Former India spinner Maninder Singh played a significant part in winning two Test matches in a winning cause in that famous 1986 Test series in England. In fact, India has never managed two wins in a series before or since and the 56-year old left-arm spinner was the second most successful bowler (12 wickets in 3 matches) after the pacer Chetan Sharma (16 wickets) in that series. He spoke at length on the upcoming Test series against England. Here is an edited excerpt.
Are you really surprised that it’s been nearly 15 years since India has not won a Test series in England? Especially, when you consider the kind of quality the teams which toured England on the last three occasions?
I think that the lack of planning over the years had been an issue. For some reason or the other, they were not able to cross the finish line (when it came to winning a series). This time they need to focus a bit more because the current team is a very solid one.
The Indian team of the 2011 series was a formidable one and was blanked 0-4, in 2014 MS Dhoni’s side took the 1-0 lead and yet lost the series eventually and in 2018 under Kohli, they fought admirably and yet lost the series 1-4. Kohli has been part of the team on the last two tours. What could be his lessons from the past tours of England?
I think the thought process needs to change. If you think conditions are difficult in England then your thought process becomes entirely different. When you play in India, you are always confident that no matter what you can turn it around anytime because conditions are favourable. If they can have the same winning mindset as they have in home conditions, I don’t see any reason why can’t they triumph in England?
Just a month ago, there was a lot of hype with this Indian team that they could win the World Test Championship. How much that loss is going to affect the mood of the team in the first match of the series against the host?
Whatever mistakes they committed, if they can learn from that, something which this team has done on more than one occasion, I am sure they can make a stronger comeback. Because we have seen this team has made a comeback after losing the first match of a series.
It looked like that both England and India are fairly balanced sides with little to separate except the fact that the hosts had a charismatic all-rounder like Ben Stokes in their ranks. So, how do you look at the sudden vacuum of Stokes from this series?
I have always felt that such situations are always blessings in disguise for another player. England will certainly miss Stokes but they also have Ollie Robinson who started well in his first couple of Test matches.
Do you think India should go ahead with both the spinners in the playing XI like they did against New Zealand in the WTC final, regardless of the conditions?
One advantage with both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the playing XI is that you have batting options. Especially with Jadeja who has been averaging around 50 in Test cricket in the last couple of years. They bring variety in the bowling attack as one is a left-arm spinner and the other an off-spinner.
How do you look at the evolution of Jadeja as a left-arm spinner since you too have been a former left-arm spinner?
He has been very strong mentally. No doubt about that. His batting has improved tremendously in the last few years since he came under scrutiny because he was always being seen as an all-rounder. He worked hard on his batting skills. The good thing about Jadeja is that he always sticks to his strength. Impeccable line and length is something he always thrives on. So I think his batting has evolved definitely but his bowling hasn’t changed much.
Now, the difficult question. If you were forced to pick just one spinner in the playing XI then who would be the preferred one?
It is not such a difficult choice to make! Of course, Ashwin will be the preferred one, especially in the first few matches because he has been a great player and just needs to be given confidence. He starts well in overseas matches but somehow looks like losing out on steam as the series progresses. His focus starts wavering which doesn’t happen ever in India. He needs to be reminded time and again that you are a wonderful match-winner and you are going to win the match for me.
Has the nature of the English pitches changed over the years? Is there enough juice for spinners to be a match-winner or do they just need to be the supporting cast in these conditions?
The word supporting cast should be erased from the spinners’ mind. A good spinner should always thrive in England because of the atmosphere, moisture in the pitch all the time. You can grip the ball nicely. Of course, you will not get the turning tracks like India but you will get drift on those kinds of pitches. As a spinner, you need to find ways to beat the batsman in the air, out-think them with your craft. I would remove the word support cast as I truly believe that spinners can be a match-winner in England as well.
What about the Indian batting? Are you confident of this batting unit where there are question marks over the form of senior players?
It doesn’t give me that much confidence to be very honest. Rohit Sharma is playing as an opener for the first time in England and it’s not going to be easy. Cheteshwar Pujara never gave me the confidence in foreign conditions even though he has got runs in some (tough) conditions like Australia. Similarly, Ajinkya Rahane has been up and down. Even captain Kohli’s numbers in his last few Test matches are not very encouraging. However, once they start going, they have got the players to do well in this series.
Any prediction for the scoreline of the Test series?
I will wait till the first Test just to see who gets the momentum. England might have an edge and so it could be 3-2 in favour of them.