Swann has proved to be irreplaceable
Richard Edwards explains why the dearth of quality spin left England at the mercy of Ravichandran Ashwin and India’s slow men
In contrast to their last tour to India, precious little magic emanated from England after they arrived in India, already chastened by a first Test defeat to Bangladesh.
What we witnessed in recent weeks has merely strengthened the suspicion that England are as poor against the spinning ball in India as the hosts are against its swinging equivalent here.
What it has also emphasised is the extent to which England miss Graeme Swann, who called time on his career midway through the ill-fated Ashes tour of 2013.
The previous year, Swann and Monty Panesar had helped England pull off one of their most famous victories, with the two spinners taking 19 wickets between them as India were beaten on the very ground that Alastair Cook’s men were humbled on in the fourth Test of the current series.
Swann and Panesar took 19 wickets between them in 2012 – the greatest haul by a non-Asian pair of spinners in Asia in history.
Collectively, they took 37 wickets in the series as England battled back from 1-0 down to claim an astonishing 2-1 series win.
So complete was the domination of England’s ‘Dust Devils’, as they were coined in the British Press, that serious questions were asked of India’s own ability to produce the kind of spin bowlers that they were once synonymous with.
One of them, of course, was the great Bishan Bedi – an artist with the ball for both his country and in county cricket with Northamptonshire – who provides a generational link with Panesar and Swann, who also learned their trade on the pitches of Wantage Road.
“England miss Swanny so much,” he told The Cricket Paper. “People loved watching him bowl, I loved watching him bowl. He was an old-fashioned spinner – always at the batsman, he never stopped attacking.
“The way he bowled here on the last tour was a reminder of just how good he was and I don’t think England will find a replacement for him in a long, long time.
“People always talk about how tough it would be for Australia to find another Shane Warne – and I think England are just finding out how difficult it is to replace a bowler like Swann.”
It may seem harsh to discuss the dearth of England’s spin talent pool after Adil Rashid set a record for the most number of wickets by an England leg-spinner in a series.
The fact is, though, that every time England’s spinners had an opportunity to ram home an advantage they failed to deliver and, by and large, the pitches they bowled on were made to look far more threatening when Ravichandran Ashwin had the ball.
That was particularly true in Mumbai where Ashwin took 12 wickets in the match. Rashid and Ali, meanwhile had combined figures of 6-366 from 108 overs, hardly the stuff of nightmares for an Indian batting line-up intent on filling its boots.
And while Jimmy Anderson insisted that India’s home pitches ‘hid’ Virat Kohli’s flaws, they also served to illustrate just how far England still have to go to replace Swann’s wicket-taking ability almost three years after he called it a day Down Under.
Rashid has clearly come a long way this winter, with 23 wickets at just over 37, but Moeen Ali struggled to impose himself on the home batsmen, taking 10 wickets at more than 60 apiece.
Given his age, 39-year-old Gareth Batty, is unlikely to get another look-in, either at home or abroad.
India’s spin attack, led by Ashwin, was imperious after the opening Test of the series in Rajkot. India’s primary attacking weapon took 28 wickets at a cost of 30.25 and looked every inch the world’s best spinner despite a less than productive final Test.
“I think you’d have to say he’s the best out there,” said Bedi. “There’s no great mystery about his bowling, he just does the basics very well and has obviously taken a huge number of wickets this year.
“Batsman just don’t have the patience to play him, too many players are taking too many risks against him.”
That was certainly the case in Mumbai with England’s batsmen lacking the application to capitalise on the start given to them by Keaton Jennings’ remarkable debut century.
By the time Kohli was giving his victory speech on the outfield, Ashwin had taken 12 wickets and a red-faced England had become only the third side in history to lose by an innings after scoring 400 in their first innings.
Despairingly, it was a scenario they were to repeat in the fifth Test in Chennai with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja the matchwinner this time – match figures of 10-154 taking him to 26 victims in the series.
India’s spin concerns can be consigned to history. Quite some turnaround since 2012.
People talk about how tough it’s been for Australia to find another Warne and England are finding how difficult it is to replace Swann
Spin kings: Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar have proved difficult for England to replace
Spin legend: Bishan Bedi purveys his leftarm guile for India in 1971