India’s problems against Moeen Ali are due to lack of backfoot use

The Indian cricket team slumped to an innings and 54 run defeat at the hands of England after a terrible batting display at Old Trafford and have fallen behind after being 1-0 up in the series. Contrary to the pre-series opinions, the toothless Indian bowling has managed reasonably, but it is the much expected batting that has failed miserably.

The batting has failed against quality swing/seam bowling which is disappointing but to an extent understandable, but the abject display against a spinner who just bowls orthodox offspin and does not spin it a mile is  inexcusable.  Mooen Ali has 19 wickets at the lowest strike rate for the series. More wickets than Shane Warne ever managed in a series against India.

As most commentators have pointed out, initially he was being treated with contempt by the Indian batsmen and wickets were lost in that process – Shikhar Dhawan and Roger Binny for example in the first Test. Later the Indian batsmen realised that he is not a push-over and also they found themselves struggling to save defeat in the second innings after falling way behind in the first and completely going into their shells trying to ‘block everything off the front foot’. They have been beaten both on the outside and the inside edges of the bat and have looked more at sea than the Indian batsmen looked against Ajanta Mendis when they played him for the first time.

Some of the commentators have simply been suggesting that the Indian batsmen simply try to hit him and put him under pressure – quite a difficult task when you are trying to save a Test match. Some are suggesting that the Indian batsmen have not been facing quality spin recently either due to declining quality in domestic cricket or being on tours where the emphasis is mostly on bowling/facing seam bowling.  Excuse me ? The South African domestic cricket is as poor it gets in terms of spin bowling and they just held out for a day on a Sri Lankan pitch against Herath and co.

My opinion is that the Indian batsmen should use the crease and play him off the back-foot more. Currently the Indian batsmen are not able to gauge how much his balls are going to turn evidenced by Pujara getting caught at slip and begin LBW in separate innings – defending off the front foot on both occasions. In such a situation thrusting the front foot every ball is just entering a minefield blindfolded. It is only a matter of time before you step on one.

If one watches old footages of Indian batsmen putting spinners to the sword, one can see how quickly they get on to the back foot. They had reasons to do that. Playing off the back foot obvioulsy gives more time for late adjustments, crucial when some balls are turning and some are not. Playing off the back foot is dangerous only one scenario – some balls keeping low. There weren’t too many balls doing that at Southampton and Manchester. It is not necessary that they play attacking shots of the back foot, just turning the ball around for one or two would do. This would have an effect on the bowler as well as he would need to pitch a little further up and this could make drives easier.

To lend a bit of weight to my theory, if one looks at the statistics of Indian batsmen against off spinners in the recent times (This was showed during the telecast repeatedly on Star). The best Indian batsmen against offspin were Dhoni and Ashwin, who always hang slightly back and try to get forward only for driving. Even in the Old Trafford second innings Ashwin looked to be batting on a different pitch and against different bowlers.

One more thing the Indians can try against Moeen is sweeping,.We did see the sweep being attempted a couple of times by Kohli and he did play it reasonably well.  but it does not come naturally to some batsmen and I am not sure how much progress one can make in 5 days in developing that shot.

But one thing is for sure, if they continue doing what they are doing now, Moeen will bag at least 5 wickets when it starts turning at the Oval in the second innings.

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