Playing and prospering against leg-spin has never been the strength of English batsmen.
There are reasons why. Conditions are obviously a big factor, with cold and overcast weather in the early English summer favouring seam and swing, not spin, while the nature of most wickets weren’t built for the ball to turn square.
It is also typically harder to progress as a leggie and requires years of development, as well as the belief of a coach and captain with both in harmony together backing you, sometimes a rare case.
These issues, in fairness, are something England have never hid away from but obviously rise to the surface during long and arduous tours to the subcontinent and when the Three Lions face such attacks on home soil.
Home soil is a funny term to use here. On Tuesday night during the first T20I of the three-match series with India, conditions at the Emirates Old Trafford felt more akin to a low-turner in Mumbai or Delhi.
A true British summer heatwave of extreme proportions, with temperatures upwards of 30 degrees and bushfires raging in northern England, combined with a crowd of which the majority were supporting India, made it feel like England were playing away from home. An away fixture in your own backyard.
The distraction of the World Cup didn’t help Eoin Morgan’s men, nor traditional cricket lovers who would have been following the game, which clashed with the cricket, against Colombia.
All that said, England are used to the feeling of playing under these circumstances, particularly when India and Pakistan are in town. It is easier said than done to negate a factor which undoubtedly plays into the hands of a touring side. There is also a general under-current of relish from most nations about the prospect of beating England in any sporting realm.
Out in the middle, Kuldeep Yadav, the slow left-armer, cashed in and produced mystery and intrigue, claiming 5-24 in India’s emphatic eight-wicket win.
England weren’t exactly reckless against the 23-year-old, nor were they short of aggression. Getting to the pitch of the ball wasn’t necessarily a problem either nor was snuffing out the spin and playing with the attacking mindset we have become used to with this side since 2015 in limited-overs competition.
What let them down was a rather simple failure. They just didn’t pick Yadav. That becomes a big problem in T20 cricket when you are under-pressure to score and have no time to adjust and to try and read a bowler.
England may have been advised though to think about how they were going to score off Yadav and play him accordingly.
A rethink will surely take place ahead of the second match of the series but England could have used their experience to approach his spin with a bit more caution and may be tick over the total more conservatively, knowing that by seeing him off they had plenty of star batting power to win the game.
It felt a lot like when Yuzvendra Chahal dismantled the England T20I batting line-up in Bangalore in February 2017 with a six-wicket haul.
On Tuesday, English batsmen got caught again like a rabbit in front of headlights, neither defending nor executing attacking strokes with conviction. The dismissals were brainless and could have been avoided.
Alex Hales’ paddle-sweep fall simply showed he didn’t catch what was coming out of Yadav’s left-hand, Morgan’s footwork was flaky when he shanked one off the toe of the bat while Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root were done by drift, rather than spin. The Indian spinner deserves huge credit for deceiving top-draw players.
It was like England batsmen felt the ball was going to come into the right-hander – but in those two circumstances with Bairstow and Root – the ball did nothing, just sliding past the outside edge where MS Dhoni was handy enough behind the stumps.
No one can tell Jos Buttler how to play, he was Yadav’s fifth scalp, but these were huge wickets to fall and ultimately decided the match in spite of K. L. Rahul’s sublime match-winning knock.
England are technically fine, they just have to be a bit sharper with their decision-making and that boils down to mentality.
A win for the Men in Blue lays down an early-marker that they are a serious threat to England in all three formats, with two more T20Is, three ODIs and a five-match Test series to follow from August.
England will need to plan and tweak accordingly, as well as work out how to play leggies with greater conviction. That, again, is easier said than done and is an age-old problem England looked more equipped now to fixing than previous years.
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