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Where should the England bowlers bowl to India batters?

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Last updated on 22 Jan 2024 | 04:03 PM
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Where should the England bowlers bowl to India batters?

Left-arm spin to Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, off-spin to KL Rahul and Axar Patel and other match-ups to target for England bowlers

The last time England toured India in 2021, they lost the four-match Test series 3-1. They averaged 19.8 with the bat and 28.4 with the ball. The difference tells you it was a steep task for the Three Lions. 

Back again, the rejuvenated England side will hope the Bazball rolls in India as well. A lot will rest on how their batters fare against the same set of Indian bowlers who tormented them in 2021. However, with the bat, the Indian side is transitioning, allowing England to target their batters. That is if they have done their homework. 

We cover a few pointers in this space, showcasing where the England bowlers can attack the Indian batters. 

Leach vs Rohit -  a contest

Rohit Sharma has brilliant numbers against pace in India since 2021. In 10 Tests, he averages 74.5. However, facing spin, that number drops to half - 37.9. While he has aced off-spinners and leg-spinners (more than 200 runs for only three dismissals), Rohit has been vulnerable against left-arm orthodox spin. In this time period, he averages only 23.6 against left-arm spinners, losing his wicket seven times. 

England will hope Jack Leach disturbs Rohit’s rhythm again. In the 2021 series, Leach dismissed Rohit four times. In an astonishing similarity, all four dismissals were concocted through the off-stump line. 

This time, England are touring with an additional left-arm spinner in Tom Hartley. The Three Lions wouldn’t want to waste time employing these spinners against Rohit as soon as possible. 

Gill’s susceptibility against in-coming deliveries 

In-coming deliveries have played a big part in keeping Shubman Gill’s Test average to 30.6 after 20 Tests. 11 out of 22 dismissals against pace are down to in-coming deliveries - angling in, seaming in, swinging in, reverse swinging in towards him. Even in home Tests, pacers have dismissed him off such deliveries four out of seven times. 

England have already worked this out. They dismissed Gill thrice off in-coming deliveries when they last toured India in early 2021. Four of his five dismissals against pace in that series were down to these in-coming deliveries. 

To add to it, it is a vital series for Gill. The right-hander averages only 27.6 in Tests since 2023 and will be playing for his place in this series. 

Test Kohli with spin

In home Tests since 2021, Virat Kohli averages 30.3 against spin (15 dismissals) compared to 6 against pace (only two dismissals). Persistent finger spin has been the method to tame Kohli. 

The off-spinners have accounted for eight of Kohli’s 15 home dismissals versus spin, while the left-arm spinners have pocketed him on seven occasions. This brings England’s young bowlers, Shoaib Bashir (off-spinner) and Hartley, alongside Leach (left-arm finger spin) into the picture. 

11 of Kohli’s spin dismissals are LBW and bowled. The Delhi-born won’t be featured in this series's first two test matches. But he remains a valuable player for the last three Tests. Good length bowling in line with the stumps and staying patient should be England’s game plan to restrict Kohli when he returns.

Push Iyer on the back foot

Shreyas Iyer vs short balls has been a never-dying discourse. However, digging deeper reveals that Iyer has struggled to cope with pacers on the back foot. Overall, the 29-year-old averages only 17 at a strike rate of 59 while playing pace bowlers on the back foot. Against short balls, he has only three runs off 27 deliveries for two dismissals. One of these dismissals came in India. 

Having said that, Iyer can also be tied up by spin in India. The orthodox left-arm spinners have got him out five times in India. Although he averages 42.2 against this bowling type, his strike rate is 65.7, a shade lower than his strike rate of 69.8 against spin in India. 

Hence, a speedster who can rock Iyer on the back foot (Mark Wood or Gus Atkinson), alongside a left-arm spinner at the other end could curb Iyer. Like Gill, Iyer is one of the batters playing for his place in the Test side. 

Off-spin vs KL & Axar

KL Rahul averaged 59.6 against spinners in India between 2016 and 2018. Post-2018, Rahul has played only three Tests in India, all during the Border Gavaskar Trophy last year. In that series, Rahul was out thrice to spinners with one common factor in all three dismissals - an off-break bowler from around the stumps. 

Similarly, Axar Patel, in his brief career, has been out to off-spinners bowling around the stumps four times in 12 innings. 

England possesses two such options on this tour - Joe Root and Bashir. Root is a part-time spinner but has picked 31 wickets in the last three years. He picked 5/8 in the Ahmedabad Test. Bashir, a specialist off-spinner, is yet to make his debut. 

Rahul and Axar’s sample size against this tactic is low, and all England have is a part-timer and a 20-year-old bowler yet to make his debut. But it is a punt the visitors will take happily to buy wickets. 

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