Don't stifle spin

Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha...India's frontline spinners now.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

If spinners can make an impression in the T20 format where the batsmen throw their bats at everything, I don't see any reason why they cannot go on to succeed in the longer version. But the key to succeeding in the longer version is patience which has become a scarce commodity these days.

The need to overhaul the Indian bowling line-up was forced upon the selectors due to a combination of factors like injuries to some and failure on the part of some others to deliver in England. The current series against the West Indies has seen the return of Ojha and the emergence of Ashwin as frontline spinners which makes the comeback of Harbhajan Singh as of now as likely as the proverbial camel going through the eye of the needle. However, the “Turbanator” will figure in the discussions based on his past record against the Aussies even though his bowling figures in the Ranji Trophy are by no means flattering to one who has 400 scalps in international cricket.

While Ashwin and Ojha have filled the breach well enough, the selectors are handicapped by the fact that there are not many quality spinners in the domestic circuit. Gone are the days when every zone if not each state had a couple of more than decent spinners. Of late the selectors at all levels are desperately looking for someone who can bowl spin. The inclusion of Rahul Sharma in the Indian side also suggests that if someone can bowl a few useful overs at the right time, the doors of the Indian dressing room will be flung wide open. The dearth of spinners in a country that once churned them out with the same frequency as the Windies did fast bowlers is a great cause for concern that needs to be addressed rather seriously. The BCCI has taken a step in starting a specialist spin academy, but having seen the domestic circuit in the last six years with more than passing interest, I am convinced that the problem lies in the fact that most captains don't handle the spinners well enough for them to blossom.

The reluctance on the part of most captains to encourage a spinner to plot a batsman out is incomprehensible as the accent is on restricting the batsmen. To make matters worse, the desperation to get a lucrative contract with one of the IPL teams makes some spinners to develop the skill to restrict batsmen. One cannot blame the youngsters for getting their thought process skewed as Rahul Sharma's career graph will tend to mislead them. In this context I must hasten to add that Ashwin came into prominence through the IPL as well, but he has put in excess of four seasons in the domestic circuit and has a reasonably healthy record in the longer version of the game. Even to this day, I keep reiterating to Ashwin that the ability to get wickets in a longer duration game will be the main yardstick while assessing him as a bowler. I have seen Ashwin right from the start of his first-class career and he has never resorted to restricting the batsmen. In fact, I had to pipe him down on several occasions not to go overboard while experimenting in his quest for wickets.

Getting back to the main issue, it will be a worthwhile exercise to get the former Indian captains and the former spinners to address the skippers and the coaches in the domestic circuit to stress on the virtues of having quality spinners in the side. Let's face it, even countries like Australia, South Africa and England have ensured that they have spinning options despite their home pitches being seamer-friendly.

There are some talented spinners playing in the domestic circuit, but their progress gets hindered due to the misconception among captains that spinners cannot be wicket-takers. It is an irony that such a fixed opinion exists given the placid nature of the tracks in the country. I am not preaching what I have not practised and to illustrate my point I drafted in Aushik Srinivas, a 16-year-old left-arm spinner into the side alongside Ashwin during my tenure as the Tamil Nadu coach and he went on to pick up the most number of wickets for TN in his very first season. Mind you, all his wickets came on tracks that were good, flat pitches which only suggests that spinners can deliver if encouraged properly. The captains of the modern generation tend to follow the international captains almost blindly but what they fail to understand is that there is a huge difference in the quality of cricketers playing under them.

After all, if spinners can make an impression in the T20 format where the batsmen throw their bats at everything, I don't see any reason why they cannot go on to succeed in the longer version. But the key to succeeding in the longer version is patience which has become a scarce commodity these days. Besides, spinners must realise that while line is mandatory in the shorter format, length is the premium currency in the longer duration.

One Anil Kumble has shown that a spinner can achieve a lot in all formats riding on patience alone even if some qualities are not inherent.