If England’s struggles in Bangladesh are anything to go by, they could be in for an even rougher ride in India over the next couple of months when they take on the world’s number one side in a five-match series in similar spin-friendly conditions.
England narrowly won the opening Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong by 22 runs before losing the second by 108 runs in Dhaka, their first defeat to the South Asian side in 10 Tests.
Alastair Cook’s men looked well placed to maintain their perfect record against Bangladesh by reaching 100 without loss at tea while chasing 273, but lost all 10 wickets in the final session to lose inside three days.
Bangladesh are ranked ninth among the world’s 10 Test playing nations and had won just seven of their 94 Tests before Sunday — five against minnows Zimbabwe and two against second-string West Indies sides.
Joe Root’s meagre average of 24.50 was the highest of England’s top five in the batting order in four innings in Bangladesh, with Cook, Ben Duckett and Moeen Ali all averaging in the low 20s while Gary Ballance could muster only 24 runs.
“We showed our inexperience in these conditions,” Cook said after the defeat. “A lot of these guys have not played many Test matches and when that ball got rolling we found it very hard to stop.
“You lose a couple of wickets, then men come round the bat and the crowd get into it. Being able to deal with it and get through it is crucial.”
England, who will travel with the same squad, can expect more of the same in India.
Under Virat Kohli India have won their last four Test series, including a 3-0 win in a four-match contest against South Africa last year and the recent 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand at home.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took 58 wickets in those seven home Tests against South Africa and New Zealand and will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling against the English batsmen after their struggles against Mehedi Hasan.
Off-spinner Mehedi, who made his debut and turned 19 during the series, finished with 19 wickets in the two matches.
England are the last team to win a Test series in India when they beat the hosts 2-1 in a four-match series in 2012.
Spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar had a huge impact on that series, ably supported by England’s most prolific wicket-taker James Anderson, who has been left out of the 16-man squad due to injury and is expected to only join the tour later.
All-rounder Ben Stokes scored the most runs and was joint highest wicket-taker with Moeen against Bangladesh. His role will be crucial for the side against India, who will use the Decision Review System on a trial basis during the series.
The influential Indian board (BCCI) has long been a staunch opponent of the DRS system, which aims to reduce umpiring errors by detecting edges and predicting the ball trajectory to ensure correct catch and leg-before decisions.
With the England spinners being out-bowled by their Bangladesh counterparts, Cook has no qualms in accepting that his side will travel to India as ‘heavy underdogs’.
“We’re not hiding behind the fact that we haven’t got world-class spinners,” Cook rued. “It doesn’t mean our spinners are bad bowlers.
“We’ve got guys who can bowl some really good balls and spells. But we can’t quite control well enough at the moment. We don’t hold our length and line well enough.
“We bowl jaffas, but we’re easy to knock off strike and we don’t build the kind of pressure we’d like.”