Comeback of veteran spinners Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra in the Test fold after a significant gap has given a clear picture about the crisis Team India has been facing over the years in the spin department.
Lack of effective tweakers forced the national selectors to turn towards tested options for the all-important Sri Lanka series, where India are scheduled to play three Tests, on turning tracks.
Selection of ageing spinners, who are well past their prime -- Turbanator (35) and diminutive UP leggie Mishra (32) -- is certainly a step back. However, it’s not a selection error by the Sandeep Patil-led committee, who picked the best three spinners available in the country. This raises a serious question on spin nurseries in India, which have failed to produce single world-class spinner over the years. It’s a bitter truth. Barring Ravichandran Ashwin, there is no other spinner in the country who can turn the table single-handedly in whites.
Ironically, India have a rich history when it comes to producing high-quality spinners. In the past, we had outstanding spinners like Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte, Bapu Nadkarni and then came the famous spin quartet in 1960s and 70s of Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivas Venkatraghvan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi, who ruled the roost.
The legacy was then carried forward, to an extent, by Dilip Doshi and Maninder Singh for a brief period, who later extended the baton to legendary Anil Kumble - who served India successfully for almost two decades before handing over the charge to talented Harbhajan Singh.
In the meantime, India did produce an excellent slow left-arm bowler in Murali Kartik. However, the street smart bowler never got the kind of backing he deserved from the captains he played under. For a significant period, dangerous pair of Jumbo and Bhajji was another reason why 'unlucky' Kartik found it difficult to cement his place in the side.
Very few Indian skippers have actually managed to use a left arm spinner well. Despite the presence of Kartik, Sourav Ganguly tilted in favour of Bhajji during his tenure. Pragyan Ojha, who was touted as the next big thing, suffered the same fate as Ravindra Jadeja was given preference over him during MS Dhoni’s regime. Otherwise, these two extremely talented bowlers could have contributed more for Indian cricket.
Ojha (28) still has age on his side. He recently remodeled his action after the ICC raised a finger over his suspected bowling style. Support and proper guidance can still make him a world-class bowler.
But the issue of dearth in quality doesn’t end here. India still lack wicket-taking Test bowlers. Jadeja can’t provide wickets at regular intervals and looks like a part-timer in overseas conditions. Unlike Ashwin, who has honed his skills over the years and emerged as a competitive bowler, ‘Sir’ Jadeja has been a huge disappointment, even after enjoying all the backing from Dhoni himself.
Another left-arm spinning option is Axar Patel, who recently came under criticism from former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar. According to Sunny, Axar is not Test cricket material and is at best “a roller of the ball” who is very much predictable – to an extent the observation is quite right.
Karn Sharma, does like to the turn and flight the ball but the 27-year-old is still under cooked and most importantly lacks the aggression of an attacking spinner. He might emerge as a good limited-overs cricketer but there is still a big question mark over his credentials, as far as Test cricket is concerned.
Yuzvendra Chahal is certainly a bright future prospect. The leg-spinner is young, aggressive and possesses a lot of variations up his sleeves. The Royal Challengers Bangalore player might extend his support to skipper Kohli in Test cricket as well, in the near future. From his display so far, Chahal certainly looks a strong contender to take the Indian spin legacy further.
Tall and lanky Rahul Sharma and ageing Parvin Tambe are out of the debate, at least for now. Other options available in the spin pool are – ‘chinaman’ Kuldeep Yadav, Iqbal Abdullah, Shahbaz Nadeem, Pawan Negi and Parvez Rasool. But their skills are yet to be tested at the highest level.
It’s quite a task to find quality Test bowlers at a time when the slam bang version is catching up fast, and Test cricket is somewhat taking a back seat.
Due to emergence of T20 brand of cricket, flight, loop and trajectory, which are known to be major ingredients of spin bowling, are fading away. Now bowlers prefer going flat and wicket-to-wicket by using different angles to deceive a batsman, which is somewhat killing the craft of spin bowling.
Karn’s injury might favour Mishra for now, but recent inclusion of the veteran duo shows that even selectors are not quite sure about the young crop of spinners and are compelled to go with experienced cricketers.
Soon after BCCI announced India's 15-member squad for the Sri Lanka tour, former Indian speedster Ajit Agarkar hit the nail on the head when he said, “Not to have a new spinner with thousands of cricketers playing in India was more worrisome aspect than picking Amit Mishra.”
On the other hand, Gavaskar was of the opinion that too much of grass in Ranji Trophy matches is taking a toll on spinners.
The new BCCI dispensation needs to chalk out a plan to address the growing concerns in this area. The spin department, a traditional strength of Team India, needs urgent attention from decision-makers in order to improve their chances of becoming a better Test side.