Circa 1990. The English side had landed in India with the hope of competing in a three-match series. By the time the tour ended, the Indian spinners running through the English batsmen, was a nauseatingly common sight and a 3-0 result followed.
The more things change, the more they remain the same and the only difference between then and tonight was the format. Then Graham Gooch and co. had capitulated in Test matches to the guile of Anil Kumble, while it was his successor and recently recalled Harbhajan Singh who scythed through them in the youngest form of the game here.
The margin of 90 runs against what can be described a back-up bowling attack will hurt England, who had, before this game, begun to look more like the team here to defend their title.
To fall like nine pins to a team who had come into the game wanting to use this as a glorified practice game will be heart-breaker for Stuart Broad. This, despite his assertions that the result maintained the status quo and that was that England still play in the Super Eights.
India decided to revamp their bowling line-up for this game. There was a break for their best bowler, R Ashwin, out of form Zaheer Khan was also dropped while Virender Sehwag made way for an extra bowler, Piyush Chawla for India.
England, unsurprisingly, called upon the services of an extra pace bowler against a team notoriously susceptible against speed and bounce. What was then surprising was that none of the English speedsters managed to make any impression.
Steven Finn picked up the wicket of makeshift opening batsman Irfan Pathan, but was very erratic in his opening spell. That set the tone for the rest of the innings with each of the pace bowler going for at least eight runs an over.
After the loss of Pathan, Gautam Gambhir was joined by Virat Kohli. With Bradmanesque run-scoring in the last few months, it would be interesting to see how Kohli played against one of the better pace bowling attacks in the world. He came out with flying colours.
At the other end, Gambhir’s shown a stark contrast in his form. Tendency to nibble at deliveries outside the off stump has got him into trouble before but tonight there were no major alarms for the opener.
Batting without his regular partner Sehwag, Gambhir quickly put the loss of Pathan behind and added 57 for the second wicket with Kohli. The stand propelled India’s run-rate to around eight at the half-way stage.
The first real sign that England could have difficulties later came in the Indian innings during Graeme Swann’s spell. He frustrated the usually unflappable Kohli into pulling one into the mid-wicket’s lap after Gambhir’s stumping had been missed by the Craig Kieswetter.
He ended conceding 14 singles, a couple and a wide in his four-over spell, and not for once did India come close to collaring him.
India slowed down a little just prior and after Kohli’s wicket but Rohit Sharma picked up the gauntlet pretty quickly from there. In Dhoni’s words, Rohit possesses the ability to start scoring runs without getting his eye in and that was the reason he was promoted up to the number four position.
Rohit’s innings in the warm-up game against Pakistan had everyone raving but fell behind in rankings because of India’s defeat. On a personal basis, it would have given him a lot of confidence and the translation of that into runs was evidently on display tonight.
A pull from almost the front foot off Jade Dernbach got him going while an upper cut and a hook in captain Broad’s last over set the proverbial cat among the pigeons.
Rohit added 47 for the fourth wicket with his captain. Such was Rohit’s impact during that stand that Dhoni scored only nine of those runs.
171 was a challenging total and yet England had the line-up to get there. They never got even started.
Playing the spinners was obviously going to be an ask, which is why the start was going to be crucial for England. Alex Hales, one of the two English cricketers to have scored 99 in T20Is, had his stumps knocked back when he swung hard and failed to connect.
Luke Wright, the other batsman in the line-up with a 99 to his name, scored in his previous game, fell down swinging to the same bowler. The ball caught him flush on the pads as he went for a pull and the umpire gave him the marching orders.
The rest could barely handle the spinners. Harbhajan came on in the sixth over and Piyush Chawla in the next. Their eight-over spell was broken by only a strange decision by Dhoni to bowl Ashok Dinda when England were eight wickets down and staring at an easy bus back to the hotel.
Harbhajan’s was an interesting spell. Often panned for his lack of flighting abilities and bowling really quick, Harbhajan got his first wicket with one that went quicker in the air. Eoin Morgan went for the cut and then went back to the pavilion.
With Chawla keeping good company and a wicket in his first over, Harbhajan’s confidence went a couple of notches northward.
A sweep from Bresnan went straight to the short fine-leg’s hands, Jos Buttler’s decision to back only knocked his stumps out while Graeme Swann failed to read his adversary’s off-spinner and was stumped.
Chawla passé under the radar but his was an important spell too. A googly took care of Jonny Bairstow in his very first over before he sent Craig Kieswetter with a leg-break that spun sharply and took the edge through to the slip. Incidentally, Kieswetter’s 35 was the best an Englishman got tonight and by a distance.
England slumped to 80 all out soon after, handing India a morale-boosting win after all the pressure the side has been under recently. Both teams went through to the Super Eight but with the tracks slowing up a little, teams will look to test England with spin even more now.
Much like that team in the 1990 and the ones that followed, more spin-related questions will be asked of their batsmen in the games to come.
(Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)