March 9, 2014

India should pick two spinners in away Tests

V Ramnarayan
For long India have neglected left-arm spin - despite Pragyan Ojha's reasonable success - and now R Ashwin, with his offspin, is also not an automatic selection  © AFP

Not long ago, I expressed the hope in this very column that the best of Ravichandran Ashwin was yet to come, inciting howls of protest from readers who pointed out that the offspinner's successes came almost entirely on Indian wickets. My optimism regarding Ashwin's progress as a Test spinner was based on what I perceived as a conscious effort on his part to go back to the basics of genuine spin, line and length, with less of an emphasis on unfurling a new trick every other ball. Ashwin's wicket-taking ability has since declined noticeably, especially, as predicted by my critics, on foreign soil.

The Indian team management's response to this development has, however been ill-advised, to put it mildly. To go into a Test match with not a single specialist spinner in the playing XI, as India did in New Zealand, must rank among the most naïve cases in Test history of the overestimation of a team's bowling resources. To expect a trio of medium-pacers and a lone part-time spinner to take 20 wickets on a good batting track, even if it was endowed with some life in the mornings, was wishful thinking of considerable density.

Come to think of it, when did India last bowl an opposition side out twice in a Test match abroad? One Test victory in South Africa, and another in the West Indies, with India's seamers and spinners collaborating effectively in 2010 and 2011 were the last such happy conclusions.

India's most memorable campaigns from the time the team started travelling relatively well under Ganguly, Dravid and Anil Kumble have owed a great deal to the contribution of the spinners, mainly Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, even if the seamers, spearheaded by Zaheer Khan, played key roles in the rare Test match victories abroad in the eras after Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar, and Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.

Not often during the same period have the pacemen run through the opposition even in conditions that favoured pace. The Indian express fast bowler is, of course, non-existent, and the handful capable of 140kph-plus speeds tend to slow down or disappear rapidly. Starting with Munaf Patel, a number of quick bowlers have flattered to deceive, with Mohammed Shami threatening to go the way of his seniors in the pace department. We hear of the great promise Ishwar Pandey holds, and Varun Aaron has shown he can bowl fast, but whatever happened to the strapping Umesh Yadav, known to have clocked 150kph? Is he no longer the selectors' favourite, or has he been beset by injuries?

Pace bowlers hunt in pairs, and here India struggles to field even one fast-medium bowler regularly in the XI. I believe they may be better off placing faith in spin, regularly playing two soinners in the XI, without being fooled by the chimera of bowling success based on a horses-for-courses theory of selection.

India do not seem to have a policy for spin. They have, for instance, neglected left-arm spin for decades now, with Pragyan Ojha in and out most of the time, despite his reasonably good run. India have rarely fielded an orthodox legspinner since Narendra Hirwani, now a member of the selection panel that can never make up its mind about the credentials of Amit Mishra. Ashwin is the only slow bowler to have been given a steady spell in Test cricket, and now he is no longer an automatic choice, at least overseas. I believe all three spinners should regularly be part of the tour party, and two of them ought to find a place in the Test XI, just the way all four spinners of India's fabled past used to be members of the 14 most of the time. It is hard to see Ravindra Jadeja in the role of specialist spinner except on Indian wickets, for all his utility to the team.

It is also time to look beyond senior cricket to try to spot spin bowling talent nationwide. A friend who coaches very young cricketers assures me that there is an abundance of spin talent in India, with a remarkable number of kids taking to wristspin. According to him, all that bubbling talent gets "coached out" as they grow up. The profusion of cricket academies, official and private, all over the country, somehow manages to extinguish the spark in these young bowlers by the time they enter adulthood. The world already knows that India can turn aspiring tearaways into trundlers in a couple of seasons, for there are so many examples of that, but we are just as good at doing the same to spinners. And when a rare talent defies the system and evolves into a top spinner, we can trust the selection committee to dump him. Remember Murali Kartik?

