When England visited India in the winter of 2012, the dominant narrative surrounding the series was that of revenge. It was about Indian spinners avenging the humiliating 4-0 whitewash that the team had suffered just months after being crowned world champions in one-day internationals, which also ended India’ reign as the world’s top Test playing nation.
What transpired over a fortnight at two iconic Indian stadiums though put paid to any such hopes. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann turned the tables on the formidable hosts, to bring England back from a 0-1 deficit after the first Test.
An imposing Indian middle-order, comprising of men who were legends of the game in their own right, was made to look like amateurs as the spin twins ran the hosts ragged on helpful surfaces. The result was a series victory for England on Indian soil after a gap of 28 years. Many thought it to be an aberration, after all Indian batsmen have been traditionally known to prey upon spinners, but this rude jolt had come after several warning signs.
The same batting line-up had succumbed to the guile of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis in 2008 and knelt to the prowess of Murali for one last time in 2010, when the wizard bid the game adieu after scaling mount 800 in Tests.
Not just in the sub-continent, India struggled to measure up against quality spin even in England and Australia. Graeme Swann destroyed India’s second essay at the Oval to help his team complete the 4-0 whitewash. While it was the off spin of Nathan Lyon at Adelaide Oval which put the last nails in India’s coffin in another forgettable series.
So, the abject surrender at the hallowed turfs of Wankhede and Eden in the winter of 2012 was not just an aberration, it was perhaps a sign of things to come. Once the old guard made way for the newer generation, the focus shifted towards playing attacking cricket, even in the longest format. Cricket, that would yield results and force the issue as India desperately looked to change its fortunes away from home.
But the graph dipped further, and brought along with it more heartburn. Dhoni’s India looked favourites to finally register a series win in South Africa in 2013, and they came excruciatingly close to winning the first Test at Johannesburg, before AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis nullified the advantage. The second match at Durban saw the Indians concede a sizeable first innings lead, but the batting had the might to make a comeback. But a lower order collapse against the left-arm spin of Robin Peterson condemned them to another defeat.
England was the big Test in 2014 and India looked prepared this time. The supposed resurrection started well with a resounding triumph at the ‘home of cricket’, but it all went pear shaped from then on. India arrived at Southampton after the high of Lord’s and it was a spinner who brought about their downfall. The part-time off spin of Moeen Ali seemed unplayable as he took 8 wickets in the match to crush Indian hopes. The plot was lost and Dhoni’s men came back with 1-3 drubbing.
Virat Kohli’s tour de force in Adelaide in December 2014 helped him not just stake claim for the title of the world’s best batsman but also set him up for India’s Test captaincy. But his efforts went in vain as the rest of his teammates failed to show any teeth in the face of some world class spin bowling. Nathan Lyon put up a show with a 12-wicket match haul and India never managed to come back from that hammer blow.
Little known Tharindu Kaushal and cricket’s most successful left arm spinner, Rangana Herath, came together to plot another Indian collapse, this time at Galle. India lost the match but they found the resolve to come back and register a series win.
The long home season followed and Virat Kohli’s troops managed to annihilate New Zealand, England and Bangladesh without much difficulty. Steve Smith’s Australia were the toughest adversary of them all and in Pune India’s series got off to the worst possible start. The Indians looked helpless in front of the bite and chicanery of left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, who snared 12 wickets to guide the Aussies to a thumping win. Virat Kohli’s men though showed grit and determination to comeback from that disaster and win the series.
Once the home season was over and the top Test dog status achieved, Kohli set out to achieve the unthinkable, beating South Africa, England and Australia in their own backyard – all in the same year. 2018 started with promise but the pace and bounce of South Africa and few questionable selection calls ended India’s safari hopes. A consolation win in the third Test at Johannesburg though showed this team had the quality to win in challenging conditions.
India’s fast bowling might gave them an edge against England and they almost started the series with a win at Edgbaston before the batsmen failed to chase down a sub-200 fourth innings total. The fickle English weather conspired to ensure Kohli’s men were blown away at Lord’s but a comprehensive victory at Trent Bridge gave hopes of a revival. Just like 2014, India reached Southampton on a high but couldn’t carry the momentum forward. Moeen Ali came, bowled and walked away with 9 wickets and India were left licking their wounds. Another away series lost, another death by spin.
First Published: Sep 05, 2018 10:52 IST