After MS Dhoni called for a rank turner at the Wankhede Stadium, the second Test was supposed to be dominated by India’s spinners, but instead it was the England pair of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann who outbowled, outthought and outshone the home team’s three slow bowlers.
The pair of Panesar and Swann not only managed to find the right length required to bowl on this surface, but their trajectory was also way better than their Indian counterparts. The English spinners combined to bowl 121.2 overs between them, snatching 19 wickets, while the Indian tweakers - R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh - bowled 103.3 for just nine wickets. Saying that's where India lost the game is an understatement.
After the match Dhoni summed it up well, saying what Panesar managed to do on this surface which his spinners couldn’t manage. "Monty bowled really well. All get turn, but the pace he bowled at made sure that the batsmen were on the front foot,” the Indian captain said. “To some extent, yes I am disappointed with our spinners. We let England bat back. [We] could have brought them forwarded.”
The brownish Wankhede wicket, as expected, had plenty to offer for the spinners from day one. While Panesar and Swann made the life difficult for the Indian batsmen from the outset on day one, which was supposed to be the best day to bat, the trio of Ashwin, Ojha and Harbhajan failed to make a similar impact when England came on to bat later on day two.
While Panesar used flatter trajectory to get more grip and spin from the wicket and also bowled much fuller to the batsmen, Swann kept his attack outside off stump allowing the ball to spin and jump. Both of them also varied their pace cleverly, pitching the ball into the rough and making India's batsmen feel for everything.
It was a case of indiscipline and lack of patience by the Indian spinners. There was hardly a point throughout the match when they bowled consistently on one area. Either they were too short or too full, giving the England batsmen enough time and space to score runs.
Figures of 46.1-6-167-2 have left Ashwin uncertain about his role as India's lead spinner. He is the same bowler who wreaked havoc against New Zealand and West Indies in five Tests, but when it came to facing tougher opponents he was found wanting. He was caught between two minds: whether to bowl as a normal offspinner or trying his variations, including the carrom ball.
Harbhajan should be disappointed as he yearns to bowl on a surface that has plenty of turn and bounce and the Wankhede surface provided plenty of that. But as we have seen with Harbhajan off late that he believes in sending the ball flat instead of giving it air and allowing it to spin. His line of attack had also been more on middle and leg rather than outside off stump. No wonder it took him 20 overs to bowl his first maiden and that was enough for Dhoni to bowl him for just 23 overs than what he could have.
Ojha, the most successful of the Indian bowler with five wickets in 44 overs - including his fifth five-wicket haul - was at least persistent in his effort. But he was put to the sword by Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, who didn't allow him settle by taking some risk and playing audacious strokes. Pietersen’s assault on Ojha when playing against the turn was especially outrageous.
After seeing the way England’s spinners bowled, the Indian tweakers too tried to replicate it by bowling much fuller in the second innings, but they had neither the time nor the score to make that happen.