Indian cricket August 2, 2010

Paucity of spinners is hurting India

It might not be obvious, but what is hurting India right now and would in a bigger way is the paucity of good spinners

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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