After stumps on the final day of the Trent Bridge Test, off-spinner R Ashwin couldn’t stop himself from tossing the ball up on the central square. Ravindra Jadeja too followed him. Though he had a long look at the pitch while batting earlier in the day, Jadeja now wanted to check the fifth-day roughs with his left-arm spin.
For the next 10 minutes, both turned the ball square. Gautam Gambhir, who was also there, didn’t let the rare opportunity of batting on a rank turner in England go by. He put on his pads and was defending the ball away from a couple of close-in fielders who had suddenly mushroomed all around him.
A couple of members from the England support staff watched the noisy bunch of Indians getting excited by the turn and bounce Ashwin and Jadeja were eliciting from the surface. Had England skipper Alastair Cook seen the Indians, he would have been worried. During the game, his spinner, offie Moeen Ali, hadn’t got the sharp turn that the Indians were getting.
Now cut to Lord’s, where the two teams are having their first net session before the second Test starts on Thursday. The locals have their focus on Simon Kerrigan, the left-arm spinner, who has been recalled to the squad. Also getting a close look at the Indian nets is Ashwin. The 12th man from the first Test is now in with a chance to be the 11th for the second.
These are changing times at Lord’s. The last time the Indians were here, for the opening Test in 2011, spin was far away from Test talk. Everybody spoke about the batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar and the pacers. The crucial contest was to be between the batsmen and the new-ball bowlers. There was even a discussion about who among the three pacers — Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma — would exploit the Lord’s slope.
Seam and swing may still dominate the discourse, given the lush green grass standing on the pitch two days before the Test, but what can’t be neglected is that, of late, spin too has forced its way into the pre-match brainstorming at Lord’s.
Last year, Graeme Swann took nine wickets in the Ashes Test that England won by 347 runs against Australia. Recently, Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath and Shaminda Eranga took four and three wickets respectively, in the second innings of the Lord’s Test. England, on the other hand, desperately missed a spinner on the final day as Sri Lanka survived because of their last-wicket pair. No wonder then that ahead of the second Test, a few players and observers were squinting their eyes, trying to locate those areas on the pitch that may show cracks and roughs during the course of the match.
This change in the nature of the wicket hasn’t gone down well with most former players. Among those craving for the good old ‘English’ pitch is former England skipper and now MCC president Mike Gatting. “The first three days have been sold out and the same is expected on the fourth day. But I hope the pitch has more life than in Nottingham,” he says, before he excuses himself to oversee the arrangements.
Unlike the hosts, however, a potentially spinning track in England is a welcome sight for the Indians. But they may do well to restrain their enthusiasm. For a spinner from the sub-continent needs to make adjustments in the way he bowls on these ‘new-look’ English tracks.
Ask Swann how he bowled here and he says that spinners shouldn’t try too many variations here. “One needs patience to bowl here. I used to break down the day. First, I would look to bowl 10 overs and get a couple of wickets. Concentrate on the stock ball. If people want to be aggressive against you, bowl wider. I never used to change the number of revs on the ball,” he says.
There is a lesson for the Indian spinner: The conditions, even though familiar, are still essentially foreign. In England, therefore, they need to do what the England spinners do.