Mumbai’s spin a cause of worry ahead of Ranji final

None of the five specialist spinners used in Mumbai’s campaign has been able to cement his place in the side. To make the matters worse, the fact that two of them – key spinner Vishal Dabholkar and rookie Anuksh Jaiswal – found themselves suspended from bowling in the middle of the season for suspect action.

Vishal Dabholkar (right) is the only spinner to have more than a single five-wicket haul this season but he appeared way short on confidence during the quarterfinal against Jharkhand. (File photo)   -  V. Ganesan

After a two-year break, Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy team finds itself in a familiar territory. As they embark on a bus journey to Pune for facing Saurashtra in the final of the premier domestic tournament, Mumbai would be hoping for the Maharashtra Cricket Association curator to repeat the green top he had offered for India’s Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka earlier this month.

However, if the Gahunje track turns out to be a flat deck, Mumbai players would know they will have to work doubly hard to cover up their weakest link of the season: the spin department. Ever since the domestic season started more than four months ago, Mumbai have suffered on the spin bowling front.

None of the five specialist spinners used in Mumbai’s campaign has been able to cement his place in the side. To make the matters worse, the fact that two of them – key spinner Vishal Dabholkar and rookie Anuksh Jaiswal – found themselves suspended from bowling along with part-timer Akhil Herwadkar in the middle of the season for suspect action.

Though Dabholkar, the only spinner to have more than a single five-wicket haul this season, has returned after getting his action cleared, he appeared way short on confidence during the quarterfinal against Jharkhand and was benched in the last week’s semifinal against Madhya Pradesh.

Perennial problem

The problem of lack of quality spinners runs deeper in Mumbai cricket. Chairman of selection panel Milind Rege in December last year had stressed on the dearth of quality spinners in Mumbai cricket.

But when it comes to the Ranji Trophy season, Mumbai coach-cum-director of the indoor cricket academy Chandrakant Pandit put up a brave front.

“I don’t see it is a problem. It’s related to the kind of wickets we get,” Pandit said on Sunday after the team’s training at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s Bandra-Kurla Complex facility. “Overall, I would say our spin department, despite our limitations, has done well.”

Pandit’s admission of the spin department having its limitations hasn’t really harmed the team though. The consistent batting unit, led by Shreyas Iyer’s aggression, and a well-oiled pace attack has ensured that the lack of depth in the spin departments hasn’t cost the team dearly so far.

“Whatever strength we have in the spin department we have been trying to utilise it. Obviously, very few teams are at their strongest in both the pace and spin departments,” Pandit said. “We knew from the start of the season that our strength is the fast bowling department and we have been trying to get our combinations in place accordingly.”

Part-timers to the fore

The only time spinners have been able to contribute meaningfully to the team’s cause is when the conditions have been favourable to them. Surprisingly, when the ball was either turning or bouncing, even the part-timers have excelled while turning their arm over. It reflects in the fact that two of the five five-wicket hauls by tweakers have been registered by part-timers Herwadkar and Jay Bista.

“The spinners have played the supporting role to perfection. And whenever the conditions were helpful for them, they have risen to the occasion,” Pandit said. “Vishal did extremely well against Tamil Nadu. Iqbal did well against Jharkhand. Even part-timers Bista and Akhil have done well.”

If Cheteshwar Pujara, fresh from a hundred in the semifinal, gets into groove and plays a trademark long innings, the role of the spinners would be crucial for Mumbai to control the innings. It will be interesting to see if the spinners come to the fore at the big stage or they will continue to remain in the shadow of the pacers.