Well past noon and under a scorching sun on Wednesday, India’s off-spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Jayant Yadav ‘operated’ in tandem on a practice pitch, close to the edge of the square. But the shade of the surface had a striking similarity to the centre pitch on which the fourth Test match will be played from Thursday.
Both tossed and flighted the ball, obtained appreciable bounce and turn and wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel collected the ball chest-high towards his left after the ball had spun a long way.
The duo and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja will perhaps expect the same to happen at some stage of the tussle between the two teams that will resume after an eight-day break. India outplayed England in Mohali, winning the third Test in four days, to take a 2-0 lead. India’s spinners — Ashwin, Jayant Yadav, Jadeja and Amit Mishra — have accounted for 103 wickets of the 164 in 10 Test matches this year and they have arrived at this venue with their tails up.
The Wankhede Stadium is a happy hunting ground for Ashwin, India’s leading spinner for a little over five years. He’s taken 18 wickets at 27.28 in three Test matches here on a pitch that has a heavy content of red soil that encourages bounce off the wicket and turn. The only jarring note in the impressive returns is his second-rate showing against Alastair Cook’s England here four years ago. England off-spinner Graeme Swann and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar had carried out a coup de grace, taking 19 wickets, and sounded the alarm bells for the M. S. Dhoni-led Indian team that demanded tailor-made rank turners from the authorities.
No Swann or Panesar this time
It was the clever and crafty Swann who had begun to disturb the equanimity of the Indian batsmen with a five-wicket haul in the first innings of the Ahmedabad Test four years ago. Although he reasoned that a particular ball might have landed on a pebble and turned rapidly to bowl Virat Kohli lock, stock and barrel, Swann, who had come into the series with a big reputation, played his part and with Panesar joining forces in Mumbai, England dominated the rest of the series to cause an upset.
England doesn’t boast of a Swann or a Panesar in its ranks now and would reply upon the guile of off-spinner Moeen Ali and leg-spinner Adil Rashid to deliver the goods. But Ashwin would be keen to make amends. Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha together have taken 40 wickets at the Wankhede; this time the seasoned off-break bowler will have Jadeja, who can turn out to be deadly on a rough surface.
After the Indian team left for its hotel located on the Marine Drive, the England team arrived and very soon the spinners, Ali, Rashid, Liam Dawson and even Joe Root got into action. Cook may have quickly made a mental note of the degree of bounce the match-pitch would afford. Spinners have taken more wickets than seamers at this venue and there is a sense of inevitability about the spinners playing their part in the fourth Test.
Clearly, England's inexperienced batsmen have not been able to find an answer to Ashwin, Jayant Yadav and Jadeja so far. Coach Trevor Bayliss has been quoted as saying that England’s intensity declined in Mohali and he may urge the England batsmen to be selectively aggressive.
He may himself play a more proactive role and take the burden off Cook from the strategy standpoint. Former England captain, Michael Atherton, feels that Cook’s future as captain may hinge on the outcome of the remaining Test matches in India. Cook will open the innings with South African-born Keaton Jennings, who became eligible to play for England after fulfilling a four-year permanent residency rule. He has replaced the injured Haseeb Hameed.
There is a bright chance that K. L. Rahul would return to open the innings with Murali Vijay. Skipper Kohli dropped sufficient hints on this aspect. The Indian batting group had a good hit.
The teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Manish Pandey, Parthiv Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Amit Mishra and Karun Nair.
England: Alastair Cook (Captain), Keaton Jennings, Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jonathan Bairstow, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Steve Finn, Gary Ballance, Liam Dawson, Jake Ball, Gareth Batty and Ben Duckett.