December 8, 2010

To defend, perchance to take wickets

Clipped by limited-overs cricket, mistrusted by captains, modern spinners in domestic cricket have been reduced to being containing devices and useful lower-order batsmen

In the Ranji Trophy match between Gujarat and Mumbai last week, Iqbal Abdulla and Ramesh Powar didn't bowl much in the first innings as the damage had been done by the three fast bowlers. It was only when the pitch started crumbling in the second innings that Abdulla was allowed a lengthier spell, and picked up wickets. The game summed up his role in the side: a bowling all-rounder, somebody who can bowl a few overs when the fast bowlers get tired, take centre stage only on a breaking turner, and bat competently otherwise.

Abdulla is part of the larger trend in domestic cricket where the spinner is taken out off the attack the moment he is hit for some runs. This is not a new phenomenon. The art of spin underwent a major change through the nineties when three-day cricket was followed by the one-dayer, a period when a classical spinner gave way to someone more defensive.

The pressure to change and stay effective pulled the plugs on imparting revolutions onto the ball. M Venkatramana, a former Tamil Nadu offspinner, is a perfect example. He was an old-fashioned spinner, but slowly he had to get into the containing mould in one-day cricket. And when he couldn't contain and was smashed around, he lost the heart to spin the ball. Steadily, almost all the spinners in the country have ended up altering their actions, and in certain cases they have started using their elbows more than their shoulders and wrists.

Another significant change came around the same period in Indian domestic cricket was when the SG ball was introduced. It supported reverse-swing. This further reduced the opportunities for the traditional spinner.

The role of the captain cannot be overstated either. This is about managing a resource that is fast diminishing, but captains remain insensitive. In my days, a spinner required about seven to eight overs to get into a rhythm. They were depended on as match-winners and not partnership-breakers.

Piyush Chawla is one of those who could do with a more understanding captain. He has little or no meaningful support from Mohammad Kaif. I feel bad for Chawla: there have been catches dropped off his bowling, and as soon as he goes for runs in his initial few overs, he is removed from the attack.

I felt that Chawla had turned a corner after his county stint at Sussex last year. He bowled really well against Sourav Ganguly in Kanpur in a Ranji match. The pitch was not doing much, but he troubled Ganguly and was confident to flight the ball. A year later, everything seems lost.

There are two ways to look at his case. One, he does not have an understanding captain who supports him. The other is that the spinner has himself lost confidence in his ability to go through the transition from wanting to restrict to looking to buy wickets.

A traditional spinner is not likely to be successful today. The ones who dart the ball in are likely to survive because when they bowl long spells, they often do so on worn-out tracks. Otherwise they try to slip in short quiet spells that give the other bowlers a breather. Abdulla falls in this category.

Modern spinners such as Abdulla wait for the footmarks to develop or the pitch to deteriorate. They prefer to be patient as their role has been limited. The pitches, relatively a large percentage of them in domestic cricket, remain scratch proof. This has made them think about improving their batting skills to survive. Sadly captains and coaches are only encouraging such a trend.

With their defensive ways, spinners at the moment are forced to find new ways other than their batting to survive. Hence the innovations of the doosra, the carrom ball, and the twitch in the elbow to cause deception.

If today's youngsters really want to fall back on the right path, they need not look any further than Anil Kumble. Initially Kumble was only good on breaking pitches, but after years of experience he was willing to throw the ball up, and he developed a googly. It is another thing that he was a great mind and an aggressive competitor who was willing to learn the right things, and duly evolved. He should be the modern Indian spinner's inspiration.

A former Tamil Nadu opening batsman, VB Chandrasekhar played seven ODIs for India and was a member of the national selection committee from 2004-06

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • S on December 13, 2010, 10:58 GMT

    There are three major issues that are stunting the growth of spinners

    1. Size of grounds and bats used 2. Completely dead pitches which dont offer any support irrespective of the type of bowling 3. Unimaginative captains who for most part dont know how to use spinners as attacking wicket takers

    The three coupled with the fact that flight, loop and purchasing of a wicket are arts long forgotten are compounding the issue to such an extent that the new spinners are completely ineffective in doing anything but bowl a flat trajectory and fire it in fast with the hope of getting maiden overs.

