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January 31, 2003
Many eyebrows were raised at the completion of the recent lowscoring one-day series between New Zealand and India. Even New Zealand cricket's top man, Martin Snedden, was quite displeased with the state of pitches in the series. Ironically enough, Snedden is one person who would know more about getting smacked around the park; he holds the dubious distinction of being the only bowler to have conceded more than 100 runs in a World Cup innings!
But say what you will, the nature of the one-day game is such that it is geared for instant entertainment, and that invariably involves the ball flying to all directions in the field. The New Zealand series was an aberration at best, and rarely have bowlers had such a good time in a one-day series. In fact, even the fast bowlers have had the benefit of the new ball and early-morning moisture to help them; it is the spinners who have been the whipping-boys of spectacle called one-day cricket.
Indeed, there was even a time when spinners were unwanted in oneday cricket. That changed when Imran Khan used Abdul Qadir as an attacking option during the 1983 World Cup. Qadir obligingly snapped up four wickets against New Zealand, and then five against Sri Lanka. Mind you, Qadir was a complete leg-spin bowler, a master of his craft; he had a deadly googly that bamboozled even the very best of batsmen, and in 1983, Qadir was possibly at the peak of his powers.
Spin played a large role in Indian one-day victories as well, and that is a factor that most people do not recall about India winning the Benson & Hedges World Championship in 1984/85. On the bouncy tracks down under, India employed spin as a mode of attack to claim wickets, a ploy that no team had effectively pursued before. I was then the manager of the Indian team, and it was a pleasure to see Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Ravi Shastri bowl in tandem, picking up wickets at regular intervals.
One absolute necessity for this strategy to work is the presence of an astute captain who is willing to set fields for spin and attack without qualms. Imran was a sharp leader, and so was Sunil Gavaskar; both knew the psyches of their bowlers only too well, and they ensured that the spinners got the fields they wanted and bowled with the sole objective of taking wickets.
On the other hand, if spinners bowl only to restrict, it becomes a totally different ball game. For starters, it would allow a batting side on 180 for two in 40 overs to easily add around 100 runs in the remaining 10. That scenario would change completely if two spinners picked four wickets between them in their allotted 20 overs. Any team that loses four wickets in the middle overs will struggle to make it to 235, and that is why I believe that spin will have an important role to play, not just in this World Cup but in all one-day internationals.
A close analysis will reveal that it is the teams without quality spinners that go in for bits-and-pieces medium-pacers to see through the middle overs. The really good spinners - Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq - have taken the art of one-day spin bowling to dizzying new levels. The game, in fact, owes Warne much for reinventing spin; he always looks to attack, whatever the situation, and even the fielder on the midwicket fence becomes an attacking position when Warne weaves his magic.
As I mentioned earlier, it takes a very good captain to see to it that a spinner succeeds in one-day cricket, and Warne was lucky to start his career under the experienced and wily Allan Border. Even Mark Taylor was quick to recognise the significance of Warne's attacking role when he took over the captaincy, and one of the consequences - Warne's match-winning performance in the 1996 World Cup semi-final against the West Indies at Mohali - is simply unforgettable.
Being an off-spinner myself, there is no way I can ignore Muralitharan's contribution to this arena. The amount of turn he gets on any surface makes him a very special talent, and it was a pleasure to give him the CEAT International Cricketer of the Year award last Tuesday. I am sure Arjuna Ranatunga deserves much of the credit when people talk about the mercurial rise of Muralitharan, but the genial off-spinner's own qualities have helped in no small measure. I was quite moved when Murali approached me after the awards ceremony for some help; he wanted my advice on how to bowl to batsmen who are adept at playing the sweep-shot. If not for the prodigious turn alone, I admire Murali for still wanting to constantly learn and perfect his art, even at the peak of a brilliant career.
Murali and Warne's success over the recent years has made one thing clear - spin is no more a mere sidekick to fast bowling. It can be devastatingly attacking in its own right, and as a spinner, I am proud that spin is holding its own - and doing rather well at that - not only in Test cricket but in the one-day game as well.
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