Cow Corner

England spin it to win it

India captain MS Dhoni wanted wickets which turned in this series against England. Even when his side romped to victory in the opening Test, he was agitating for a track which offered more. At least in the wake of defeat in Mumbai, he had the good grace to accept he had gotten the pitch he demanded.

India loaded their team with three front-line twirlers — and they were comprehensively outbowled by two of England's. It was never before thus.

England bowled 125.2 overs of spin, and took 19-329 in that time. India, by contrast, bowled 116.1 with spinners, garnering just nine wickets for 418.

The tourists' traditional woes on the subcontinent are well-documented, and hardened fans have learned to wallow in the predictable calamities, and celebrate the occasional times that trends and history are bucked.

For India, this will be a harder defeat to shake off. They prepared a pitch they believed would suit their strengths, and were soundly beaten regardless. It was like England welcoming India to a seaming, bouncing track in northern England in overcast conditions in May and being schooled by their opposite numbers. Like thinking you're the best-looking boy in class, only for the geek next to you to get the girl.

Will India want those kinds of wickets again later in the series? Dhoni insists he will, but he'll need considerably more from his bowlers to justify it in Kolkata and Nagpur.

It is not so much a criticism of India's spin as a celebration of England's. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann found the optimal pace for turn — quick through the air, allowing the pitch to do the work — and took full advantage.

They have long looked like a pairing who should complement each other in conditions like these. One turns the ball in the opposite direction to the other, they probe different parts of the wicket and from different angles. Monty is the bowler with the more honed, grooved action — Swann can rip the ball and possesses more variety and guile.

Their career records to date suggested they should provide a stern examination for any team, and yet in a curious anomaly they had not won any of the seven previous Tests in which they had both featured.

That was one of many statistics the pair improved in this match. Panesar claimed the best match figures by an England spinner in India, and picked up his 150th wicket. Not bad for a comeback. Swann, fresh from overhauling Jim Laker as England's most prolific off-spinner in the previous Test, moved past 200 scalps at this level in this match. His Test match record of 48 Tests, 206 wickets at 29.04 compares favourably to famed off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq (49 Tests, 208 wickets at 29.83) — and he's managed it without a 'doosra', a delivery which spins the other way.

India have to reappraise themselves as a team. Without Anil Kumble, and with Harbhajan Singh a fraction of the bowler he once was, India no longer boast the world's pre-eminent spinners.

Where they will struggle to be beaten is mastering the conditions that offer little or nothing to bowlers. Most bowling attacks around the world expect a little assistance: whether it's swing with the new ball, reverse with the old, spin as the game wears on, varying degrees of bounce or all of the above. When there is none, does any country's bowlers have the same levels of experience and patience from which to draw as India's?

Spinning tracks may yet work in India's favour as the series wears on. As Cowers noted earlier in the Test, Swann and Panesar exploited the conditions they were given to make outstanding contributions — but Kevin Pietersen set up the victory with an inspiring innings in spite of the pitch. Without it, the tale of the Test might well have been very different.

But England need not fear it, or feel that they cannot compete on those tracks. If Alastair Cook's side have designs on returning to the top of the world rankings and reclaiming some pride from a year that has included seven Test defeats, this was an enormous step forward and a famous victory.