August 2, 2010

Indian cricket

Paucity of spinners is hurting India

Aakash Chopra
Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh had a tough day, Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, SSC, 1st day, July 26, 2010
Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh looked quite listless, which in turn made the Indian attack look rather pedestrian  © Live Images
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MS Dhoni has hoped for a bigger pool of fast bowlers to choose from. Most captains, selectors and critics have craved for the same for a long time in order to improve India's performances overseas. They believed, and rightly so, that one of the main reasons for India's dismal showing abroad was the paucity of good quick bowlers, for our spinners weren't half as effective on seamer-friendly surfaces. Ergo anyone who could bowl quick was fast-tracked to first-class level and eventually to international cricket - Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Sudeep Tyagi to name a few. Jaydev Unadkat and Jaskaran Singh are the new names in that ever growing list.

In due course of time, we got so obsessed with the fast bowlers that we completely ignored the spinners. We believed that our legacy of great spinners would ensure the regular supply of quality spinners in dozens. We even asked our curators to prepare sporting tracks (which means green-tops) at the first-class level to encourage the quick men. On such surfaces, the role of spinners changed radically from being aggressive to defensive. They were no longer expected to take wickets regularly, but were asked to hold one end up till the seamers get a breather and are raring to go again.

In spite of such obvious attempts, some might argue that we still don't have the expected pool of fast bowlers. It isn't because of a dearth of fast bowlers but a bungled logic that believes in fast-tracking and not nurturing, the two being diametrically opposite.

It might not be obvious, but what is hurting India right now and would in a bigger way is the paucity of good spinners. A closer look at our resources might tell you the true picture. Three spinners picked for this Test series, literally picked themselves in the squad, for they are the best we have at this moment. Some may still argue about Murali Kartik, but since the endeavour seems to be to build the team for the future, I'd, with slight reluctance, go with their 'no-looking-back-policy'.

In the first two Tests, both Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha made no impression whatsoever. In fact both of them looked quite listless, which in turn made the Indian attack, look rather pedestrian. A good spinner is not the one who runs through a side on a crumbling surface but the one who makes his presence felt even on the flattest of tracks. In fact, such tracks demand a bigger contribution from the tweakers because you can push your fast bowlers only so much. For them, length becomes the non-negotiable factor while they must keep varying the lines, angles and speed. If you can't take wickets, try creating pressure by keeping the batsman quiet. If you can't breach his technique, challenge his ego. What we saw in the first two Tests was everything but this. Harbhajan may not have liked to be singled out but that's the price you must pay for your success. People criticize you because they expect you to deliver, for who would talk about a show pony?

Yet the situation at the top may not be as alarming, but the scenario a step below is quite disappointing. Would you believe me if I were to tell you that there's not a single spinner in the country who's got what it takes to succeed in the longer format? A glance at the highest-wicket takers in the first-class season would validate my point. Eight out of top 10 are fast bowlers in a country which boasts of a rich history of spinners. Most spinners at the first-class level prefer to bowl quicker and flatter instead of tossing the ball and adding revolutions to get the dip, drift and spin. They have already sacrificed spin for accuracy and guile for economy. And believe me it has a lot to do with the advent of T20 cricket. The longer version of the game has paved the way for the shortest format even at the school and age-group level cricket, which means kids, from a very young age, are encouraged to bowl quicker in the air and shorter spells. Even if they aren't told to do so, the survival instinct doesn't allow them to flight the ball. For they pay a heavy price for every 'flighted' delivery.

My suggestion, though radical, would be to keep T20 cricket out of bounds for young spinners. Once spotted the talent to flight, drift and more importantly spin, they must be nurtured till they mature. For once they mature, they would develop the knowhow to succeed in all conditions and formats without forfeiting their basic craft.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by heart hunter on (August 30, 2010, 9:54 GMT)

I wonder how Krish zz so cool.... Indian cricket is facing very big problem with no.7 slot player ahead of upcoming world cup... though many experts and fans are expecting All-Rounder Irfan to fill up the place, Mr.Krish seems to be not interested with Irfan... Until Bias is there in indian selection committee against an individual players, how come we can be without worrying....? May be THE WORLD CUP is just a job or duty for Mr. Krish.... but for we fans of Indian cricket the upcoming world cup is our heart beats... selectors please dont show any bias against any individuals or group.. we want india to lift the cup.... JAI HIND

Posted by tombaan on (August 7, 2010, 22:34 GMT)

Karthik is the best spinner along with Powar but somehow Bhaji sits in that spot. Bhaji is a poor performer abroad and needs to give someone like Karthik a shot

Posted by Phil on (August 3, 2010, 9:52 GMT)

It is not just young spinners who suffer from T20 madness at junior level. It effects batsmen too. Building an innings, learning technique, consistency, temperament and trying to grow into the game are unwanted by many of today's coaches who are too interested in how many fours a kid hits to cow corner. Don't sack spinners from junior T20. Sack T20 from junior cricket. Totally.

