England must prosper against pace - Croft
Much has been made of the ‘trial by spin’ awaiting England’s batsmen in India, yet Robert Croft has warned against the dangers of underestimating the hosts’ seam attack.
Touring England sides have traditionally found life tough against the turning ball, epitomised by a 3-0 Test series defeat to Pakistan last winter in the United Arab Emirates, and are set to face a potent slow bowling pairing in Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
India’s spin twins have combined to take an astonishing 73 wickets in the five Tests they have played together thus far.
Croft, however, believes England can deal with Ashwin and Ojha, provided they do not lose too many wickets up front to Zaheer Khan and Co.
In an exclusive interview with ecb.co.uk, the 42-year-old former off-spinner - who featured in 21 Tests - said: “In the past there has been a lot of focus on how England batsmen play against spin, but if you look at it, the Indian seamers have dented our batting line-up early on, giving the spinners the opportunity to wheel away.
“Even though Indian pitches are going to spin, what England have got to make sure is that they nullify the effect of their seamers first and foremost.
“Then they will have players in and ready to face the spinners when they come on, rather than the spinners coming on against five, six and seven.”
Unsurprisingly, Croft has been impressed with what he has seen from Ashwin and Ojha during their brief time together at the highest level.
“They are two bowlers that are very good line bowlers,” he explained.
“Ashwin bowls quite a lot different to Harbhajan (Singh, the off-spinner he replaced in India’s team). He bowls from quite close in to the crease and drifts it out, and he bowls the carrom ball.
“Ojha is a guy who will run up and bowl and look to go at two, two and a half an over and build pressure.
“Their approach, until the pitches turn, will be to not concede more than 70 runs in a session and see if they can pick two or three wickets up.”
While India are highly likely to field an attack featuring two frontline spinners, it remains to be seen whether England will choose to utilise Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
The duo claimed 22 wickets in two Tests against Pakistan, but Croft believes their partnership can still be improved.
“Swann and Panesar are very good. What they really haven’t quite done is bowl as well as they can do together,” reasoned the Welshman.
“They have each performed very well when they have been the single spinner in a team. What they have got to try and do now is bowl very well as a pair.
“When you’re the solo spinner it’s easy to work it all out, but when you’re one of two spinners sometimes you just want to try and outdo each other and you can lose hold of what you should be doing as a pair. You run free.
“You still have to be mindful of the partnership you’re trying to create.”