Friday, February 05, 2010

Spin is out!

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
VVS Laxman has finally come out and said it like it is. Quite courageous, if you consider the BCCI’s rather glorious tradition of shutting people up whenever they open their mouths. In Laxman’s case, that’s not happened. He has come out and openly said that the depleting spin reserves in the country is a cause for concern. And we have accepted it.

We have accepted it because the truth is that there isn’t one quality spinner in the country anymore. Once upon a time, paraphrasing Jatayu, the Indian team could choose from the ‘innumerable spinners in this spinner-infested country’. Not so anymore.

Harbhajan Singh is at best a containing bowler right now. The spin is almost gone. The flight is completely gone. All he has are spearing darts at the batsmen’s feet. And very few wickets. Amit Mishra. Good. But is he good enough? Ditto for Pragyan Ojha. Or Piyush Chawla. The only spinner of any standard really is Murali Kartik, but he has fallen foul of the Indian selectors a long time ago.

At the end of it, the situation is that a country that was once famous for its spin bowling now has not even one spinner the world will fear.

Look at the list of top spinners in the world at the moment: Muttiah Muralitharan, Daniel Vettori, Graeme Swann, Nathan Hauritz, Ajantha Mendis and Saeed Ajmal. Not one of them is Indian.

Part of the reason for this is that about five years back – in the face of growing criticism from many quarters – the BCCI decided to change the nature of the pitches in India, choosing to make them more pacer-friendly. What that meant is that spinners stopped getting assistance from the domestic wickets. And the number against their wickets’ column dried up, making the selectors ignore them.

Part of the reason is also the advent of T20 cricket. One-day cricket had, in any case, made spinners become defensive. And with more and more teams scoring at a rate of over 4.00 in Test matches too, economy became more important than striking. It seems to have affected the Indians more; obviously, seeing that India play more ODIs and T20s than most other teams.
And part of the reason is also the change of focus in the last 20 years. Pace bowling became more popular in India after Kapil Dev. We didn’t have a spinner of the stature of Bishan Singh Bedi or Bhagwat Chandrashekhar to inspire youngsters. So now, we have an assembly line of pacers.

When it comes to Harbhajan though, the problem is somewhat different. Some bowlers are happiest when not playing the lead role. Harbhajan was a lethal weapon when playing under Anil Kumble’s shadow. As an individual, he doesn’t have the same bite. And with him losing sheen, none of the youngsters who have come in have managed to play the support act with as much panache, simply because the lead hero isn’t good enough.