Slow bowlers heed batting lesson from hosts
England’s spinners, now including Dawson, have taken the fight to India,
E ngland are learning. India’s spinners shaped this series with the bat as much as the ball: first, it was the sensible runs of Ravi Ashwin, then the 90 by Ravi Jadeja in the third Test and the century by Jayant Yadav in the fourth which were the killer blows. In this Test, however, England’s three spinners have trumped India’s by scoring 272 runs.
Moeen Ali’s 146 looked as languorous as the heat of the tropics. India’s bowlers were then worn into Ashwin’s home ground by Liam Dawson and Adil Rashid in England’s first century partnership for the eighth wicket in India. Between the three of them, England’s spinners raised England’s self-respect and the spectre of India’s first defeat not only in this series but the calendar year.
Moeen had reached 100, and Rashid 50, in Tests before. Dawson on his debut battled for almost four hours to contribute an unbeaten 66. He became the third England player to reach 50 on his Test debut in this series after Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings, which speaks well of the standard of county cricket and the England Lions coaching.
A feature of this Test, which England will want to continue, has been that the first hour is most difficult for batting: they lost two wickets and saw Moeen dropped in the opening hour on day one, when the pitch was damp after Cyclone Vardah, and lost three more wickets in the first hour of day two.
At 321 for seven, England’s total, and series, would have petered out but for Dawson’s determination. Trial by bouncer is the initiation rite for most debutants in Test cricket, but not in India in times past. India are now No 1 because they have an incisive pace attack as well as spinners who bat, and their opening pair of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma undertook Dawson’s initiation with a will, Ishant hitting him on the helmet second ball.
A bouncer barrage of three in a row was too much for Moeen, who was hit by the first two from Umesh – chest and armpit – and paddled the third to deepish square leg. Dawson, undaunted, ducked until he felt established after tea. He has long been a batsman who bowls, and it is not his fault that the standard of English leftarm spin is so low that he has been recast here as a bowler who bats. As a right-handed batsman, with a dominant bottom hand, he is a fine cutter and reached his fifty in fewer balls, 121, than Rashid.
It was a little late for Dawson to make the best composite XI for this series, but Umesh made a late challenge by dismissing Moeen and Rashid. Not only England fast bowlers have been miners: so was Umesh, who has kept bounding in, although he does not have the wickets to show for his efforts.
Vijay and Hameed, now injured, to open, with Cheteshwar Pujara at three, Joe Root and Virat Kohli would be the specialist batsmen and Jonny Bairstow the wicketkeeper at six. Rashid has taken more than twice as many wickets, 22, as the next England bowler and deserves to partner India’s two main spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja. The two pace bowlers would be Mohammad Shami, the best on either side, and Umesh or Stuart Broad.
If this Test has been less colourful than the previous ones, it is partly because the pitch has been slow after the cyclone, partly because the outcome of this series has been decided, and partly because the groundstaff, while efficient in mopping up after the storm, have been sartorially drabber. At the first two Test venues the majority were female.
Carrying tarpaulins on your head, and sweeping pitches in bare feet, may not accord with some definitions of equal rights but the 13 full-time female members of the Rajkot groundstaff, when interviewed by The Sunday Telegraph with a translator, were visibly delighted with their job. One had been a groundswoman for 30 years. They all had a silver nose-ring and anklets, as it is the traditional custom to wear one’s savings in the form of jewellery rather than sticking them in a bank account – this wisdom manifest when the Indian government demonetised all 500 and 1,000-rupee notes in November.
These women in Rajkot are paid a monthly salary of 9,600 rupees, or roughly £120, above the local average wage – so it could be argued the wealth of Indian cricket filters down. Those at the second Test venue of Visakhapatnam earn 6,000 rupees per month, but are given a sari of different colour each day of the Test, orange the most striking.
In this state of Andhra Pradesh, where many men work in the Gulf, most construction work is done by women.