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

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

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

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