March 20, 2014

India's need for bowling variety

Why their traditional strength, spin, ought not to be forskaen in favour of pace

Ravindra Jadeja: accurate and persistent but ineffective on bland pitches © BCCI

In my last post, I recommended a return to a more balanced bowling attack for India - comprising two spinners and two pacemen, discarding the present approach of a pace-oriented outfit, especially overseas. In the course of doing that, I seem to have given the impression that I favour one type of bowler over another in the Indian line-up.

True, no spinner today promises to win matches for India, and I do believe that in any attack, the best four bowlers should be the ideal mix, regardless of specialisation. I do maintain, however, that Indian cricket should not mindlessly forsake traditional skills in favour of pace, just as Indian hockey should not give up dribbling skills for brute power.

My argument has been that when India's seamers have repeatedly failed to trouble opposing batsmen, they may be better off with greater variety in the bowling department. It can be nobody's argument on available evidence that India has demon fast bowlers, or even great swing bowlers among the current lot, with Zaheer Khan's sustained effectiveness on the wane. Among the spinners, while Ashwin should be given the benefit of doubt despite his recent lack of success, I reiterate that Pragyan Ojha deserves to be given a decent run as a Test bowler.

If none of the available crop of spinners measures up on a consistent basis, quality spinners must be found to replace them, so that India can still field two of them in the playing XI, whether at home or abroad, if only to improve the over rates! Under-19 and university cricket - whose revival was the subject of much hype in the recent past - should provide a reasonable pool of slow bowlers from which to pick and groom spinners for Test match cricket.

Ravindra Jadeja is a fighter by temperament, a fine cricketer whose batting potential has not yet been fully realised in Test cricket, and by far the best fielder in the team. His catching and ability to engineer run-outs have already threatened to swing matches India's way quite a few times. His left-arm spin is accurate and persistent, even destructive on a certain kind of wicket, but on bland pitches he is quite harmless, thus disqualifying him as the sole spinner in the XI abroad. He should be able to win a place in the team as a middle-order batsman, spectacular fielder, and support bowler - until he evolves as a more attacking spinner.

To pose a threat to batsmen on good wickets, he will have to develop a higher-arm bowling action and learn to give the ball a fair rip. I know it will complicate team balance, but an attack consisting of two seamers, two specialist spinners and Jadeja as an allrounder seems an attractive proposition. Six specialist batsmen including the wicketkeeper would then be the limit.

The lack of an effective spinner has cost quite a few teams dearly in recent months. With Graeme Swann first losing his bite, and later Monty Panesar proving inadequate for the job, England suffered heavily against Australia, despite possessing reasonable firepower in the pace department. South Africa's problem is so acute that they have had to fall back on JP Duminy to provide variety to their pace-oriented attack. With class offspinner Nathan Lyon in their XI, Australia seem the sole exception among non-subcontinental teams, though West Indies have had intermittent relief in this regard; despite doubts raised against the actions of two of their spinners, they still finds a place for one or two slow men in the XI.

Offspinner Saeed Ajmal finds support from the likes of left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman in conditions favouring spin, but Pakistan have abundant seam-bowling talent, which enables them to go in with a single spinner on pitches favouring seam.

A worrying factor in India's bowling, both pace and spin, is the general lack of accuracy and consistency. It should not be beyond the capacity of international bowlers to achieve the rigour of six good balls per over. The inability of spinners in particular to do so is inexcusable, especially as these are fundamental aspects of the game that should have been mastered at the schoolboy level.

Finally, every leading state in Indian cricket has former spin bowlers with a high level of expertise. If some of them are commissioned to work with promising local spinners to improve both their skills and their work ethic, India should be able to produce quality spinners in the near future, ready to take over from the current crop. I personally see this as the logical way forward, though this certainly does not mean that I advocate the neglect of our pace bowling talent.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bhaskar on March 21, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    @Mohammad Zamin - Animal protein in fast bowlers makes them break down like tooth picks, just look at Peter Siddle the only vegetarian fast bowler of Australian team, he has been in the team more consistently than Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris,Bird, Pattinson & watson. The non vegetarian fast bowlers are just like revolving doors & break down like tooth picks. Siddle missed just 1 test in his last 27 tests before the 3rd test against South Africa.

  • Dummy4 on March 21, 2014, 9:26 GMT

    India's bowling needs variety.. But spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja are never going to provide that.. And the fast bowling is always medium fast or fast medium.. Never a genuinely quick Indian bowler has played for a considerable period.. Jadeja nad Ishant Sharma together even do not make one bowler.. Ishant needs to gain pace and Jadeja on the basis of his bowling alone cannot make it into any team.. Ashwin is great in India but elsewhere he is so easy to pick off.. We need to play Umesh Yadav more regularly even if he leask runs.. He is an attacking bowler.. Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Amit Mishra are the three most threatening bowlers India possesses.. Of the two of them, one always sits out (Yadav) and one is not even in the test squad for overseas (Mishra).. The fourth bowler needs to be the discussion.. If we play in subcontinent, it must be hands down Ashwin because of his record.. If we play outside , it needs to be Aaron for SA and Aus and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in England..

