A serious decline of quality spinners

The overall decline in the quality of Indian spin bowling, from the heady days in the 70s when the spin quartet ruled the roost, leaves me sad.

K. SRIKKANTH

L. Sivaramakrishnan was perhaps thrust into big time cricket too soon.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

DESPITE the surfacing of so many young pacemen, spin will continue to hold its place in Indian cricket. In our quest for more ammunition in pace, we should not lose sight of our traditional strength.

The challenge lies in striking the right balance. Remember, even in a side such as Australia, that possesses a glittering array of pacemen, it is Shane Warne who often turns matches.

There is space for both pace and spin to survive and flourish in an eleven, and if the selectors and the team-management pick horses for courses, then justice will be done to both forms of bowling.

The overall decline in the quality of Indian spin bowling, from the heady days in the 70s when the spin quartet ruled the roost, leaves me sad. However, heartening is the fact that the Board of Control for Cricket in India has taken firm steps to retrieve the situation.

Over the last few years, several young spinning careers have been nipped in the bud. The principal cause being the surfeit of limited overs matches at the school level.

The young bowlers are hesitant to flight, start beginning to bowl flat, and the finer elements of spin bowling such as loop go straight out of the window. What we get to see is a predictable spinner who may not concede more than 45 runs in his ten overs, but one who would not take too many wickets either.

It is when the young spinners start becoming defensive in their mind-set that they begin to lose their sting. It is here that the coaches at the junior level have such a major role to play.

I have seen spinners who had been attacking in their teens, turn into predictable, boring bowlers, lacking the variety. Clearly a case of much talent being wasted.

Maninder Singh was not guided in the proper direction.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

It has been seen, even at the international level, that aggressive spinners can win you limited overs matches, luring the batsmen to their doom with their flight. Sadly, this fact is often overlooked.

I remember when we won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia, in '85, L. Sivaramakrishnan's leg-spin played a notable part in our triumph. On the big grounds down under, the batsmen could not take too many chances against him.

The young spinners will have to be given the confidence that they would not be taken off the attack following a couple of expensive overs. It is this fear of being removed from bowling that often works on a bowler's mind, having such an adverse impact on his approach.

The BCCI is finally moving in the right direction though and introduction of two and three-day matches at the junior level is a welcome move. Five years from now, we could have a lot more young spinners knocking at the doors.

There has been a serious decline in the number of quality spinners in the country. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are a world class pair, the promising Murali Kartik is waiting in the wings, and there are a few others like Amit Mishra and Ramesh Powar, who can be groomed, however, if you look at the sheer number of good spinners around in the 70s and early 80s and now, you will find a serious shortfall.

In the 70s, there were so many names of those who would have made it to big time cricket but for the presence of the famous spin quartet. In Tamil Nadu, we had S. Vasudevan, a fine left-arm spinner, who would have figured in Test match cricket had he been playing now.

Close by, in Karnataka, there was Vijayakrishna, who was an attacking left-arm spinner with a bag of tricks. He had the flight and the loop and won so many matches for his State. Vijayakrishna's team-mate Raghuram Bhatt, who was discarded from the Indian team without being given a fair trial, was a left-arm spinner with a potent arm ball. In Hyderabad, we had V. Ramnarayan, who enjoyed striking success at first class level, but found the door to international cricket shut.

These were quality bowlers, who suffered due to a lack of opportunities. Then, you have more famous names in Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar.

If we look at the last 25 years, there are not too many names that come to mind.

Yes, there was a Dilip Doshi, who bode his time, and when the great spinners began fading away, did manage to carve a reasonable career for himself, with more than a hundred Test scalps.

Shivlal Yadav was a useful off-spinner, who believed in flight and could prise out batsmen on good batting surfaces. Venkatapathy Raju, a left-arm spinner, has a decent record at home, but two of the finest talents did not progress to bigger things.

I am talking about L. Sivaramakrishnan and Maninder Singh here. The two were bristling with talent, however, were thrust into big-time cricket too soon, and struggled to handle the pressures that come with success. Had they been guided in the proper direction, I am sure, both would have finished with over 200 Test wickets.

Despite criticism over his style of bowling, Kumble has an outstanding record and we will have to give him due credit. And Harbhajan Singh, during the 2001 series at home against Australia, proved what a class spinner could achieve. There was flight, loop, turn and bounce in his bowling and the Aussies were flummoxed.

There is no dearth of talent in the country. What we need is to groom the spinners, provide them the belief and the confidence that they can succeed with their various styles.