Moeen Ali not only took India by surprise at Southampton, he actually made some of the game's biggest pundits eat their words. Sourav Ganguly, India's former Test captain and one of the most respected commentators of the game, is one of them.
Ali captured eight wickets (conceding 129 runs) in a Test match for the first time. With 15 wickets in the present series, Ali has provided the seventh instance when a spinner has bagged 15 wickets or more in a series against India outside the sub-continent. West Indian, Jack Noreiga was the last spinner to take 15 wickets against India outside the sub-continent. He took 17 in four Tests in 1970-71.
Cricket's glorious uncertainties were on show at the Ageas Bowl. That the game makes a mockery of name and fame was there to see as well. Men like Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli are classic examples. Aggression can be misplaced at times. Tattoos don't score runs. Sensible batting approach do. India's top batsmen didn't learn their lessons in three Test matches.
The Lord's win was a great achievement. But Rome was not built in a day. One swallow don't make a summer. England have levelled the series at a crucial juncture. The 266-run win in the third Test at Southampton on Thursday will inject self-belief in an English team, which like the Indians, have talent in plenty.
For the next two Test matches, India will be up against the odds. The goodness of a victory will spur Alastair Cook and team. But the team's biggest plus has been Moeen Ali's bowling. While previewing the Test series, Ganguly said England's biggest weakness was their spin department.
In the post-Graeme Swann era and sans Monty Panesar, it was impossible to think that England win a Test match against India at home courtesy a spinner. Ganguly, like a Sanjay Manjrekar and even Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has been left in sheer disbelief. Birmingham-born Ali has just done the unthinkable.
In a post-match chat on TV, Ganguly said: "When an spinner takes six wickets in English conditions, there is something wrong with India's batting. With due respect to Moeen Ali, this was unthinkable. India's capitulation before lunch was a shame." In the long history of cricket between India and England, only five English spinners have taken a fifer in an innings versus Indians, traditionally skillful against a turning ball.
By taking 6/67, Ali produced his first five-wicket haul in Tests, obliterating the 3 for 105 versus India at Nottingham in the present series. Ray Illingworth is the only England bowler to produce two such instances -- 6/29 at Lord's in 1967 and 5 for 70 at The Oval in 1971.
Ali's figures are also the second best by an England spinner in a Test innings versus India in England, next only to the 6 for 29 by Illingworth at Lord's in 1967. Graeme Swann is the only other England spinner to bag six wickets in an innings against India in England -- 6/106 at The Oval in 2011.
Starting August 7 at Manchester, the odds will be up against India. Like the disastrous 2011 series when England whitewashed India 4-0, injuries to key players are surfacing. While Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be fighting physical injuries, Kohli, Dhawan and the skipper Dhoni himself will be battling mental gremlins.
(With inputs from Rajesh Kumar)