August Player of the MonthGeorge Roberts |
In the usually jam-packed international cricket calendar, a month that saw just a handful of ODIs and the dregs of a Test series played has come as something of a welcome breathing space. Yet August began with India demonstrating the ultimate Test match shut-out to secure a rare series win in England and ended with the exciting first stages of the one-day leg of the same tour. Sandwiched in between them was South Africa’s whistle-stop visit to Zimbabwe, resulting in a decisive but not entirely convincing victory for the tourists.
While all of the Proteas’ recognised batsmen made a healthy amount of runs, man-of-the-series AB de Villiers was the standout performer, striking a fifty and a hundred in his only two real opportunities. However the bowling betrayed a lack of depth in the South African attack, a weakness well exposed by a resurgent Zimbabwean side who passed 200 three times during the series.
A few thousand kilometres north off Harare, India’s safety-first policy in the third Test at The Oval handed them a first series victory in England since 1986. Not for the first time, a three-match series felt more of an appetiser for something bigger to come than the real deal itself, but the temperature that had risen during ‘jelly-bean gate’ continued to rise during the following ODI series.
For so long, Indian spin has meant one of two names: Harbhajan Singh or Anil Kumble. However in the tubby Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla, the fresh-faced teenage legspinner, they now have two of the hottest bowling talents around. Powar does not look like a natural athlete, something all too evident in the outfield, but his dip and turn has already rendered members of the England batting order clueless so far in the series.
Chawla, despite his comparative costly figures, has however been the undoubted head-turner among pundits and fans alike. To see any legspinner claim instant success on the world stage is a delight to see; to see an eighteen-year-old do so against the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood is an early indication of just how prolific he could be in years to come. If Powar is a throwback to the offspinners of decades gone by, Chawla offers the memorisation only cricket can.
Confronted by Chawla’s googly and Powar’s unerring accuracy, why then are England two games up on India with three still to play? Ian Bell, England’s now solid-set number three, has been the key. Coming off the back of a poor first two Tests against India, Bell hit twin fifties at The Oval and has looked in control at the crease almost ever since. In the opening game of the limited-overs series, Bell stroked a maiden ODI century, setting up a crushing victory. At Bristol, he held his nerve against the spinners while those around him were undone by Chawla, nonetheless, his 64 was in vain.
Come Edgbaston and the third ODI, Bell again looked the only batsman confident against Chawla and Powar, notching up a third consecutive score of fifty or more, before then showing his athleticism in the field with two tumbling catches and the crucial run out of Yuvraj Singh. After such form, even a terrible leave against Ajit Agarkar could be excused.
That Pietersen, Collingwood and the rest of the middle order have largely struggled against Chawla and Powar is testament to the spin twins’ brilliance. That Bell has been the one figure to truly exude confidence against them – occasionally shimmying down the wicket to loft straight – is testament to a cool head and a watertight technique.
Cricket Web Player of the Month for August