India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 3rd day November 6, 2010

India's spinners fail to produce any magic

ESPNcricinfo staff

It might change character over the final two days, but so far the pitch hasn't helped the spinners, it hasn't helped the seamers, and the conditions weren't conducive for reverse swing. There was turn, but it was slow. What it required, then, was a spinner who could produce a bit of magic.

India's leading spinner Harbhajan Singh hasn't been in great form, though. It's often been said by his critics - and there are quite a few of them - that he needs spin-friendly tracks to be really effective, like he showed in the Calcutta Test against South Africa in February. The last time he bowled superbly and consistently through a series, though, was not at home. It came in New Zealand in 2009. He got the ball to drift, turn, and bounce. He deployed over spin, side spin, and top spin and looked at the top of his game.

A few months after that series, Daniel Vettori was asked to name the player he admired the most in the international scene. "I really enjoy watching Harbhajan Singh bowl. I think he's my favourite bowler to watch in world cricket. I admire his skills and his repertoire, and he's someone I always try to learn from whenever I see him bowl."

But it's clear from the last 12 months that all is currently not well in Harbhajan's world. Over that span, encompassing 10 Tests, he has averaged 42.47 at a strike rate of 86.1. In comparison, his career bowling average is 31.66 at a strike rate of 67.2. He rarely uses the doosra now; he perhaps didn't bowl a single one in the series against Australia. He prefers the topspinner now. It is most puzzling. It's tempting to use that to explain his decline, but even on that 2009 New Zealand tour he didn't bowl many doosras. His bowling has lacked drift and bounce. He has been injured in the recent months and missed a few Tests. That could be a factor. His fans have pointed out that he is still the best spinner India has and he will overcome this dip in form.

Throughout his career, Harbhajan has shown a tendency to push his deliveries on middle and leg on his bad days. That, though, hasn't happened a lot in recent games. The lines have been better, the speeds have been relatively fine, but the lengths have suffered. Without a loop and dip, they often do. The result is that 42.84 average. Luckily for India, this has coincided with the rise of Zaheer Khan, who has been awesome with the old ball when it reverses. It didn't today, and the New Zealanders marched along.

The other spinner, Pragyan Ojha, averages 41.60. He is rarely used as a strike bowler and it's clear that he doesn't think like one. He was quick to switch to over the stumps today - - perhaps because he was asked to by the team think tank. You could see why. There were rough patches outside leg stump and both McCullum and Ross Taylor like to sweep. Perhaps one would take the top edge? It didn't, and he struck almost immediately on returning to bowling around the stumps with a beauty to remove McCullum. It dipped and turned to leave the batsman stranded. That's the thing about Ojha that confounds. There were couple of deliveries today from the spinners that gripped, turned and bounced. All of them came from Ojha, though they seem to be exception rather than norm with him. His deliveries seem to land on a length and turn very slightly. It feels as if he doesn't give them a good rip. It perhaps is the stock bowler in him dominating. Most probably, that's his role.

Ojha's former Hyderabad bowling coach, Kanwaljit Singh, tells of a meeting with the bowler in what proved to be a turn-around game for him. "We [Kanwal and the captain VVS Laxman] told him, look you are our strike bowler. This is a wicket aiding spin and we are confident you can run through them. Show us you can." Ojha took 6 for 84 and moved up a grade. Is what we see from him now at the international level his best, or is there a gear he has not tried yet? India might want to use him as their containing bowler, but that doesn't mean he can't attack at all. It would be good to know whether there is another gear to him at this level for Murali Kartik, who is clearly the better bowler, is still going strong at the county and domestic circuit.

So far, the game has the look and feel of a draw. Even the usually ebullient Sreesanth didn't sound upbeat." It's very flat track as usual in Ahmedabad. I worked very hard because it is not an easy track to bowl on, very slow track. We have to work very hard. I don't think we could have done anything differently. Maybe we should have restricted a few more boundaries. It just happens - some days it clicks, some days it doesn't. You have got to be patient. We will keep on giving our best shot.

"Credit goes to their batsmen, they played well." Of course, Sreesanth being Sreesanth, he couldn't let it go at that. "I can't wait to see the next game. I really want to see how they play on a turner; I think they are going to struggle."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2010, 7:50 GMT

    what india lacks is BOWLERS. period. it has been so frustrating watching indian bowlers bowl, not just in this series, but in some matches in the past as well...they never seem to be getting anywhere. its hard to believe that the no. 1 side in the world gets by with just batsmen alone. i dont think u can blame the pitch, NZ bowlers are ripping out the indian batting lineup on the same pitch.

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    India's bowling attack is no attack at all. Zahir is more about staring at the batsman than bowling,Sreeshant is wayward always,and the spinners are not Venomous. The batsman also are not to be called as the best players of spin. I am sorry but unless we bring in more better spinners like Ashwin, Iqbal and get someone to replace Sreeshant our chances of world cup win are slim. New zeland are proving our mediocrity

  • Muthuvel on November 7, 2010, 5:30 GMT

    Coming from a staunch indian fan, its good to see NZ hitback in a test in india. Was pretty worried abt their chances in india after what happened in bangladesh. And yeah, same old story pathetic indian bowling..indian bowling is on par with associate sides really. Indian bowlers should feel really pathetic since they are worser than likes to bangladesh and zim..and are about 5% of efficiency of good bowling sides like pakistan,sl,sa would not make much of a difference if we sent bajhan singh and khan out they cant be more pathetic anyway.

  • D on November 7, 2010, 5:27 GMT

    Harbhajan is really "toothless" on pitches that do not bounce or turn too much. I mean he is worse than part time bowlers. I remember he took 0 for 355 against Pak in 2006, and then something like 1-200 against LS recently. Even on unfriendly pitches such figures are deplorable.

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2010, 5:10 GMT

    Its high time that we stop calling harbhajan our leading spinner. A person who can take wickets only in conducive conditions no longer deserves to be rated amongst the best.

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2010, 3:08 GMT

    Dhiraj Parsana's wickets are almost as bad as his test career. The less said, the better.

  • KISH on November 7, 2010, 2:49 GMT

    For those section of the Indian supporters who are learning for a degree of Aussie arrogance, this is a perfect backfire. They were trying to be arrogant so prematurely. There were some humiliating comments against the Kiwis long before the series started. Just remember, India is only at the first step of even getting considered the number1 team (They may be Number1 according the the ICC ranking. However, not all the test playing teams agree with it as yet). So, lets not get arrogant or over confident. Any team can beat India on their day. India should prove that they are a champion team by consistently taking 20 wickets and scoring 450 plus. It is only THEN, India can be considered number1. To achieve this, India should find a genuine quick bowler, a spinner in the mould of Warne/Murali/Kumble, and possibily an All-rounder. Also, the fielding needs to improve a lot.

  • Mark on November 7, 2010, 2:47 GMT

    Of all the off-chuckers in world cricket (Harbhajan, Hauritz, Randiv, Botha), Harbhajan is (or was) the most egregious by far and certainly the one who's arm-straightening is so significant that it can't possibly be unintentional.

    Perhaps the reason for the decline in spin, drift, and use of the doosra, is the weakening of support for his continued intentional chucking.

  • ashok on November 7, 2010, 2:46 GMT

    Good article... i would say lets push him out... last 2 years, there has been nothing from bajji,a lot of people are in the queue - Ashwin, piyush, amit, murli kartik and a lot of people...

  • Dummy4 on November 7, 2010, 2:00 GMT

    piyush chawla will be answer for india spin woes in longer format........... ojha can calm things in shorter versions of game alongside ashwin...... bhajji-chawla combo will be lethal.......

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