  • Dummy4 on March 21, 2014, 8:50 GMT

    Mindset of entire Indian nation towards bowling is the root of problem as is the case with this authur too.


    Unfortunately it is other way around for India. Field is set to take wickets while bowling is done to prevent boundaries resulting in single every ball with safe defensive drop & run strokes.

    Indians dismiss opposition batsman by tiring him by making him run for singles. In urdu we call it "Dora dora kar marna".Vs Ind for opposition batsmen it is only test of stamina how long can u run for singles. Some tire after 50 singles others after 200.

    Like Wasim & Ponting did mostly, set short mid wicket & short cover to block singles & always employ boundary riders for easy safe strokes i.e deep point for spinner, fine deep 3rd man & deep sq leg & bowl aggressively at stumps & pace at bodyline.

  • ESPN on March 21, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    This is very typical of most Indian bowlers, they come with a Bang and then their talents diminish. Ashwin is no different though I do agree with many comments here that India should focus on their spin rather than fast because they have actually produced great spinners. In my view you grow up as a fast bowler you can't train to be one, you can learn certain skills but that's it. I don't mean to sound awkward but I also think India should look for a pacer amongst its Muslim population primarily due to the animal protein in their diet. Fast bowlers need to naturally be strong and enduring to have careers, I predict a short stay for bhuvi, talented as he is.

  • Dummy4 on March 21, 2014, 6:37 GMT

    Heartening to see someone raise the issue of dwindling supply of spinners and the defensive use of the very few available as well. I just wanted to ask if you remember Harmeet Singh that classical left arm spinner who starred in the U19 WC that India won under Unmukt Chand down under. He was a sparkling talent with a classical side on action with the famed left armer's arc and loop, flighting the ball magnificently and getting turn and bite off the pitch in Australia. While Ojha is a good bowler in his own right, he is an open chested bowler. Harmeet is a connoisseur's delight. In an age where spinners find it hard to flourish, Harmeet was a rare gem. However, the last time i saw him, I was shocked to see him bowl falt quick ones for Rajasthan Royals in IPL. As u mention, U19 crciket will produce talent like this but are we set to nurture them or kill them off given our commercial bent. Would love to have your views on this.

  • Ashok on March 20, 2014, 18:41 GMT

    Indeed, India always had world class spinners since the 50's up until Kumble & Harbhajan in the recent time. But then the Bowlers had little or No Room in the XI starting from 2008 onwards. The real reason was preference for All Rounders rather than Specialist Bowlers in all 3 Formats. Even the Bowling all rounders focus more on batting than on Bowling now. This undue emphasis on batting has pushed Bowling to secondary stage. Let us face it- No team can win a Test without "specialist bowlers" to take 20 Wkts. So BCCI needs to shift the focus to mandate use of 4 specialist Bowlers in Test matches + have coaching camps for Bowlers. This is the single most important issue in developing good Bowlers. This will also answer the lack of accuracy in length & direction of the current Bowlers which makes 150 KPH fast Bowlers like Aaron look ordinary. The same problem haunts Ashwin & other spinners. Unless this fundamental change in the Selectors' attitude occurs, all our comments will go awry !

  • Sudhakar on March 20, 2014, 18:04 GMT

    It's rather an unfortunate situation for India in that both Ashwin and Jadeja have not lived up to their potential in Test matches abroad. Not many teams in the world can boast of two all rounders, but for India, we have two in Jadeja and Ashwin. However while playing abroad, Jadeja consistently fails with the bat, while Ashwin fails with the ball!! If only someone can motivate them to perform greater deeds, India can be a force while they play abroad. Till then though, both don't deserve their all rounder tags, and to bank on them as all rounders will be a disaster for India. This is where one has to question the captain and support staff. The captain appears so laid back. There is no visible sign that either the batting / bowling or the main coach is playing an active role at all! The teams to tour SA and NZ were possibly the best of Indian teams..., yet they failed to win a single international match! More than the team, the management staff need to sharpen their skills.

  • PRIYANK on March 20, 2014, 17:46 GMT

    Hope our selectors read this article as well as our comments and think that even cricket fans can contribute by giving suggestions and try and ensure a balanced selection.. our captain is hell bent on playing 3 fast bowlers and 1 of his 2 favourite spinners who are clueless on any track which does not turn square.. You need a spinner to support your fast bowlers specially if you are not blessed with a pace quartret like that of West Indies in 1970s!!! He probably is unaware that Anil Kumble won us headingly test in 2002, harbhajan won jamaica in 2006!!

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    Aswin, Pragyan Ojha, are the good spinners. Jadeja is a fook and not reliable. Mohammed Samy, Inshant Sharma are the only genuine pace boulers capable of attacking the stumps. The spinneres and pace bowlers have to be developed and inducted into the team since others like Mishra, Zahir Khan, etc have all become out classed. Anew set of bowlers have to be invoked and inducted by the team management in stead of depending on the old ones invariably out of frustration and accusing the captain for not utilizing them properly and effect change in captaincy which amounts to worst outcome.