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

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Posted by NumberXI on (March 12, 2014, 4:35 GMT)

I think there is something wrong with the argument that India should play two spinners overseas, because there do not seem to be fast bowlers. India's cricket is littered with examples of quicks who were allowed to decay - Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar, VRV Singh, Munaf Patel, Unadkat, Mithun and, of course, Sreesanth - through sheer mismanagement. The answer to this decay is to have a plan to nurture the likes of Shami, Yadav, Aaron etc. Also, India's spin bowling stocks are depleted. Ashwin, unfortunately, remains an apology of a spinner, while the two best spinners - Mishra and Ojha - hardly ever get a look in. To his credit, Jadeja has improved, but he is hardly a front line spinner in the mould of a Kumble or Bhajji. Eventually, this is not about the paucity of spin bowling quality or fast bowlers - it is a more serious problem of the lack of bowling quality. That is what India needs to address.

Posted by JJJake on (March 11, 2014, 9:31 GMT)

pace or spin? India needs to pick the most attacking bowlers. the India bowlers/ captain shouldn't worry about run rates. Because they haven't taken 20 wickets in a tests aboard for years. Australia's bowlers have taken 20 wickets 7 times out of the past 8 tests.

Posted by   on (March 11, 2014, 8:56 GMT)

Completely disagree, No point in picking up spinners if they are not quality. There is not one single spinner in the country who can be labelled in the same category as one of the famous four or even Harbhajan Singh in his hey days. Picking pie throwers will only discourage pace bowlers. At least by picking pacers message is being sent. So sorry to read this article

Posted by Biso on (March 11, 2014, 6:54 GMT)

In fact I am amazed that Ashwin and Ojha are being backed by this blog for their abilities overseas. They are not even in the class of Harbhajan , Kumble , Saqlain or Swann. Forget Bedi and Prassana. World cricket has not seen any like them since ages. These finger spinners are only good for Indian conditions. Ashwin can play as a genuine all rounder in India and while abroad he might have to try opening batting in place of Murli Vijay. In case we are lucky to get a crumbling pitch he might get a few wickets with the kookabura. Off course he won't run through. Period. Mishra is a good leg spinner until the batsmen go after him. If he gets taken for runs he looks clueless. So long he is not being attacked he keeps the pressure on. In any case he surely looks like a wicket taker in any condition.

Posted by Biso on (March 11, 2014, 6:42 GMT)

Indian spinners look clueless with the kookabura ball. If only Ashwin was half the bowler overseas as he is on Indian conditions the team would have had a great balance. In South africa and NZ the team was playing with three bowlers ( pace ), period. The spinner was inconsequential and failed to even put any kind of pressure leading to the pace bowlers getting over bowled ,loosing steam and looking jaded. The only option India has overseas is going more quicker bowlers. Shami , Umesh and Aaron are must and Bhuvi only in English conditions. Finger Spinners have not been delivering. A genuine leg spinner is a better option. If you want to win, you need to keep your quick bowlers fresh. Dhoni is faced with the difficult choice of having an extra pure batsman since there are no fast bowling all rounders. We have to trust our pace bowlers and give them time to improve upon their line and length skills. That is a better bargain than backing slow bowlers masquerading as finger spinners.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (March 11, 2014, 5:39 GMT)

Indian spinners struggle overseas as well.

Posted by   on (March 11, 2014, 5:34 GMT)

Mr Ramnayaran,

I believe that India's fast bowlers, just like the wrist spinners are also coached out of bowling fast. Every time a fast bowler who was bowling anything above medium comes on stage the pundits, the tv anchors and the coaches state the same thing; he is bowling fast now he just have to maintain discipline and bowl in the channel. That is how you kill creative geniune fast bowler. The Australians tried the "bowl in the channel and wait for the batsmen to make mistake" strategy but it doesn't work in most of the places. It is time that Indians too start trusting their fast men and let them be.

Posted by RoshJ on (March 11, 2014, 5:13 GMT)

Sorry to say this, even if the whole of Indian team consist of spiners, India will never win a test series oustide Indian flat pitches...look what happened to India's so called "master of spin" Ashwin in SA and NZ..he was nothing better than a club cricketer!

