October 24, 2010

When in India, don't just rely on spin

If you're a visiting captain, pick a variety of quality bowlers - fast and slow. And if you're a batsman up against slow bowlers, watch the ball closely and use your feet

When his Australian team was enjoying unprecedented success, Steve Waugh described India as "the last frontier". It's time to scrap that title and adopt a new one: India, the place where Australian spinners go to die. On recent tours there has been a steady parade of Australian spinners who have "died" quicker than a dull comedian.

Even the best of them, Shane Warne, while he didn't expire, didn't prosper. The most successful of the recent Australian spinners was Jason Krejza, and even though he took a bundle of wickets in one match, he paid a heavy price for each. And since that tour Krejza's been banished to the back blocks of Tasmania.

Is it the ability of India's batsmen to counter good spinners or are the selected tweakers not up to the task? It's a combination of both.

There's no doubt Indian batsmen are superior to their counterparts in other teams when it comes to playing spinners. I asked Warne how he thought he performed, following the 2000-01 tour. "I didn't think I bowled that badly," was his response. "You didn't," I replied, "it was just that batsmen like VVS Laxman played you so well."

As good as he was, Warne couldn't combat a player who could dance three metres out of his crease and caress the delivery past mid-on and then sashay back to the stumps and pull the next one to the midwicket boundary. I haven't seen a batsman with better footwork than Laxman during that superlative 281 in Kolkata.

However, there's no doubt the Australian spinners offered up in 2008-09 were a bunch of sacrificial lambs. The idea of using Cameron White, himself a part-timer, with a series of batsmen who bowled slow, was a flawed plan right from the outset. It received its just desserts: a 2-0 flogging.

By the time Australia played a frontline spinner, the series was all over bar the shouting, and Krejza's wicket-taking spree was wasted. On that tour Australia planned to rely on their pacemen to take the bulk of the wickets, hoping that batsmen who bowled slow would then pick off a few of the rabbits.

Australia is not the first team to try this ruse. The difference is the quality of the West Indies quicks who achieved success in India during the eighties. For president Bill Clinton, it may have been the economy, but for cricket selectors "it's the quality of the bowlers, stupid".

I asked Warne how he thought he performed following the 2000-01 tour; "I didn't think I bowled that badly," was his response. "You didn't," I replied, "it was just that batsmen like VVS Laxman played you so well."

I'm not surprised Indian batsmen play spinners without fear. I thought I knew a thing or two about playing spin before the Australian tour of India in 1969-70. However, I learned lessons about playing spin on that tour that stood me in good stead for the rest of my career. I never feared spinners or pitches that assisted them ever again.

Watch the ball out of the bowler's hand and then follow it even more closely off the pitch was lesson No. 1. Finding a way to survive the first 20 minutes was next on the list. These were important lessons.

I would have hated to enter the contest with the Indian spinners thinking I wasn't going to leave my crease. This is a huge failing in modern coaching and the sooner young batsmen are taught the correct footwork, the better equipped they'll be to tackle all conditions.

On that 1969-70 tour, Australian offspinner Ashley Mallett bowled brilliantly and took 28 wickets at under 20. Certainly the quality of the Indian batting line-up didn't match that of the present team, but they were still good enough to combat John Gleeson. The Indian batsmen forced the Australian selectors to omit the man dubbed "the mystery bowler" from the last two Tests.

Prior to Mallett, Richie Benaud took 52 wickets at less than 20 in eight Tests in India. However, it's worth noting that left-arm fast bowler Alan Davidson, in Benaud's time, and right-arm fast bowler Graham McKenzie, on Mallett's tour, had good success, taking their wickets at below 20.

The moral of the story: if you want to experience success in India, pick a variety of quality bowlers - both fast and spin. There has only been one team - the West Indies of the eighties - that could survive on quality fast bowling alone.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Karthik on October 26, 2010, 15:56 GMT

    (Continued....) So I deem this as an absolutely ridiculous article by an absolutely ridiculous critic. Be a neutral when you are criticizing or praising a player or a team. He also says that India is number one "by the computers". This again goes on to show that he is completely biased and not a neutral critic.

    "Mirror Mirror on the wall. Am I a mindless lunatic critic who writes artlices to get footage and not to reflect the real state of the player?" The mirror would have answered, "HELL YES, stop writing such articles and go feed your grand children".

