Pringle: Seam bowl­ing will still be key in In­dia

Derek Pringle ar­gues that it’s been vis­it­ing pace­men, not spin­ners, who have rat­tled the In­di­ans on home soil

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Eng­land’s close-run vic­tory in Chit­tagong has sparked much chat­ter about the use of more or dif­fer­ent spin­ners for the chal­lenges to come, in Dhaka and then In­dia.Yet this would fly in the face of his­tory which re­veals that it is seam­ers and swingers that tend to sway Test matches in Asia, at least for vis­it­ing teams.

For Eng­land, swingers tend to be more po­tent than pace or seam bowlers, for whom the docile pitches of the Sub-con­ti­nent bring as much heartache as back ache.

Mov­ing the ball side­ways through the air in Asia used to be the prov­ince of sor­cer­ers and ma­gi­cians, at least un­til Pak­istan un­leashed re­vers­eswing on an un­sus­pect­ing world 25 years ago. Now, most Test pace bowlers worth their salt can get it off the straight with a tal­ented few, like Ben Stokes and James An­der­son, ex­ploit­ing its po­ten­tial for wick­et­tak­ing how­ever be­nign the pitch.

Stokes was out­stand­ing with bat, ball and at­ti­tude in Chit­tagong, where Eng­land came within a mod­est part­ner­ship of los­ing to Bangladesh for the first time in Tests. His per­for­mance re­called, in part, the one Ian Botham man­aged against In­dia in Mum­bai 26 years pre­vi­ously, though that bor­dered on the fan­tas­ti­cal as “His Bee­fi­ness” took 13 wick­ets, made 114, and never left the ho­tel bar be­fore 2am.

In Chit­tagong, Stokes took six of the eight wick­ets that fell to seam with Stu­art Broad tak­ing the other two dur­ing two su­per­hu­man spells in Bangladesh’s sec­ond in­nings. Broad also man­aged to get the ball to re­verse-swing but his tra­jec­tory, which is steeper than Stokes’s, is less likely to pro­duce the lbws that are the re­vers­eswinger’s go-to dis­missal. But Broad limped home wick­et­less last time Eng­land toured In­dia, some­thing he will be de­ter­mined to put right now.

Bowl­ing for lbws is a lot more pro­duc­tive for teams vis­it­ing Asia since the in­tro­duc­tion of neu­tral um­pires in 1993 and, more lat­terly, the De­ci­sion Re­view Sys­tem. In­dia’s ac­cep­tance of DRS for the forth­com­ing series against Alastair Cook’s side, af­ter be­ing adamant non-adopters, should at least please Eng­land’s bowlers if not their bats­men.

For that rea­son, in­stead of wor­ry­ing about a fourth or even a third spin­ner, Eng­land should move med­i­cal moun­tains to get An­der­son fit from his shoul­der prob­lem. His record in In­dia, 22 wick­ets at 29.8 from seven Tests is ex­cel­lent. In fact, in two of the three Test wins Eng­land have man­aged in In­dia over the past 20 years, An­der­son has taken six wick­ets in each with his mix of con­ven­tional and re­verse swing, some­thing Eng­land will miss if he is to sit out the first three Tests as some are claim­ing.

Forty years ear­lier, John Lever forced the is­sue in In­dia with con­ven­tional swing only, re­verse hav­ing been the sole prop­erty of Sar­fraz Nawaz at that point. Lever took 10 wick­ets on de­but in Delhi and 37 in all (at 19.75) from his 10 Tests in In­dia, his left-arm swing prov­ing more po­tent in the con­di­tions than Mal­colm Marshall’s pace, which man­aged 36 wick­ets from nine Tests at an aver­age of 24.6.

Marshall saw In­dia as a supreme chal­lenge af­ter a sober­ing de­but series there in 1978, when he man­aged just three wick­ets in his first three Tests. Mo­ti­vated by in­ci­dences of what he saw as un­ac­cept­able games­man­ship on that de­but tour, he took 33 when he re­turned five years later, a far bet­ter bowler with a point to prove.

If that is pow­er­ful ev­i­dence for the im­por­tance of a skilled pace bowler to win­ning in In­dia, then other teams like South Africa have shown the value of pace as dis­pensed by the pack. Since their re­turn to in­ter­na­tional cricket in 1993, South Africa have won five Test matches in In­dia, more than any other coun­try over the same pe­riod. Top man: Ben Stokes showed the value of fine seam bowl­ing on the sub-con­ti­nent

That is an im­pres­sive record made all the more re­mark­able that it has been achieved, vir­tu­ally, with­out spin play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role.

Their first vic­tory at Kolkata in 1996 saw 14 wick­ets fall to the pace at­tack of Al­lan Don­ald, Brian McMil­lan, Lance Klusener and Han­sie Cronje. Then in 2000, their two wins in Mum­bai and Ban­ga­lore saw 18 and 11 wick­ets fall to the pace at­tack re­spec­tively, al­beit one now con­tain­ing Shaun Pol­lock and Jacques Kal­lis.

Their last two vic­to­ries, in 2008 and 2010, saw Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini and Kal­lis take 19 and 16 wick­ets re­spec­tively, since when South Africa have lost four of their last five Tests in In­dia by large mar­gins.

Look­ing at the score­cards from the three most re­cent de­feats, in 2015, it is clear that a ma­jor rea­son for fail­ure was the in­abil­ity of South Africa’s bats­men to cope with In­dia’s spin­ners, rather than In­dia’s bats­men dom­i­nat­ing South Africa’s bowlers. In­deed, In­dia only ex­ceeded 270 once dur­ing the series, sug­gest­ing that South Africa’s bowlers, seam to the fore, were as in­ci­sive as ever.

Their ex­pe­ri­ence should be a les­son to Eng­land to fo­cus on what is im­por­tant over the next seven weeks, which is their bats­men against In­dia’s spin­ners, who took 53 of the 60 wick­ets to fall dur­ing South Africa’s three de­feats.

Play­ing four spin­ners, as Cook has mooted, sim­ply be­cause you don’t know which ones might turn up trumps on the day, is how Jose Mour­inho might ap­proach Eng­land’s dilemma. He would then blame the um­pires when they did not run through an In­dian side ruth­less against medi­ocre spin.

Watch­ing it all un­fold in Chit­tagong, it was ob­vi­ous Cook did not know which spin­ner he could trust most as the pres­sure rose. But even if he had done, he was right to stick with his pace bowlers to eke out vic­tory against Bangladesh in Chit­tagong on the fifth morn­ing.

If his­tory is to be heeded, the spin­ners Eng­land need for In­dia (two max­i­mum with Joe Root to fill in) are those that will give least away while the quick men, at least three of them, re­cover be­tween spells.

To that end, es­pe­cially if the pitches are pre­pared to turn, flat, ac­cu­rate fin­ger spin will be more prac­ti­cal than ro­man­tic wrist-spin to keep In­dia in check.

Oh, and get An­der­son fit and fir­ing again. Asap.

Class act: Mal­colm Marshall had a fine record in In­dia af­ter a sober­ing de­but series in 1978

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