Shane Warne used to talk about the imagination required to captain spinners in Test cricket — and being creative is one of Ben Stokes’ biggest strengths.
There were lots of examples on Sunday, notably when he set himself three-quarters of the way back to the boundary, tempting Shreyas Iyer to either take the easy single or take him on at deep mid-off.
Iyer took him on and Stokes pulled off a brilliant catch to get England a morning breakthrough.
Then came the turnaround of the third day when Shubman Gill’s dismissal sparked a collapse of six wickets for 44 runs.
Stokes completely changed the field for the bowling of Shoaib Bashir, moving seven men on to the leg side and challenging Gill to hit against the spin or reverse sweep — a shot the Indian batters have been working on in the nets but do not play too often.
England captain Ben Stokes (above) got creative to spark his spin attack against India
Shubman went for it and gloved the ball up in the air to provide the simplest of catches for wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, whose work was exemplary once again.
Outside the box thinking got England wickets and although India are still massively on top after they were dismissed for 255, they were undoubtedly sloppy.
Indian teams of old were ruthless in these situations and coach Rahul Dravid would have been left feeling this one left some runs out there again.
This pitch has shown some signs of deterioration, but because the game has progressed so quickly it was still pretty good yesterday with the odd ball keeping low, other deliveries spinning a bit but the greatest threat ahead still coming from Jasprit Bumrah’s reverse swing.
If England had not bowled as well as they did, and India had been their old selves, it would have left the tourists doing most of their fourth innings batting on day five, when this pitch would be going underground. Had they managed to get 450 runs ahead, the match would have been all-but over, but a target of 399 just left the door ajar.
Looking at the way Bumrah bowled on Saturday, you might think England got their selection wrong and needed another seamer, but in my opinion they had to play all three of their inexperienced spinners Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir to cover when one of them is going through a bad day.
When you are young, having not played that much first-class cricket, your ups and downs will naturally be more pronounced than those of the experienced Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in India in 2012-13.
Stokes pulled off a brilliant catch to get England a morning breakthrough on the third day
England were set a target of 399 to win having chased over 100 only twice in India in history
With Swann and Panesar you wouldn’t have to play three, but you need only think of the peaks and troughs of this series to understand why Stokes does.
Hartley was not at his best in the first innings of the first Test, yet was excellent in the second. Ahmed was not particularly good towards the end of the Hyderabad win, but in the first innings here was very effective. So, Stokes needs an extra option to turn to when one is struggling.
Yes, the fact that Bumrah got Root out with reverse swing as early as the 26th over of England’s first innings suggests Mark Wood might have been a handful, but England have been exposed with injury as well — Jack Leach in the first match couldn’t bowl much and Root was off the field on Sunday.
Without overplaying things, these three spinners will take a lot of confidence from how they bowled. But their figures are as much a testament of the way they were captained by Stokes as they are their own individual performances.