Posted by Adwait Parulekar on (August 3, 2010, 4:32 GMT)

Bingo Aakash! Dearth of quality spinners is the biggest worry. I know a lot was being said about the SSC pitch being flat, but our "world class" spinner Harbhajan Singh was unable to bowl a single maiden over. Quality bowlers are expected to make a mark on flat pitches or atleast create some pressure. Also the "5 wise men" are compounding the woes. Without any doubt, Murali Kartik is the best spinner in the country n he should be back.

Posted by Anonymous on (August 3, 2010, 3:40 GMT)

BCCI focus mainly in IPL money, Don't care about grooming Fast bowlers & spinners,, Donot have backup plans. we have talents like Ifran, Yusuf,Dinda,Jaskaran,Vinaykumar,RP, Munaf etc in fast bowling reserves & ramesh powar,Chawla,Ashwin,Murali karthik. put them in accadamy for coaching with assistance from legends and send them for A tour.. this is the only way to groom them and keep this on track for selection for senior team. note just on IPL & Ranji performance one cannot groom. Had BCCI done this before, we would have many options for senior team. look now if Bajji is not playing 3rd at lanka, we have no good spinners to backup.. Ohja & Mishra strugle just because they don't have experience in longer version of game. Indian being no.1 team now don't have match winning seamer & spinner for this test. it's pitty

Posted by hari_prasad on (August 3, 2010, 3:02 GMT)

The recurring theme is 'why would young players forfeit playing t20 while it pays handsomely'. That is precisely why BCCI should use their coffers and change the pay structure to reward the longer version better.

BCCI will fail to see it as an investment in making Indian cricket stronger. What they're doing is promoting the short term financial benefits(for both players and the board playing t20) while compromising promoting talent.

Why put the players in a situation to choose t20 over test cricket.

It is just a simple concept that involves economics and im sure no one at the BCCI is ready or willing to address this.

While I'm a traditionalist that prefers test cricket over t20, it is hard to dismiss t20 now, as it provides the instant gratification. But BCCI can easily ensure test cricket and the upcoming talent survive on the face of this t2o surge by making test cricket more attractive financially.

Aakash - Thanks for eliciting a discussion on all things cricket. Hari P

Posted by Critic on (August 2, 2010, 19:21 GMT)

It's easier said than done. Sehwag bowls better than Bhajji and we have to accept the fact, he's simply a little over-rated spinner. But we cannot help it. There are competent spinners!!

Posted by Rajaraman on (August 2, 2010, 16:44 GMT)

India lacking quality spinners is not a new phenomenon, that has come up all of a sudden. It has been there for almost three decades now. After the famous spin quartet, we had only Dilip Doshi, Shivlal Yadav, Maninder Singh, Anil Kumble and Harbajan to show, which itself was a poor showing. Ofcourse there were Ravi Shashtri and Venkatapathy Raju too. The advent of ODIs slowly made the spinners a defensive lot. Even when Kumble and Harbajan were dominating the national team we didnt have a good spin bench strength. Harbajan has all the while been a good restrictive one day bowler and a dangerous test bowler only when the pitch does something or when the Indian batsmen have posted an imposing total. Though Murali Kartik may not be the right choice at this point, it was always baffling why he was not considered earlier even as a third spinner. After Bedi and Maninder and to some extent Raju, Murali Karthik was the best left arm spinner the country produced but we failed to utilize him.

Posted by S.N.Singh on (August 2, 2010, 15:25 GMT)

I agreed what is said and agreed with Dhoni for a larger pool of fast/medium bowlers. Why don't BCCI get Kapel Dev involved in the searching and selecting the best of the pool to be kept in training to play "five day test?" These training must include physical training. Developement of strngth to the shoulders and legs. The must "runs" once or twice per week for about 5 to 10 miles. this will develope their stamina and also strengthen their body-shoulders. I don't know what the accademy has for their training program. when i was playing cricket without coach or acadamy we used to these things. we never fall sick or injuried as to day's players. We practice 3 days per week- three hours per day, and that it. To day is so different and yet you get more problems. I think India at present should go with 3 recoginized spinners and two medium pacers. This is how it was done by India before. I think the should considered Kartik.

Posted by Venkat on (August 2, 2010, 15:09 GMT)

Akash, I am a spinner myself (past) and I think the following are the problems. Spin bowling, like all other skills in the game is an extremely individual thing. What works for someone will not work for the other guy. I clearly remember, when I was younger a lot of coaches used to ask me to get a lot more chest-on than I used to.When I did go chest on, while my accuracy would improve the spin and dip would decrease drastically. Yet, coaches and captains always preferred accuracy to an attacking spinner ( I am not saying that these two are mutually exclusive). There is the other school which I believe "romances" flight. There are bowlers who bowl quickly, and there are others who are much flatter. What works and what gets you wickets is more important. Captains at junior cricket and ranji cricket just dont know how to handle spinners and work with spinners. Spin bowling is an art and if we need to preserve it we require clever captains and coaches.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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