Posted by stonk on (March 11, 2014, 4:14 GMT)

Go for any number of spinners, though India can never win a test match away from home. Their bland trumped up wickets can't be carried with them, even on a drop-in basis.

Posted by   on (March 11, 2014, 2:46 GMT)

Ashwin is the most talented indian cricketer. Period. His ability to bowl so many variations are actually a testament to his talent as a spinner. He needs better coaching preferably a spinner of lore like saqlain, bedi et al. His batting is so underrated its unbelievale. He has played a handful of overseas test matches and already has 50+ scores to his name. Would be even better if the tail sticks with him long enough. With how rohit sharma is performing, ashwin is a much better option. Play rahane at 5, Ash at 6, Jadeja at 7 and MSD at 8 for overseas. with all due respect MSD is a sitting duck on seaming tracks and jadeja does not quite seem comfortable on such tracks either. Recently he has been showing the hunger too. He needs his chances

Posted by   on (March 11, 2014, 2:32 GMT)

And which spinners would play? The same ones who have been playing for the last 2 years, and none of them is capable of taking 2-3 wickets in away conditions.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 21:32 GMT)

Let's be honest with the quality of bowling department we currently have. We need a true all rounder and we are looking that in Jadeja which considerably failed in overseas situation. we need a replacement for Zaheer who lead the burden well for years. Te to look for new options in bowling, you never know we can find a gem.

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 17:34 GMT)

Infact india can play 3spinners. Ashwin should play as a opener and spinner. he bats better than other batters in india. Ojha should always play as 1st spinner in test. Dhoni failed always in test by not playing him in ENG, AUS, NZ, SA were we had 2 spinner who did not have any clue how to bowl. Dhoni should give way to good captain. even in ODI he has failed by bowling bhuvi in end overs.

Posted by Nampally on (March 10, 2014, 15:37 GMT)

When there is room for just 3 specialist bowlers in a 5 day Test, how can NEW bowler break into XI? That is the Real issue here. The Selectors need to lay down ground rules for selection of XI by the Team Captain. Hyderabad did so well in the IPL 6 with Mishra & Karan Sharma operating as an unusual leg spinner duo! What justification is there for benching of every leg spinner (Rahul, Chawla & Mishra) Dhoni had in his squad in the past? So for the development of Bowlers, the lead should come in XI selection by including at least 4 specialist bowlers + a bowling all rounder in the XI. Pakistan always went with Ajmal + one more spinner all rounder on any surface. Dhoni argues he has no good spinners without ever testing their skills in big matches. That is a defeatist approach. Yet it is the spinners (Ashwin & Ojha) who won Tests for India recently. Some people see things as they are & ask WHY? Others want changes & ask WHY NOT? Both apply here - Why Not Change Captain + XI Selection?

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 14:18 GMT)

Indian spinners every one of them had poor records away from home.Half of their time overseas is spent whinging about Kookabura balls,the prime reason for their success in India being the SG ball.Frankly most of the spinners India have when they travel abroad become easy meat .Unless Indian spinners learn to play with the kookabura, its futile exercise to play two bowlers abroad.The last two notable overseas wins(eng & NZ) came under competitive fast bowling units aided by some tough batting.Spinners havent played much role in Indian wins abroad apart from Headingley in 02 and some might argue Jamaica 06 but the latter was lottery pitch. Kumble could not force the result at SCG even after he had taken 14-260 in the game in 04.

