Elusive Spinners From The ‘Land Of Spin’

India has long been referred as “LAND OF SPIN”. Our traditional strength has been the ability to produce technically sound batsmen from Hazare to Merchant, Gavaskar to Vishwanath, Tendulkar to Dravid and list goes on. The other aspect of pride for Indians is the legendary spinners. Vinoo Mankad, Subash Gupte, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have all held the Spin flag of India fly high in World Cricket.

Elusive spinners from the 'Land of Spin'

Elusive spinners from the 'Land of Spin'

However since the retirement of India’s greatest match winner, Anil Kumble the spin bureau looks bare. What has happened to India’s ability to produce Spinners who are our strengths in Test Cricket. After the days of Spin Quatret, Anil Kumble came into the scene in early nineties and ended his career as Third Highest wicket taker in Test cricket with 619 wickets. Harbhajan Singh, ever since the Legendary Australia series of 2001 has formed a potent pair with Kumble. The bowlers reaped the benefits of each other and ended up taking India to the top of Test summit a year after Kumble called his day.

The situation since then has not been heartening. A look into the stats shows that after Kumble’s retirement, Indian spinners – Harbhajan Singh has held the lead role without much success and his partner has been a case of musical chair between Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. The five wicket hauls by Indian spinners since November 2008 has been alarming. It’s just three hauls, all by Harbhajan. The thing of worry is that of these three, two came in Newzeland and South Africa and just one has come at home. Is India not supposed to be a spin friendly environment?

Harbhajan has 408 wickets in 98 tests and is worst among the 400 plus club bowlers but that’s for another day. Of these, since Kumble’s retirement he has just 107 wickets in 27 matches with three five wicket hauls. His bowling average has increased from career 32.3 to 35.7. The strike rate has increased too. All this are not great signs of Lead role. While he can take pride in scoring two centuries and few match turning fifties, he has failed in his key role.

Especially in the past year, Harbhajan apart from the Capetown test where he took 7wickets and Dominica test (third test against West Indies) has been a liability in the already weak bowling attack. He has neither been attacking nor been very good in containing. Still the lack of competition has meant he is still India’s No 1 choice as spinner. India had drawn few test matches which could have been won, just because of a weak bowling attack that appears toothless without kingpin Zaheer. Here a 98 match, 12 year experienced veteran is supposed to stand up and make it count but Harbhajan has failed in this role a big way.

If Harbhajan has been a worry, the case of his challengers has been an alarm. Mishra made a wonderful debut in Second test against Australia in 2008 but ever since he has barely impressed in his test appearances. 40 wickets in 11 tests with an average of 38 plus is no reason to rejoice. No one doubts his credentials as a leg spinner since he has a wonderful legbreaks and special googlies but the on field performance has not matched his talents. He has been able to threaten the batsmen a good level but still the wickets seem to be eluding him.

Pragyan Ojha was supposedly a ODI bowler yet has managed as good as Mishra with 42 wickets in 11 tests at a worse average of 40 odd. His slow left arm bowling has not been threatening as Mishra. But the inconsistency of Mishra meant he is able to get a few tests under his radar. He still stands a good chance to establish himself as India’s top two choice spinners if Mishra fails again to live up to his talents.

Piyush Chawla made a surprise entry to the victorious World Cup campaign earlier this year. But he failed a long way on justifying the choice as he was clobbered by England and other minnow batsmen. Yet at an age of 21, he still has a long way to go. His googly has been his strength and weakness. His over usage of googly meant he has lost the magic with his stock ball. If he can improve on his bowling efforts, he can surely have another stint with Team India and establish himself as Lead spinner, post Harbhajan days. The big question is : Can he?

The other options available are not encouraging either. Ashwin, a very effective limited overs bowler is not considered as a worthy Test player yet. His first class record of 134 wickets in 34 matches at 28 is not something one can gloat over. Yet he is by far the most exciting Spinner in India today and it won’t be long before India hands him the test cap. If he can reproduce his IPL magic in test and ODI cricket, Indian cricket will be better served. One needs to remember the variations he has got in his armory. His carom ball will surely bamboozle the lesser known batsmen and may trouble the established ones too. With India’s inability to bowl out the tail after having the top order packed off could be served by his carom balls and disguising off breaks.

Iqbal Abdullah, Mumbai based slow left armer is also knocking the doors of selection. He has to his credit been the highest wicket taker in last Ranji Season and has impressed one and all in IPL. He has 88 wickets in 28 matches at an average of 29 which again is not a commendable one. He is effective in containing the run flow and may pile the pressure on one end so that the other partner may reap some rewards.

One guy who has been forgotten by selectors is a 34 year old veteran, Murali Karthik. Had he been in any era other than the one with Kumble – Harbhajan duo or in times of spin quartet, he would have surely added to his 24 wickets in 8 matches. He still is a work horse much like Anil Kumble and has been having fruitful county seasons, year after year. With his experience in playing in England, he could have been a better replacement for Harbhajan than Ojha for the last two tests of England series. But now the age of 34 is not so heartening for this fighting tall spinner.

The other options available include the new entrants Bhargav Bhatt and Rahul Sharma. But both of these are too far from being in reckoning.

Now a look into these facts is creating a cause of worry. While we are all worried about Indian batting lineup after the Big Three quits, the spin bowling stocks of India has hit an all time low. Atleast we have a pool of batsmen in Pujara, Kohli, Raina, Rohith Sharma, Vijay, Rahane and co to hold the batting together, if they can live up to their talents. But the spin wardrobe is really alarming. The major issue we may face is “Lack of effective spinner”. Now are we still the “Land of Spin”? Hope and pray that sooner than later one of these guys and Harbhajan establish themselves back as potent weapons. India is full of pro batsmen and pro spin pitches and Spinners are likely to play a major role in wins in India always. So let’s hope we find two such match winners soon.

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Dr.Arvind Subramanian is a Dental Surgeon from Chennai, India. A native of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu he, like most other youngsters of India, he is a fanatic fan of Tendulkar and a hardcore Cricket buff. He has a great interest for Writing and writes on various subjects from Medicine to Arts and Culture to Cricket. He is also a good classical dancer and performs on various Sabhas and Art Centres often and is also an orator He is about to pursue his higher studies in his field. You can find him in Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1409700718


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