December 5, 2012

What's going wrong with India's spin tradition?

The call for seamer-friendly wickets, and the spinners' own over-defensive mindsets may be to blame
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What was supposed to have been a strategically planned relentless spin assault against England by India seems to have backfired. After the vociferous demand for rank turners, and a denial of any spin practice to the English during the warm-up games, the world expected India to spin a web around the visitors. But that was not to be.

Under normal circumstances a one-off loss at home for Dhoni's team (it was only his second loss in 22 Tests as captain at home) would have been easily shrugged off, but against the backdrop of India's 4-0 drubbing in England last summer, the Mumbai defeat was dissected threadbare. It was made more agonising because India were beaten on a raging turner by a team infamous for its lack of batting skills against the turning ball. On a pitch that offered vicious turn and disconcerting bounce for spinners from the first day, the onus was on the Indian spinners to deliver the goods; there were three of them, after all. Kevin Pietersen's brilliance and Alastair Cook's dogged approach must be acknowledged, but it would not do to turn a blind eye to how the Indian spinners performed. On a pitch where Monty Panesar was bowling spitting cobras, India's bowlers didn't spew much venom.

There were calls - if slightly unwarranted after a solitary poor showing - to find new faces to replace the existing ones. These demands were enough to get me thinking about the spinners in line to replace the ones playing for India at the moment, and also the ones who are likely to become lead spinners for India in the future in the long format.

When I looked at the list of the leading wicket-takers on the Indian domestic circuit for the last few seasons, it shocked me a little, for it was heavily dominated by medium pace. Even the most experienced spinners (some of whom have played for India in the past) had very ordinary figures.

These statistics are alarming for a country that has a tradition of producing world-class spinners. India should be churning out quality spinners by the dozen, but unfortunately isn't. In fact, medium-pacers are stealing a march over spinners almost every season - and on Indian domestic pitches at that. What has led to such a huge paradigm shift in the way cricket is played in this country?

There has been a loud chorus demanding "sporting" pitches in Indian domestic cricket for quite some time now. Docile Indian pitches, quite rightly, were blamed for the Indian batsmen's failure overseas. But while making sporting pitches is the right thing to do, the very meaning of the term has been lost in translation: whenever there's a demand for a sporting pitch, our curators dish out a greentop.

Yes, bounce, pace and lateral movement off the pitch will make Indian batsmen better players against fast bowlers, but it curtails the role of spinners drastically. Instead of regarding themselves as wicket-taking options and bowling accordingly, most spinners have developed the defensive mindset of keeping things tight. Their role in the new ecosystem seems to be to give the faster men a breather while ensuring that not many runs are scored in the interim.

It may sound bizarre but spinners don't cause concern anymore in the Ranji trophy - at least on most pitches. There are aberrations, like when the host association dishes out a dustbowl to ensure an outright victory and spinners end up with exaggerated figures. Karnail Singh Stadium (Railways' home ground till last season) used to regularly dish out these underprepared pitches over the years. No wonder the centre has been banned for a year for doling out dustbowls.

The poor performances of Indian spinners are also adversely impacting the ability of batsmen in the country to handle spin. We don't often find young Indian batsmen using their feet to get to the pitch of the ball and play along the ground

While the call for pitches with a lot of green, bounce and moisture is fine to an extent, we must not go overboard with it, for the spinners are feeling the pinch.

But pitches hostile to spin aren't the only culprits to be blamed for the deterioration of spin bowling in India. Spinners themselves are cutting down on flight more than ever before. Previously, even on pitches that didn't offer much assistance, good spinners managed to create deception in the air by putting plenty of revolutions on the ball. Such deception can only be achieved if the bowler is willing to flight the ball and take it over the batsman's eye-line.

The inevitable reason for spinners cutting down on flight is to bag IPL deals, for IPL scouts look past bowlers who flight the ball too much. T20 cricket prefers a lower trajectory over revolutions on the ball. It goes without saying that the easiest way of lowering the trajectory is to lower your arm and bowl with a slightly round-arm action. When a bowler stops taking the bowling arm close to his ear, the natural dip, and the bounce off the surface, suffer. While the development of one skill keeps the legacy of spin alive, the other brings monetary advantages for the players.