Posted by Nampally on (March 10, 2014, 13:43 GMT)

India cannot win Test matches with just 3 specialist bowlers in a 5 day test match! The first rule in a 5 day test matches is to have 5 Bowlers out of which one can be an All rounder. Just 3 Bowlers means disaster especially in the 4th innings. Dhoni has to use 3 pace + 2 spinners. Secondly, India always produced the best spinners- e .g., SP Gupte, V.Mankad, Chandra, Venkat, Prasanna, Bedi, Kumble. etc. There were some excellent bowling all rounders- Nadkarni, Durrani, Kapil, Surti, Borde, to name a few. In the current side Ojha & Mishra are fine spinners but always on Bench! There are some fine pace Bowlers like Yadev, Aaron but too Raw & need coaching. Dhoni's XI selection & his handling of pace bowlers -50 overs/innings- leaves lot to be desired. Use pace bowlers as shock bowlers not "Donkeys". Ojha, Ashwin, Mishra need to be fighting for the 2 spinners spot + Jadeja for all rounder spot. These 4 provide spin option. A balanced bowling & batting XI is needed to Win Test matches.

Posted by Vaughanographic on (March 10, 2014, 9:00 GMT)

Just play your 4 best bowlers... simple. The West Indies did with their quicks, India was in fact the first to do so with quartets of spinners. Whoever the four best bowlers are... let them play. I am just not sure if the Indian selectors (or us the cricket public) know who the 4 best are?!

Posted by   on (March 10, 2014, 7:38 GMT)

India cannot pick two spinners in Ashwin and Ojha.. It should be Ashwin and Jadeja or Mishra and Jadeja or Oja and Jadeja.. The last would not be feasible because both are left arm spinners without any variations.. Jadeja should play as a batting all rounder.. Our fast bowlers seem ineffective mainly because Zaheer Khan is still playing.. Ishant Sharma has lost his pace even though he has picked up 2 fifers in the last two tests along with a fourfer in SA.. Australia drops Peter Siddle and asks him to gain pace.. If they can do that, why not drop Zak and or Ish to get a faster bowler in Umesh or Aaron?? Why not play Mishra in less conducive surfaces in Aus and Eng?? He certainly turns the ball more than the other three.. Sharma and Jadeja can stem the flow of runs while Mishra, Shami and Aaron can attack from the other end.. Strategising is not there as far as bowling is concerned for India..

Posted by vik56in on (March 10, 2014, 0:33 GMT)

Wrong ! Nothing can be farther from the truth !All the away matches that India have won since 2001 have been by the help of pacers ! Be it Ajit Agarkar in Adelaide, Zaheer Khan in England, Balaji and Pathan in Pakistan or Sreesanth in South Africa !

Posted by MiddleStump on (March 9, 2014, 16:40 GMT)

Ram, I am sure you know that Test matches are won either by world class pacers or by world class spinners. At the moment India has no world class bowler in either category. Given the talent pool from the Under 19 age group onward, this is not likely to change anytime soon. So we can expect more tours like those to England and Australia in 2011.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (March 9, 2014, 15:02 GMT)

For once Ramanarayan is right. Indian pace bowling quality is not sufficient to rely on as the major component of Indian attack. It has to be spin. If Ashwin can take the No 5 position with the bat India should play 4 spinners including Ashwin. If Ashwin can't score enough runs in Ranji Trophy he must not be selected. Then India would play 3 spinners with Ojah as the lead spinner. Jadeja and Mishra are the other two.

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (March 9, 2014, 14:26 GMT)

With a good bowling coach who can communicate well with his wards well,I think Yadav, Aaron and Shami could become a fearsome and effective trio of bowlers. I am not clear as to how Joe Dawes came to be selected as the bowling coach in the midst of the disastrous Indian tour of Australia in 2011.Maybe someone could enlighten me in this regard. I have not seen any improvement in a single bowler under his tutelage. In fact they have all regressed.On the spin side I think Mishra and Ojha could be match winners straightaway while Ashwin could become one with lesser variations. I wish he has a look at Saqlain and Ajmal videos. With his intelligence I think he could make a lot of improvement just watching these greats. If he can imitate Naraine he could copy Saqlain who I think was just as tall as him.I believe that if a bowler has all the skills that are needed for his craft ,he can be a match-winner anywhere with accuracy,at the right length and with at tacking field placements.

