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Dust Devils Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann Emulate Immortals of the Past





It is one thing for England to beat India in their own manor, quite another to beat them in their own manner. India's apparently foolproof bunsen burner experiment blew up in their face in Mumbai, with Monty Panesar  - Mudhsuden Singh Panesar -- and Graeme Swann sharing 19 wickets.

The highlights could have come from a Pathé newsreel, for this performance had no precedent in the modern game.

Panesar and Swann have been described as England's best pair of spinners since Jim Laker and Tony Lock in the 1950s. Now that perception has quantitative validation: this was the first time two England spinners had taken as many wickets in a Test since Laker and Lock did so against New Zealand at Headingley in 1958, and only the fourth time overall.

James Anderson dismissed Gautam Gambhir from the second ball of the match but from then on all the wickets fell to England's slow bowlers. Not that pace was unimportant: Panesar crucially bowled a few miles per hour faster than India's spinners, which exacerbated the bite and spite in the pitch. England's spinners also pitched the ball up further, luring the batsmen forward fatally; in the second innings in particular, the full Monty had a new, different meaning. The dismissal of MS Dhoni, caught at slip pushing at a ball of beautiful length, was straight from the textbook.

No India side has been ground into a dustbowl quite like this.

India beaten in India on a raging turner, with two slow bowlers sharing 19 wickets?

It just does not happen. It never has happened before.

Phil Edmonds and Pat Pocock shared 13 wickets when England, equally improbably, won the second Test at Delhi in 1984-85, but this was on another level. Pakistan's Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim split 18 in a famous victory at Bangalore in 1986-87; four spinners from New Zealand took 19 wickets at Nagpur in 1969-70, as did three from England at Kanpur 18 years earlier.

But this is the first time two spinners from anywhere have taken so many wickets to win a Test in India – and the first time two non-Asian spinners have shared 19 to win a Test anywhere in Asia.

It was one of the great spin-twin performances.

Mumbai became a little slice of Wantage Road, Northampton, where Swann and Panesar grew up on turning pitches before developing their game at Nottinghamshire and Sussex respectively. They rarely played together for Northamptonshire and, until this match, their partnership had not been particularly successful at Test level.

This was quite a way for Swann and Panesar to break their Test duck. It was the first time in eight attempts that they had been on the winning side together. In truth, that statistic is a little deceptive. The first four of those came in 2008-09, when Swann was finding his way at Test level and Panesar was losing his. The other three took place earlier this year, when England's defeats were almost entirely down to the batsmen.

There is clear evidence that Swann and Panesar can be very effective together. In those four Tests in 2008-09 they took 25 wickets at 46.24; in four this year they have shared 50 at 22.26. Twice the wickets at half the price. As spin pairings go, they are second only to Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman of Pakistan.

Their success has prompted suggestions that England might make two spinners the norm rather than a tactic to be used in Asia and, on occasion, the West Indies. A balance of three seamers and two spinners is persuasively romantic, and would certainly be the choice of purists and aesthetes. But the change in pitches and the importance of lower-order runs means that, like 4-4-2 in football and serve-and-volley in tennis, such a tactic feels a little antiquated.

Swann said that the Mumbai pitch was the most helpful he had encountered "by a country mile" in his Test career. Therein lies the problem. Most pitches around India, never mind the rest of the world, will not give anywhere near as much assistance. The one time Swann and Panesar played together in a Test at home, against Australia at Cardiff in 2009, they had combined figures of one for 246, which can only partially be explained by their poor form. The last time England consistently picked two specialist spinners outside Asia was in 1996-97, when Robert Croft and Phil Tufnell played four of five Tests in Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

Panesar and Swann will surely play together for the rest of the series. After that, it is hard to say. England are not due to tour Asia again until 2015, by which time Swann will be 36. But however many Tests he and Panesar play together in the future, they will always have Mumbai.

[Courtesy: The Guardian]

November 26, 2012                

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