And if that's not all, the poor performances of Indian spinners are also adversely impacting the ability of batsmen in the country to handle spin. We don't often find young Indian batsmen using their feet to get to the pitch of the ball and play along the ground. The next generation of Indian batsmen prefers taking the aerial route while staying in the crease.

It's turning out to be a depressing downward spiral - in order to produce batsmen who can play fast bowlers better overseas, India started dishing out green pitches, which meant the spin department deteriorated. If that is not arrested in time, India's batsmen will cease to be the best players of spin in the world. After all, a player is a product of the environment he grows in.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 8, 2012, 14:32 GMT

    Stop your spinners to play in IPL they will be fine again.

  • parthspartan on December 8, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    I think our spinners are trying to be unorthodox and bowling faster.

    go through run up slower , n joy it complete your action bowl a lot slower results will be there for seeing

  • spinkingKK on December 8, 2012, 2:29 GMT

    India's batting needs a revamp. These batsmen don't understand that they have to fight it out in the middle. It shouldn't be like, if they can't get boundaries, they will rather stay outside the boundary.

  • SoverBerry2 on December 7, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    The answer is simple! They only know how to bowl "carrom coin" and "stop and deliver" stuffs. Learn from Swann...

  • spinkingKK on December 7, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    I don't live in India to comment on the domestic wickets. However, it appears that Chopra is right. Many years ago there was the call by Srikanth to develop green wickets in India. At that time, I feared that India will become a good-for-nothing team if that develops. Their batsmen can never play fast bowlers well anyway and they can never really have a fast bowler for long term anyway. But, by taking out their batsmen's ability to play spin and their spin bowlers' ability to attack, they have achieved the unachieveable - A team which is good for nothing. They can now lose at home and and possibily improve overseas performance by not losing all the matches. Indian batsmen never really fight hard to score when it matters. Only three players, Gambhir, Kohli, Ashwin, can be termed as the fighters in the team and their fighting level itself is not enough. Where is Mohd.Kaif ?

  • PadMarley on December 7, 2012, 5:50 GMT

    Murali and Warne are born only in hundred years.... if you have basic skills and want to learn how patience and use of simple tricks can be used in longer version of the game.... watch Rangana Herath!

  • ToTellUTheTruth on December 6, 2012, 22:21 GMT

    If a bowler can't deliver his stock deliveries, irrespective of the pitch, then why is he in the team, in the first place? Spinners cannot bowl on green top is a poor excuse. As you mentioned, they need to experiment with pace/length of their deliveries. I thought that's why you have coaches for national teams....i.e. to plan. What a waste of money.

  • InsideHedge on December 6, 2012, 22:10 GMT

    Perhaps losing the ongoing series - and losing it badly - will prompt the administrators to order a review similar to what we saw in England and Australia in recent years. Further, some serious and HONEST introspection is required.

    Maybe, just maybe, we will benefit in the LONG TERM because we look useless now in ALL the FORMATS: Tests, ODIs and T20s.

    Just look at the team, they look un-athletic, disinterested, lacking in pride and loyalty. The captain is as quiet as a mouse in the field.

  • Rahulbose on December 6, 2012, 20:34 GMT

    Aakash obvious can't find the guts to speak the obvious. But hopefully Cricinfo can at least tolerate the truth in the comments section. Is it a surprise that this sudden vanishing of spinners coincides with rise of T20 and IPL? At a time when the BCCI president is an IPL team owner, why are people surprised that Indians can't produce test quality bowlers?

  • MiddleStump on December 6, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    Agreed that the IPL has played a part in the declining standards of bowling overall and spin bowling in particular. IPL changes the mentality of spin bowlers permanently. They don't like getting hit by the batsmen even in the longer formats of the game. And once a spin bowler gets uncomfortable when a batsman goes after him, he is doomed to fail. Spinners must master their craft and buy their wickets. Even when the likes of Sobers and Lloyd went after the spin quartet, they continued to challenge them with flight. In fact one could see wide grins on the faces of Bedi and Prasanna when batsmen went on the offensive. They were so confident that the batsman was close to getting out. Invariably they were right.

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