The last time England played a Test series in India, they rallied brilliantly to clinch the contest in 2012-13 with quality batting complementing a world-class spin attack as well as the big weapon for sub-continent conditions --- reverse swing.
However, ahead of the upcoming series, the scale seems heavily tilted in India’s favour. With Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar out of the equation, England’s spin department looks thin while their batsmen are braced for R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Reverse swing could be the visitors’ saving grace despite James Anderson, who has mastered that skill, yet to regain fitness. England gave evidence of that on the final day of the first Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong last month.
Bangladesh had battled the previous evening and needed 33 runs with two wickets in hand. England skipper Alastair Cook threw the ball to his pacemen on the fifth morning on a square turner, and they delivered a 22-run victory.
Cook turned to his pacers because his spinners didn’t bowl consistent lines and lengths, coach Trevor Bayliss said later.
Although England were spun out in the second Test to draw the Bangladesh series 1-1, former India all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, one of the country’s best exponents of reverse swing, rejects predictions of India handing England a 5-0 whitewash.
“Don’t underestimate England. They can devour you with reverse swing. I think they will be a handful with that skill,” he says.
However, Prabhakar feels the absence of Anderson, who is nursing a shoulder injury and appears unlikely to regain fitness until the later part of the five-match series, could seriously dent England’s bowling.
Anderson’s reputation has also been built over the years because of his ability to snare the opposition’s batting lynchpins. He has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar nine times, more than any other bowler. And he has scalped India Test skipper Virat Kohli five times in nine Tests.
Of his 463 Test wickets, 82 have come against India. But his ability to turn games around, prising out key men with reverse swing, has been a key feature.
In the last series, he played a key role in what turned out the series-clinching Test in Kolkata, removing Virat in a probing spell of reverse swing. He then dismissed Tendulkar, who had looked good for a century. India were restricted to a meagre first innings total and England grabbed the chance.
“I think they’ll find it difficult to get 20 Indian wickets this time because their spinners aren’t that good,” says former India spinner Maninder Singh. “Last time they had quality spinners. So, I think their only chance will be if the bowlers reverse swing the ball at 140-145 kph, that too consistently.”
Experts feel if India dish out batting pitches, England can put up a contest. However, the recent trend suggests India will prefer to lay out dry pitches.
“Crumbling surfaces can be easily exploited by fast bowlers if they are equipped with the skills to reverse,” says Prabhakar. “Without Anderson too, England have options. But they need someone to consistently back (Stuart) Broad. For India though, apart from Mohammed Shami, there is no one else,” adds Prabhakar.
Cook has already sent an SOS to Anderson, asking him to rush to India before the second Test in Visakhapatnam.
On the spin-friendly surfaces in Bangladesh, the series result could have been worse for England but for all-rounder Ben Stokes, who clicked. His ability to bowl reverse swing, and supporting Stuart Broad at Chittagong, proves he will have a big role to play in India.