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India traditionally has produced world class spinners in cricket. The most logical reason for this is the fact that the conditions and the pitches in India do not encourage fast bowling as compared to England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies or New Zealand: this has encouraged more and more Indians to take to bowling spin.
In addition, physical requirements to become genuine fast bowlers do not match well with an average Indian physique, though there are some exceptions.
Starting with the likes of Ghulam Ahmed, Lala Amarnath, Bapu Nadkarni, Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte to the present generation comprising Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayanth Yadav and Amit Mishra, India has produced quality spinners.
Many spinners of world fame have come and gone in between. India’s coach, leg spinner, Anil Kumble is the highest wicket taker for India in test cricket. Spin has been India’s forte and for too long we have depended on spin to win matches for us: and the tweaker’s have not let us down. Our emphasis on spin has been so much that there were occasions when a spinner has opened the bowling or came on to bowl in the 3 or 4th over of a test match. If Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft were a feared quartet, the quartet of Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Venkat was a threat of a different kind.
The breeding ground for India’s spinners has been domestic cricket. While the spinners grew from strength to strength the Indian batsmen also became adept at playing spin bowling with the kind of exposure they got day in and day out. Across generations in test cricket, spinners from other test playing nations have not posed any serious threat to Indian batsmen barring the likes of Shane Warne, Dereck Underwood, Saqlain Mustaq or a Muthaiah Muralidharan- their nemesis has always been the fast bowlers in overseas conditions. But, fast bowlers from teams visiting India also, have not posed a serious threat because of the placidity of wickets and unfavorable conditions in the sub-continent and also, this makes the Indian team a formidable opponent in their own backyard. It was so till recently, but of late the Indian batsmen not in the same comfort zone against some quality spin bowling by the visiting teams?
It all began during the England team’s tour to India during the later part of 2012. It was a four test series that was won by England 2-1 with one of the test matches ending in a tame draw. Graeme Swann [20 wickets] and Monty Panesar [15 wickets] wrecked havoc on the Indian batsmen. Now, in the ongoing series between India and Australia another off spinner- leg arm leg spinner combination in Nathan Lyon and Steve O Keefe appear to do the same. The first test has already gone in Australia’s favour: with the spin duo sharing 17 wickets between them. In the first innings of the ongoing test match that began at Bengaluru on the 5 March 2017 Wrecker-in-chief Nathan Lyon has taken 8 wicket for 50, ably supported by Steve O Keefe who accounted for one: resulted in another dramatic Indian batting collapse-to be dismissed for a paltry total of 189. It appears India is staring at another defeat at the hands of the Steve Smith’s side, so-called underdogs. What ails the Indian batsmen against good spinners? Let’s find out.
- With the advent of the 50 overs and the T-20 game the technique against spinners has changed over the years with the emphasis more on the aggressive slogging game. In the longer format the spinners get more time to settle in to a groove and provide more opportunities to add variation to their bowling. The modern day batsmen fail in their ability to be patient and play the waiting game in the longer format against top class spinners- this has been their undoing.
- With the amount of International cricket that’s being played these days the Indian batsmen hardly get any opportunity to play against their own spinners in domestic cricket. And they really don’t get tested by the spinners of the opposition teams. When will a Rahul or Karun Nair get to play Ashwin in the longer format? This is where they are mainly losing out. Whereas earlier when there was not too much International cricket, the batsmen had enough time to play domestic cricket thereby honing their skills against the best spinners in business.
- The pitches these days are doctored to play dead in order to make it a batsman’s paradise, thereby denting the chances of the spinners to show case their skills. Test match wickets earlier were never used to be covered; the overnight rain or dampness on the wicket was a nightmare for the batsmen with the ball in the hands of bowlers like Underwood or Venkatraghavan. Certain wickets stood by their reputation that the ball would turn prodigiously by the third day, but today things are not the same. Batsmen like Gavaskar, Viswanath and Vengsarkar polished their skills playing on tracks like those mentioned earlier. When faced with wickets like the one prepared at Pune the modern day batsman is found wanting.
- Commercialization of the game to attract more spectators to the stadia or more TV viewers by making the game a batsman’s game has proved to be a boon for sponsorships but a bane for the art of spin bowling. BCCI is only interested in attracting sponsors like Star and Sony but are doing very little for the cause of the dying art known as spin bowling.
- Physiologically and psychologically speaking too much cricket means very little time for family life, rest& recovery. This over dose will slowly lead to staleness, lack of urge, keenness and alertness of the mind, fatigue in the body with a lack of freshness. This may be one of the reasons for India faring poorly against the Aussies after the recent series against New Zealand, England and one off Test against Bangladesh. The fixtures committee of the BCCI has to take blame for the tightly packed schedule.
The remedy to this malady is to produce more spinner friendly pitches helping the spinners to survive and the batsmen to thrive. Even domestic cricket is played on dead docile pitches these days that turn out be boring and one sided in favour of the batsmen. The right balance has to be restored lest the game will die a slow death. There should be a system in place to see that Indian cricketers take part in domestic cricket for a certain mandatory period.