Posted by henchart on (March 9, 2014, 12:42 GMT)

I have always felt Indians should play two spinners on any pitch be it Hyderabad or Hamilton.It is a big myth nay fallacy that 3 pacemen are prerequisites on bouncy tracks of Aus,SA ,Eng and NZL. Prasanna ,Bedi and Chandra used to bowl in tandem outside the subcontinent and with fair degree of success.Agreed that cricket has undergone a revolution since 1970s but a good spinner is always difficult to negotiate and two good spinners are even more difficult to play.But where are the good spinners in the horizon for India?Selectors have got to look beyond juggling Ashwin-Mishra -Chawla trio. Harbhajan is over the hill.Rasool is not bad and needs more games.Even if selectors include new comers in the squad, MSD is always confining them to benches even in dead matches.

Posted by Kugang on (March 9, 2014, 12:09 GMT)

Where is Duncan Fletcher and what is he doing now. He should be coaching young players and prepare the a wealth of talented squad for the England tour. It is no good if he goes to his home country when we are not playing International cricket.

Posted by here2rock on (March 9, 2014, 10:02 GMT)

India don't have express fast bowlers? They have but not great ones plus a captain who does not understand or appreciate their art. India should not get caught up in speed battle, get swing bowling back in the game and more chances for bowlers like Mishra. India can't rely on bowlers like Ashwin and like. You don't win games in Australia, England, or South Africa with two spinners. These countries are a yardstick for measuring a team's success. You need to get the balance right on most grounds in these countries which India never seems to get it right, 3 pacers, one fast bowling all rounder, one wrist spinner, 5 batsmen, one keeper batsman,

Posted by   on (March 9, 2014, 9:27 GMT)

India needs to play with 5 bowlers abroad because we have a toothless attack. 3 fast bowlers is a must as spinners cannot take a lot of wickets in conditions like Jo'burg. This too will be a problem as it will mean MSD at 6 with Jadeja and Ashwin to follow. This will put undue pressure on Kohli, Pujara who will have to do well every innings. Our bowlers are genuinely lacking in confidence and they are not given enough advice or confidence by MSD. We need a proper bowling coach, like Wasim, who is respected and has huge insights into bowling. If you hear Wasim Akram in commentary he seems the kind of guy our bowlers need coz MSD is very weak as far as his handling of bowlers go. Can't BCCI rope in Akram?

Posted by   on (March 9, 2014, 9:21 GMT)

Please check Ravindra Jadeja FC career stats before you can claim him to be a part time bowler. He bowls as many overs and takes more wickets per match at better average and strike rate than Ashwin. How can you conclude that he is part time bowler? because he scores 3 300s? That he has skill with bat shouldn't mean he is part time bowler. He is a better bowler than batsman. He dismissed Michael Clarke 5 times!!! Surely, some credit should be given to his bowling. He comfortably out bowled Ashwin for last 6 months. Hence he is in test squad

Posted by sifter132 on (March 9, 2014, 6:21 GMT)

Couple of points: A) saying India weren't playing a specialist spinner in NZ is misleading. Ashwin would have played IF HE WAS BOWLING WELL!! Jadeja was outbowling Ashwin and was therefore picked purely for his bowling - his ability with bat was just a coincidence. Jadeja has 36 wickets in 8 Tests at a good average - show me a part timer with stats like that. He takes 3+ wkts/match in FC cricket too. B) The overall stats in recent years don't show Indian spinners do any better overseas than the quick men, even with 2 good ones in Kumble and Harbhajan. But it's worth thinking about, I'll agree. It just depends what is needed and what kind of pitches are offered. The spinners generally offer better economy, so if run leaking and accuracy is the problem, then an extra spinner may help. Won't work all the time though, as on truer overseas pitches spinners can be targetted more effectively - ask Amit Mishra from The Oval in 2011.

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V Ramnarayan
An offspinner who represented Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s, V Ramnarayan is a columnist / blogger on cricket and other subjects. He teaches at the Asian College of Journalism and edits Sruti, a leading Indian monthly on the performing arts. His works include histories of Tamil Nadu cricket and the Madras Cricket Club, and biographies. Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket, published by Westland, is his latest book.

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