History has a strange way of repeating itself. A quarter of a century ago, in a bid to end the deadlock in the series against Pakistan which had seen four drawn Tests, the Indian authorities prepared a turning track at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy stadium for the decider.
It was reckoned that this would constitute the home team’s best bet to win the contest given the fact that the Indian spin trio of Ravi Shastri, Shivlal Yadav and Maninder Singh had performed better than the Pakistan spin trio of Iqbal Qasim, Tauseef Ahmed and Abdul Qadir.
The Indians were hung by their own petard. The hidden danger in adopting the policy of playing to your own strengths could well lie in your own batting not living up to expectations, the bowling having a bad day at the office or the opponents’ batting and bowling rising to the challenge. That’s exactly what happened and an exciting low scoring contest ended in four days but with Pakistan winning by 16 runs and emerging triumphant in a series in India for the first time.
There was predictably a sense of deja vu during the just concluded Test at the Wankhede stadium and seasoned experts who had seen such tactics boomerang nodded as if to say "I told you so, didn’t I" while questioning the wisdom of opting to play on surfaces that aid spin.
The same story surfaced. At Bangalore the spin duo of Tauseef and Qasim exploited the conditions better – Qadir did not play - whereas the Indian trio were found wanting. To complete the sorry picture the batting with the exception of Dilip Vengsarkar in the first innings and Sunil Gavaskar in the second innings – in what was to be his last Test innings – came a cropper even as the Pakistanis underlined the fact that there is no substitute for team work. No player crossed the half century mark – the highest score was 47 – but useful contributions down the order were enough to sway the match their way.
Not that the Wankhede stadium script exactly followed what happened 25 years ago. England’s batting was vastly superior with one man alone getting more runs than the Indians could cobble together the second time around. Indeed at times it appeared that Kevin Pietersen was batting on a different surface, so assured was his strokeplay, so secure was he in his defence.
But then his 186 underscored KP’s genius and bolstered his image as the cricketing world’s greatest entertainer. At the end of it all, he paid tribute to his captain and coach and teammates who have obviously helped him put aside the contentious issues that had surfaced over the last few months. With the controversy behind him, it is no doubt a pleased Pietersen who will be at the batting crease from now on and if his form at Mumbai is any indication India’s bowlers better watch out.
Alastair Cook lauded the performances of his lads in fighting back just a week after being outplayed at Ahmedabad but there is little doubt that he too deserves praise for both his leadership qualities and sterling batting. As Pietersen put it, he is going to break all the England batting records in future and it is difficult not to agree with this viewpoint.
Both Cook and Pietersen got their 22nd Test hundreds during the game which put them alongside Walter Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott as the leading century makers for England. Even in a star studded batting line-up, Cook stands out with his ideal blend of style and substance. Captaincy has only enhanced his batting skills for he is now the only player to have scored hundreds in his first four Tests as captain.
But of course matches are won not only on the strength of the batting. Even on a surface that aided spin it requires skill to use it purposefully and Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar came up trumps. They succeeded exactly where the Indian spin trio failed – observing the basics of line and length, not trying too many variations and letting the pitch do the rest. It is not very often that an English spin duo takes 19 wickets in a match and one probably has to go back half a century and the days of Jim Laker and Tony Lock to find a parallel.
Oh yes, whichever way one looks at it, the victory at Mumbai has to be one of the most significant for England in recent years. For one thing, they have hardly found things easy for them on the subcontinent, particularly in India where before this they had won only one of 13 matches. Secondly they had been written off before the contest started given the fact that they had not won a series in this country for 28 years.
Following their comprehensive nine-wicket defeat at Ahmedabad, few gave them any chance and indeed there were those who were talking of a 4-0 rout and the 'revenge' being complete following the clean sweep inflicted by England at home last year. And yet within a week, in a complete and totally unexpected turn around, has come about a result that few would have bargained for.
Suddenly a series that looked lacklustre is alive and there is everything to play for. And as they head for the Eden Gardens with their confidence restored, England could be even stronger with the return of Ian Bell and the inclusion of Steve Finn who should be fit by the time the third Test commences on December 5.
As for the Indians, they will just have to lick their wounds, analyse what went wrong and regroup. But that will not be easy and the series has already brought back memories of what happened 28 years ago when England last won a series in this country.
India won the first Test, England came back strongly to take the second and after a drawn third Test, England finally clinched the series in the fourth Test to become the only team to come from behind to emerge triumphant in a series in India. As I said, history has a strange way of repeating itself.