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February 15, 2000
The shoddy showing by the Indian bowlers, more specifically Kumble in the Tests and the one-day series in Australia seems to indicate that the spin department is quite bare. Kumble was treated by Australian and Pakistani batsmen like a mediocre bowler (which is what he seemed to be for a huge chunk of the tour except for a couple of games).
However all will no doubt be forgotten the moment India wins the Tests or the one-day series against South Africa. Kumble will become a match winner again and there will be no talk of sporting wickets for quite some time. Then India will tour South Africa/England/West Indies or some other country apart from Sri Lanka or Pakistan, get hammered and the calls for sporting wickets will go out once again. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
The need of the hour is to take bold decisions. None bolder than dropping Kumble. India will inevitably play at least two spinners in the side. On current form and performance, Chopra and either of Murali Kartik or Sunil Joshi would have to be the contenders for the spinning slots.
Chopra has been branded a one-day specialist for too long. With the selectors and the team management not showing confidence in Harbhajan during the Australia series, Chopra is the only choice as an off-spinner. Rajesh Chauhan is more or less finished and Kanwaljit Singh is too old to be considered (even though a couple of years ago he was in the India A team!). The selectors also need to shed the belief that Kumble is an automatic choice for the Indian bowling attack.
Chopra obviously doesn't have the variety Saqlain has. In fact he turns the ball even less than Harbhajan. But he makes up for these shortcomings with very accurate bowling. He has also improved his fielding and batting by leaps and bounds as he proved during the tri-nation series in Singapore and later at Toronto and Kenya. Chopra is an extremely hardworking cricketer and he seldom gives less than 100%. Taking all this into account, he has to be given an opportunity to shake off the 'one-day specialist' tag which has been unfairly thrust upon him.
The second spinner's slot is basically a toss up between Murali Kartik and Sunil Joshi. Kartik has been on the fringe of national selection a number of times but for various reasons he hasn't made it to the top yet. This season he has performed exceptionally well, taking wickets in both forms of the game in the current season. More importantly he has bowled tightly in the one-day games and taken wickets too at crucial junctures. The cool headed approach with which he bowled during the slog overs in the Challenger Trophy is a good indicator of his ability, temperament and confidence.
Sunil Joshi impressed a lot of people in the only one-dayer he played in Australia, the final league game at Perth against Australia. He flighted the ball and got the wickets of Mark Waugh and Ponting and bowled economically too. However it seems like the team management doesn't have enough faith and confidence in his abilities. Joshi has also proved to be a useful batsman on a couple of occasions and can thus add some stability to a notoriously poor tail.
However Joshi is nearly 31 and he hasn't quite fulfilled the promise everyone thought he would when he went with the Indian team to England in 1996. Similarly Kumble is into his 30s and while he would possibly be around for the next 3-4 years, it is clear that his best days are behind him. Kartik and Chopra are both young (24 and 26) and they are better investments for the future.
Of course, there will be talk on how a legspinner is always a better bowler in cricket because he is instinctively an attacking bowler. The argument fails in Kumble's context. Besides there are hardly any legspinners performing well in Indian cricket now. Bahutule is a spent force and hasn't been anywhere close to national reckoning after his debut.
If Indian cricket is to progress, harsh and painful decisions need to be taken. Dropping Kumble is just one of them.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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