  • Karthik on October 26, 2010, 15:54 GMT

    How can Chappell once again take a nothing-topic in hand when there are loads to write about the true performers of the game? He just does not want to accept that fact that Indians are way ahead of Australians at the moment and Sachin Tendulkar is miles out of reach for Ricky Ponting. Consider the reverse situation here: Australia won India 2-0 / Ponting made scores of 98, 38, 214 & 53* / Sachin scores 3 70's & a single digit score. Now what would Chappell write about?? will he be talking about how Indian spinners should have bowled better and will he be quoting how Harbhajan took 28 wickets in the series in 2001? He will be pouring laurels on Ricky and will again ask Sachin to take a look at the un-existing mirror. He would have said Sachin has lost it in him to reach hundreds. (To be Continued...)

  • Mohanish on October 26, 2010, 2:17 GMT

    absolutely right .. but even than you are not guaranteed success in india ... obviously the steve waugh's team had it all but they lost ... but without it . obviously there is no chance .... i think the current indian team are the strongest side at home in the world .. since the 20 odd years of cricket i have been watching

  • Dummy4 on October 26, 2010, 0:05 GMT

    Interestingly I think the Pakistani spinners have done well in India... Iqbal Qasim and even the lesser known Tauseef Ahmed have tormented Indian batsman at times. I think Tauseef used to frustrate Indian batsman with one on the leg turning away... Perhaps that may all not work with the current Indian team... But may be worth finding some good slow bowling options on flat wickets....

  • S on October 25, 2010, 18:03 GMT

    "If you're a visiting captain, pick a variety of quality bowlers" --- on earlier tours Australia had bolwers like McCgrath,Warne,Lee,Gillespie and Steve Waugh himself was very good medium pace bowler.. what variety Ian is talking about? or he is saying all these bowlers were not good enough?

  • Jay on October 25, 2010, 14:38 GMT

    (Continued). Which leads me to issue Chappell another simple challenge (similar to the one he had once asked of Sachin): Ask "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best - Sarah or me?" It would have answered: "Sarah, of course. Doubly. She's fair (honesty) and fair (looks)." Again, if Ian asked the same mirror now: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, should I retire?" The answer would be:"You're fired" - Famous catchphrase of the other famous Donald (Trump), host of the NBC TV reality show "The Apprentice." Because Chappell is not meeting the high standards expected of a responsible columnist, is losing credibility and is wasting time trying to eke out a writing career and should go immediately. Truth be told, this is the same sort of free unsolicited advice Ian gave Sachin after the Indian team had unceremoniously made a first round exit from the 2007 World Cup and his brother Greg thereafter had been sacked as India's coach. Lesson: If you dish it out, be prepared to take it too.

  • Jay on October 25, 2010, 14:27 GMT

    Here he goes again: Chappell the Spin Doctor spinning stories about spinners in India. Exposed. By picking such lazy flavour-of-the-minute topics, he reveals his true colours: Hiding from Reality and dodging the most relevant story to rivet the cricketing world this month -- A most thrilling and hard-fought Australia-India Test series, India's top Test ranking and Sachin Tendulkar's amazing heroics as the world's best batsman. Worse, he avoids my simple challenge: Look at himself in the "honest mirror" (see my post in his last column on VVS). What would Ian see? Two faces: His own covered with egg; the other Sarah Murdoch's horrified face. Recall Murdoch had mistakenly announced the wrong winner while hosting the finale of "Australia's Next Top Model" TV show. However, she had the guts to admit her gaffe, promptly apologized and declared the rightful winner. Lesson: Be honest. You cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Truth prevails. TBC

  • Wolver on October 25, 2010, 11:39 GMT

    @spinkingKK - I agree that all the current teams would need to out bat India to win in india, but only because there arn't many quality bowling attacks around. With a good pace attack, the job can be done. SA white washed India in 2000, ending Tendulkar's captaincy career, with Boje and a very good pace attack backed up by a decent but not brilliant batting line up.

  • Ross on October 25, 2010, 8:15 GMT

    I think the thing foreign spinners miss most in India, to quote Bedi is: "On a turner the most dangerous ball is the one that goes through straight." It's like when pace bowlers arrive in England, they have to learn to bowl a different length. In India, spin bowlers have to learn to rely on flight and control over big turn.

  • Kannan on October 25, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    The Indian team over the past 15 years have had good batsmen, who could always hold their own when it came to scoring runs against any competition. It's their bowlers who have been pathetically weak historically, giving away huge runs even if they do manage to get the opposition out. Thus one has always seen the opposition scoring big time ( because of lack of ability of the Indian bowlers rather than the ability of the batsmen themselves ) and the Indian batsmen struggling to match up. India could win all the matches they wish in any format, with their current batting strength, on any ground, if only they had bowlers who consistently took wickets. Bhajji and Zaheer are the only ones now, but 2 wicket taking bowlers is never enough to nail 20 opposition wickets in a test match. When India has 4 top notch wicket taking bowlers it would become unbeatable. India has all the best batsmen and Pak all the talented bowlers (fast and spin) in the world.

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