Down the years it has been possible to lament the death of English spin bowling. It was probably interred around 35 years ago somewhere close to a seaming Headingley green top. That would teach it for interfering where it was patently no longer either desired or sought.
Peculiar to discover then that it was at Headingley in 1958 that spin last took 19 opposition wickets for England. Until yesterday, that is, when Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar followed Jim Laker and Tony Lock after 54 years and bowled England to an astonishing 10-wicket win in the second Test. Swann took eight wickets in the match, bringing his career total to 206, and Panesar returned figures of 11 for 210, the best of his career.
The figures alone are outstanding but they do not quite reveal the extent of the pair's influence. The English duo outbowled their Indian counterparts, who are supposed to be the masters of such matters on their home surfaces. Swann and Panesar were smarter, quicker and achieved more searching spin on a turning pitch which was fuelled by red soil, a commodity that encourages bounce.
"I think the job of a spinner is to work out a wicket. The way Monty and Swanny did that was fantastic," said England captain Alastair Cook. "It is always harder when you know you have got to perform. You have to take the wickets but they fronted up and did that."
Swann said before the tour, wholly understanding the nature of his role: "If we do turn up just expecting the spinner to win the series for us then we're screwed." Make that plural. England learned rapidly from the error of their defeat in the first Test at Ahmedabad and recalled Panesar to partner Swann for the eighth time in a Test. Their reluctance was natural.
In the pair's seven previous matches together, England had never won and had been beaten four times. But it was not only that. The combination that had taken England to No 1 in the world and remained extremely effective even when they were being beaten in the UAE last winter was a four-man attack which comprised three fast bowlers and a single spinner.
A match down and with MS Dhoni, the India captain, virtually instructing the groundsman to prepare a turning wicket, England were backed into a corner. They came out of it fighting. Swann has nous as a conventional off-break bowler which is often too easily overlooked. Panesar, on the evidence of this match, has grown and matured: it is not just that he has the courage of his convictions now, but that he has convictions, moving his field, assessing his man.
Dhoni said of England's left armer: "In this Test match, Monty was different to all the other bowlers. All the other bowlers were getting enough bounce and turn but Monty was bowling at pace, close to 90, 95kph and was still able to get some turn. He was someone who had a big impact on the game."
Nobody should presume that England will carry the pair everywhere. Back in England next year it will be back to a diet of seam with Swann on top. But for now Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, the Indian duo, know they are in a fight for the series.
Cook said: "I said before the game we need to take the work we have done in the nets out in the middle and perform and that is what we did. It's been a brilliant three days. That is as good an England game I've been involved in." He was not alone in that.Reuse content