Prasanna: 'Ashwin is still the best spinner we have'

“He (Ashwin) is still the best we have,” Prasanna tells Sportstar during a free-wheeling chat in Bengaluru on Wednesday evening. While he believes that the off-spinner's return will help the Indian team do better in the coming months, the veteran warns that Kuldeep and Chahal should stay grounded.

Prasanna: "Ashwin will be the sheet anchor in the middle overs. After 20 overs, the trend of the game will depend on how well he plays his role."   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Not known for mincing his words, Erapalli Prasanna believes that young Indian spinners—Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal—have shown enough promise in the ODI series against Australia. However, the 77-year-old spin legend makes it clear that he would still put his money on off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.

In this exclusive interview, Prasanna speaks on issues that have mostly remained unsaid all this while.

Excerpts…

This has been quite an interesting series for India as it mauled Australia banking on two young spinners—Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. There is no Ravichandran Ashwin in the squad, and even Ravindra Jadeja has not been used. How do you see this?

I think it is a great promise. Before Ashwin came into the side, people were thinking what would happen to the spin department, but he came in wonderfully. That cleared peoples’ doubts over top class spinners.

Now if you see not just Ashwin, others are also taking wickets. That’s a great promise and it again makes it evident that we can still have spin as our trump card. After the Sri Lanka tour, the selectors have been pretty bold in trying out the youngsters—Kuldeep and Chahal—who have done extremely well in the IPL too.

Prasanna: "If I was a selector, I would have dropped Kedar Jadhav because Ashwin can bat equally well at No. 6."   -  K Gopinathan

 

Before the series, many cricket experts believed that it would be too much of a risk to take on Australia with two inexperienced spinners. Do you think this success will actually help Kuldeep and Chahal do even better in the future?

When they were picked for the first three games, there were a lot of speculations (whether they would be able to step up). I also had a doubt whether to try the youngsters after the important Australia series, or should there be at least one senior along with them. They proved me wrong. They have performed extremely well against a reputed team. So, the class of Indian spinners is quite intriguing.

The World Cup 2019 is not that far away. Do you think Indian selectors should give this set of spinners a longer rope so that they get ready for the big challenge?

Whether it is the World Cup or any series, a team’s effectiveness revolves around those twenty overs that are usually bowled by the spinners. Our spinners have a tremendous back-up in a strong batting line-up. It is true that on a good (batting) wicket, we also concede runs and the effectiveness of spinners is not seen then.

Effectiveness of spinners at times becomes doubtful when you fail to defend 280 runs and a spinner gives away 40-30 runs. In all those situations, people will pull the spinner up. It is quite evident that as long as success comes your way, no one bothers how effective are these spinners. But just when the team loses after getting 280 runs on the board, the cricket pundits start slamming them. They believe that had spinners bowled differently, India could have done better. We always have our reasons ready.

Thankfully in this series, such a scenario has not come yet, so let’s only look at the positives. I am sure when Ashwin comes into play, he will be the sheet anchor. As far as World Cup 2019 is concerned, it depends whether selectors bring in Jadeja or they keep Kuldeep as support for Ashwin.

If I was a selector, I would have dropped Kedar Jadhav because Ashwin can bat equally well at No. 6. He is a far superior bowler. Having him around would help the team maintain balance. That’s how it should be. Then you can retain your strength as a team. If I had the power to decide, I would have done that.

But a lot of cricket experts have been raising doubts over Ashwin’s effectiveness in the long run…

Ashwin will be the sheet anchor in the middle overs. After 20 overs, the trend of the game will depend on how well he plays his role.

After Ashwin was not included in the ODI series against Australia, Bishan Singh Bedi had said that he should not lose his sleep over this. And now you are also banking on Ashwin. Why is it so?

Look I still believe, Ashwin is the best spinner we have in the team. Let us not forget about him, even though Indian cricket is all about what goes up must come down. I don’t think one should put Ashwin there. He is our best spinner and a great batsman too. He can live up to the occasion. Indian cricket is in safe hands with Ashwin. And now, he can even back the youngsters.

In the past there have been quite a few emerging talents who lost the plot mid-way. Now that Kuldeep and Chahal are making all heads turn, what would be your advice for them?

As long as they have head on their shoulders, they can go the distance. Look, cricket is a leveller. When they start failing, millions of people will start bouncing on them. I am sure, with Ashwin coming back into the side, it will help Chahal and Kuldeep a lot. Being a senior, Ashwin will take a lot of responsibility and take the pressure off the two. That will help them perform much better.

At a time when Indian spinners are again making their presence felt, do you think it is time the BCCI created a spinners’ pool for the future?

They (BCCI) did such a thing long back when Jagmohan Dalmiya was its head. Unfortunately when the going is good, the cricket administrators forget the need of the hour. During crisis, they just tend to manage things. But it is a useful thing to have a spinners’ pool and at least 10-12 bowlers are short-listed for the future.

That will help us in taking it forward. Unfortunately, the Board has ruled out the utilisation of the expertise of Bishan Singh Bedi and others, citing age. Of course, there is another thing too - if they use Bedi and others, some former Board officials too will jump out saying that our expertise as officials should also be exploited. (Laughs)

But then, how do you have a pool? You have to have good people monitoring them. You just can’t keep a Narendra Hirwani to develop such talent pools. What is their experience and what is the combined experience of Bedi, (Srinivas) Venkataraghavan and Prasanna? You decide it yourself! (Laughs) I think it is futile to think about that, but I genuinely think the spinners’ pool must be ready. We already have three people, and there should be six more people coming in. That would not only put pressure on Ashwin, Jadeja, Kuldeep, but will also maintain a healthy competition in the side.

Throughout the conversation, you surprisingly, did not mention about Axar Patel, who is also considered a key member for India’s 2019 World Cup squad…

To be honest, I don’t consider Axar Patel a brilliant spinner. He is just okay. I don’t look at him as a strike bowler or someone who can demolish the opponent side. He can at best keep the opponents under a bit of pressure. He is more like Ravi Shastri. He has moulded himself like Ravi, and people don’t call Ravi a great spinner. So, you got the answer…