VVS Laxman in Opening Up has mentioned among other things the lack of bench strength as far as spinners are concerned. CricInfo also has an article dedicated to this comment, and hopefully this will help highlight the problem a fair bit. But I am a bit surprised at the attention it is getting.
This is not a new problem. Since Bedi, Venkatraghavan, Prasanna and Chandrasekar left the scene, there has been only one reliable spinner who we can call a match winner – Kumble, and even he is not a spinner in the classical mould.
Harbhajan Singh, probably comes in next, but he is who I call a “confidence bowler”. If he gets a wicket or two, then he is suddenly a different bowler – you soon see the flight, the loop and turn in his bowling. Give him a bit of stick, and his bowling becomes flat, fast and defensive. Since Kumble’s retirement, Bhajji in my opinion hasn’t really stepped up, either. Granted, India haven’t been playing as many tests as we would like them to, but he has had only one 5 Wicket haul since Kumble’s retirement – you would expect more from your main spinner.
The pitches in India haven’t helped either. Who would have thought that someone like Murali would struggle to get wickets in these flat pitches either?
There have been spinners in the Indian team who have come and gone – Dilip Doshi, L. Sivaramakrishnan, Shivlal Yadav, Maninder Singh, Venkatapathy Raju, Sunil Joshi, … the list goes on and on. But, in the last 25 years or so, we’ve never had great spin reserves. Actually, this is true for most countries – there are good quality fast bowlers cropping up all the time, but spinners are harder to unearth. Let us look at the spinners currently playing Test cricket around the world –
- Australia – Nathan Hauritz
- Bangladesh – Shakib Al Hasan
- India – Harbhajan Singh, Mishra, Ojha
- Pakistan – Danish Kaneria, Saeed Ajmal
- Sri Lanka – Murali, Herath , Mendis
- West Indies – Suleiman Benn
- South Africa – Paul Harris, Botha
- England – Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar
- New Zealand – Daniel Vettori, Jeetan Patel
If I were to pick quality spinners from that list, I would pick two or at the most three. If that is the case, then imagine what the reserve list is like.
Having said all this, India’s spinning reserves while not being great is not that bad in my opinion, when compared to other countries. Apart from Harbhajan Singh, we have the following bowlers –
Right arm off spin
Ashwin, Mohnish Parmar, Ramesh Powar, Lahiri
Left arm orthodox
Ojha, Iqbal Abdulla, Murali Karthik, Appanna, Jadeja, Aushik Srinivas, …
The two leg spinners in the list have already played for India and currently Mishra seems to have the edge over Chawla. Although Mishra has bowled well in the opportunities he has been provided with, let us not kid ourselves – he is a good support bowler, but is unlikely to run through a side easily – even, while playing in India. Or maybe, I should say, especially while playing in India. The Indian pitches have not been kind to wrist spinners (with the exception of Kumble – but he is not, as I said earlier, a wrist spinner in the classical sense). The Qadirs, the Warnes and the likes have come and gone with little success here. There is something in the pitches in India that doesn’t really suit these kind of bowlers. So, if I were a selector I would pick a leggie based on the pitch and the team they are facing. Which means that we have to pick 3 spinners in the side (not in the playing XI, but the XV).
As far as off-spinners go, we seem to have quite a short fall. Ramesh Powar has been tried with little success, and I am not sure if he will be tried again. Mohnish Parmar has a suspect action, and although he has now been cleared, he will need time to prove himself. The only other bowlers in this category happen to be R. Ashwin from Tamil Nadu and Saurasish Lahiri from Bengal. Of the two, Ashwin is a contracted player and may get a look-in ahead of Lahiri. I don’t think Ashwin is quite ready for the longer version of the game, but he may actually be the next in line if Harbhajan Singh is injured and we need an off-spinner. (Interestingly, I read an article in the Hindu about the lack of off-spinners recently. I googled to find what the link was and here is the actual article – http://beta.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/article61426.ece)
The list of left arm orthodox bowlers is quite long, though. The standouts currently are Ojha and Abdulla, and although Ojha bowled reasonably well in Bangladesh, we need to see him play against a team like South Africa to see where he really stands as a bowler. Ravindra Jadeja has not bowled badly, but most people still see him as an all rounder and it is unlikely that he will be picked in the team just for his bowling. I think the next bowler in line, in this category after Ojha would be Iqbal Abdulla from Mumbai.
So, if I were to pick the 3 back-up bowlers for Harbhajan, Mishra and Ojha (the three currently in the team), I would go with R.Ashwin (right arm off break), Chawla (right arm leg break) and Abdulla (left arm orthodox). Just because we have 3 names doesn’t mean they are ready or anything. It means BCCI, NCA, the MAC academy, etc need to nurture them – put them in the ‘A’ teams, the Board President XIs, etc; offer them the guidance that they need and…just get them ready.
I know we keep talking about India’s spin reserves, but what about India’s fast bowling reserves – sure, there are a lot of people around, but if Zaheer has an injury in this series – India would struggle to find a good replacement.
Think about that.