  • Amit on December 10, 2010, 4:02 GMT

    Sounds like another Harbhajan in making...

  • Dummy4 on December 9, 2010, 16:27 GMT

    No wonder India is yet to produce a good spinner for Tests, after Bhajji, in recent times. Bhajji too seems to have lost the edge in the absence of Kumble from the other end. Though it is good to see Zaheer making regular breakthroughs with the old ball, but previously it was the job of the spinners. I haven't watched the golden quartet bowl, but have grown up watching Kumble-Raju-Chauhan dominating home matches. Such was their impact that India had even played matches match with Srinath as the lone quickie. No more is there any such spinning partnership, neither we get to see the once familiar sight of 7-8 men hovering round the opposition's bat, as Indian spinners operated in tandem from both ends :-(.

  • Thewalker on December 9, 2010, 14:52 GMT

    Kudos, VB, for bringing up a topic considered a sure-shot conversation stopper thus far. And your comments about Kumble are spot on. The question is, however, how many spinners these days have had the luxury of extended stints to "develop their skills" a la Kumble? We all know what happened to Murali Karthik who was left to rot on the sidelines because the then captain had no faith in left-arm spinners. Well, Clive Lloyd could afford the luxury of leaving spinners out of his team (but for the innocuous stuff from Larry Gomes and the unpredictable from Viv) with the pace arsenal at his disposal. India, though, had its cupboards bare and yet chose not to trust a spinner who could beat batsmen in flight and flummox them with turn.

    Considering the changes made to cricket's rules to favour batsmen, is it not time to even the field a bit and give the spinners a chance lest they should join the leagues of the endangered species? All that it will take is for captains to open their minds a bit

  • P Subramani on December 9, 2010, 5:44 GMT

    I am very happy to read a selector write positively about Piyush Chawla. He is a fine leg spinner but has not done well because of his Captain in UP. He has everything that one looks for in a leg spinner. In recent times, I get the impression that he is running in to bowl faster than before and tends to bowl quicker. I have seen that he is at his best when he bowls at around 49 to 50 mph.He is also a good batsman down the order. I hope that he gets to play under Shane Warne in the IPL which could revive his career. He was simply brilliant when he made his debut for Sussexlast year with both bat and ball and I see no reason why he cannot make it big in Tests as well. We had also heard of Aushik Srinivas of Tamil nadu and Harmeet Singh of Mumbai. What happened to them I wonder.

  • kaushik on December 9, 2010, 2:33 GMT

    Completely agree with Mohsin. In modern era, all captains would like for spinners who could give away 30/1 runs in 10 overs rather than 70/4 in 10 overs

  • Manasvi on December 9, 2010, 2:32 GMT

    There are some good spinners around still but ALL of them are slow left arm orthodox. Both classic leg and off spinners are completely gone. Ashwin is more of a ODI and T20 specialist and he's the only other offie apart from Bhajji. And where are the leg spinners? Amit Mishra has not done very well and Piyush Chawla is now playing as a specialist No.8. India need to find good leg and off spinners. There are many good left arm spinners such as Vikas Mishra, Harmeet Singh, Aushik Srinivas, Bhatt, Abdulla (bowling allrounder), etc.

  • Mohsin on December 9, 2010, 0:00 GMT

    With batsmen wielding massive bats nd ground authorities shrinking ground size day by day,what can a captain expect from his spinners. Spinners get some beating when batsmen hit off d meat of d bat. Bt nowadays even mishits go for sixes. Keep boundaries at least at 85m distance nd see d difference in a spinners psyche nd performance

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