From Monty Panesar to negative line: Jack Leach sees lessons in a past India show
England spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess have played 12 Tests each after both made their debut in 2018, though they combined in a bowling attack only in the recent 2-0 series win in Sri Lanka.
Playing conditions elsewhere favour the pacers, and that has restricted them to support roles. Left-arm spinner Leach, 29, played on the 2018 Sri Lanka tour as well while off-spinner Bess, 23, had his first experience of playing a Test in the sub-continent only last month.
Come Friday, when the four-Test series against India starts in Chennai, that dynamic will change as spinners will be in demand in sub-continent conditions.
Leach and Bess can look back on a past high. The last time an England left-arm bowler and off-spinner teamed up in India, they helped notch up a famous series win. That 2012-13 tour saw Graeme Swann (20 wickets) and Monty Panesar (17) rally their team to a 2-1 win after losing the first Test. Emulating them though will be some task.
It is their maiden trip to India for Leach and Bess. In Sri Lanka, Leach took 10 wickets in the two games and Bess 12. Both had five-wicket hauls in the first Test but went wicketless in the first innings of the second Test. Both games were played at Galle.
Against India, the challenge will be far higher. “It does not get more exciting (than playing in India). A spinner taking wickets in the second innings (in Galle) is always a confidence boost. I probably am someone who is never happy in a way. I felt the way the ball came out (of my hand) wasn’t exactly the way I would like it. I have to accept that I haven’t had much cricket in recent times. Our six-day isolation in India just got over, and I’m looking forward to the training,” Leach said in a video interaction.
Since the turn of the millennium, England have been one of the best visiting sides in India, winning one (2012-13) and drawing another (2005-06) out of their five series. Left-arm spinner Panesar featured in the win and draw, apart from the 2008-09 tour that England lost 1-0.
“That’s the plan (bowling incisive left-arm spin). I definitely think I can make an impact in the series. We got few days of training (and) not sure what the wickets are going to be like. We are not looking too far ahead. They (India) have lot of right-handers. It’s a good thing for me,” Leach said.
Leach though does not want to copy Panesar. “I guess those (Swann and Panesar) are the two bowlers I love to watch. I do see a lot of spin videos, try and learn things from everyone. Monty bowled with amazing pace, strong pace. On spinning tracks that can be tricky. I am now going to be bowling at the same speeds, probably. For me, it’s more about how the ball gets there in terms of trajectory.
“There have been very successful bowlers who did not bowl as fast as Monty. It’s about knowing what my optimum pace is, going up and down a little bit. From there, get as much energy on the ball (as possible). I always want to be as strong in my action as possible. Try and do things the way the wicket dictates.”
Panesar wasn’t the only England left-arm spinner to make an impact in India. In the 2001-02 series, left-arm Ashley Giles constantly bowled a leg-stump line—it was especially a tactic against Sachin Tendulkar—to frustrate the Indian batsmen. England managed to two the last two Tests after losing the first heavily while
Giles was criticised for bowling a “negative line”.
“That’s something we have talked about in Sri Lanka, definitely changing our angles (and) being adaptable within. I have been speaking to Gilo (Giles) on things he found helpful. I prefer to bowl round the wicket. I feel like I have more dismissals in play. I would not want to change something just because someone else did it. It’s about sticking to strengths, but yeah, it might be something we can use at some point for sure.”
India are back after a historic series win in Australia despite most of their first-choice bowlers and batsman Hanuma Vihari sitting out due to injury and skipper Virat Kohli returning home on paternity leave after the first Test.
Merely bowling a ‘negative line’ may thus not be enough to stop the hosts.
“We have been doing our analysis on Indian batsmen. We are getting to know how they play, the tough challenge they can cause. I had that experience with Angelo Mathews. I found it tough to bowl to him in Sri Lanka. It’s a good experience to draw on as we are playing India. It’s mainly about what I do. They have some of the best batters in the world,” Leach said.
“They’re coming on the back off a huge win in Australia. It’s a good opportunity to test ourselves against, on paper, the best side in the world. This is my first tour to India, so I’m eager to do well.”