Two of the three best spinners of our generation- Shane Warne and Anil Kumble- have already hung-up their boots. The other- Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan- is on the verge of calling it a day. He has already hinted that time has come for him to quit international cricket.
Though they were different from each other in their bowling styles, they were the ones who had the capacity to single-handedly win matches for their respective countries. Their dexterity and match-winning capabilities made them cult figures on and off the cricket field.
On their days they were the best. They are any captain’s dream and the best trouble-shooters. Such was the skill of these three that they could walk in any team of any generation.
Though they belonged to different nations, they have a huge fan-base cutting across geographical boundaries. They have been the real flag-bearers of the famous spinners of yesteryears- Lance Gibbs, Jim Laker, Derek Underwood, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Richie Benaud, Bill O'Reilly and so on.
Like these greats, Warnes or Kumbles or Muralis should have inspired the next generation of spinners. But where are the good young tweakers today? India is finding it hard to find a replacement for Anil Kumble in Tests. The same holds true for Australia, where captain Ricky Ponting still misses the services of Shane Warne whenever he walks on to the cricket field to lead his side. The situation is no different in Sri Lanka, as whenever Muralitharan misses any match due to injury or any other reason, their team generally gets beaten most of the times.
Despite that, a few talented bowlers have emerged in the recent past. But the likes of Ajantha Mendis and Monty Panesar vanished from the scene like morning dew, failing to cope with the heat of modern-day cricket.
Apart from Murali, we have only two spinners playing today, who can be termed as ‘World Class’. They are - India’s Harbhajan Singh and New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori. But they can no longer be called promising youngsters.
It’s really a worrying factor that the world has not seen the emergence of a world class spinner, who can be the torch bearer to the legacy of spin bowling.
So what are the reasons that prevent us from producing class spinners anymore?
Like it or not, but it’s a fact that the game of cricket is no more played by gentlemen alone. Nor is it a pure and joyous experience for orthodox people. We have come a long way and left behind the ‘glorious days of cricket’ a long time back when people used to come to the field to witness the great duels between the master batsmen and the classical spinners.
Ever since the inception of Twenty20, cricket has no longer remained a beautiful game. Nowadays, cricket is more of a power game. In a market-driven society, results are more important than the efforts put in by the players. A flat-batted six would ‘delight’ the spectators more than a classical cover drive. A bowler no longer has the option to test a batman’s patience because there are a few batsmen left in world cricket, who have that old virtue of endurance.
The cricket administrators have finally ‘realized’ (I don’t know whether rightly or wrongly) that cricket lovers only come to the ground to watch the gallantry of the batsmen. So the game should be tilted heavily towards the batsmen as people can be thoroughly entertained with more and more boundaries and over-boundaries by the big-hitters. And if that’s not possible, we will have cheerleaders to entertain them! According to the ‘script’, the bowlers, especially the spinners, would try ‘unsuccessfully’ to contain the batsmen.
So unlike the past, modern-day tweakers would remain the ultimate whipping boys of cricket whose role would be to play second fiddle in the whole ‘game’ played by the ‘visionaries’ like Lalit Modi.
If such is the circumstance, spinners will have no option but to bowl as flat as possible and earn as many dot balls as possible, forgetting the old art of flighting the ball, defeating the batsmen in air.
Spin greats Bishan Singh Bedi and Shane Warne have already expressed their concerns about this ‘dot ball fixation’ of present-day cricket, which is killing the quality spinners. Even Harbhajan Singh, who stormed onto the scene by taking 32 wickets in the famous 2001 Test series against ‘unbeaten’ Australia of that time, is finding it hard to get wickets in Tests these days. Is it Harbhajan’s fault? How can Harbhajan, or for that matter any other spinner come out with wicket-taking deliveries in Tests when he gets to play not more than five/six Tests in a year?