senior batsman Ian Bell is known to have helped him in the strategising. Bell, who plays with Moeen at Warwickshire, said on Tuesday that the important thing was trying to make it clear to him what his role was at different times in the game. That was what Graeme Swann used to do, said Bell --- hold up an end for the seamers when conditions aren’t in your favour, and then bowl aggressively when they are.
“He has bowled a little bit quicker but I don’t think he has to bowl fast. It’s the energy that he has to bowl with. He drops the ball, shapes the ball. Swann had such an arm swing to create drop and drift and Moeen has all that. But for us, it’s important that he gets in the game. He has understood that and he prepares like that in the nets. In the last two Tests he has done that, played his role, he did bowl better at Lord’s I think with no spin there,” said Bell.
Its game on: Part-II of the contest starts now.