While sports lovers, following Zaheer Kahn and S Sreesanth’s injury, have started airing their concern on the lack of fast bowling options in India, people have conveniently ignored the paucity of spinners. As far as I’m concerned, our bench strength with regards to the spinners is a lot thinner than their quick contemporaries. Yes, we have a quality bowler in Harbhajan Singh and even got two others in Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra to assist him, but can we really see beyond these three? What happens if someone gets injured or if someone has bad patch? Do we really have the options to choose from? The answer, unfortunately, is a NO.
A good spinner, contrary to popular belief, is an attacking option. A spinner’s ability to bowl longer spells means that he can relentlessly put pressure on a batsman by both stifling him for runs and deceiving him in flight and guile. Even teams like Australia that played most of their cricket in seamer-friendly conditions relied heavily on Warne to succeed.
India was the hub of spin bowling in the world. But, soon we realized that to succeed overseas we must produce good fast bowlers as our spinners were unable to do the job. There was a radical change in the way we prepared the tracks for domestic cricket and the attention given to anyone who could bowl fast. Since pacers were a rare commodity, they also enjoyed a lot of appreciation and adulation. All this while, the spinners took the back seat and the results are there for everyone to see.
Then came the shortest version of cricket, which curtailed the role of a spinner even further. Spinners can thrive only if they bowl longer spells, for they need time to spin their web around a batsman. But T20 doesn’t give you the luxury of bowling more than 24 balls at a time, which is obviously not enough for a spinner to express himself. This is one version of the game in which Yusuf Pathan can be equally or even more effective than Shane Warne.
There’s a dearth of good spinners in India at the domestic level. The three best bowlers are playing for the country and only a couple more like Murli Kartik and R Ashwin have the ability to run through the opposition. The sad part is that spinners from the younger generation are reluctant to flight the ball and prefer bowling a lot flatter. As far as I’m concerned, a spinner must flight the ball to create confusion and also impart enough rotations on the ball to generate spin. Both these qualities are lacking in Gen Next.
Future of Spin bowling
The future of spin bowling in India, unless the approach changes drastically, looks really bleak. The advent of T20 and its lure is encouraging kids to bowl quicker and flatter. Accuracy, instead of spin and guile, has become the keyword to operate.
As far as World cricket is concerned, there’ll always be good spinners coming along. We already have a couple of good off-spinners in Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal along with Harbhajan. Then there’s Daniel Vettori leading the left-arm spinners department. But, if we talk about great spinners, it’s very hard to predict when and who will fill that void. Because, legends are born and not made.
Role of coaches
I have seen a lot of coaches telling their wards to get their line and length perfect and spin would take care of itself. However, the system should be exactly the other way around. It’s imperative for a spinner to spin the ball and if he doesn’t do that, he seizes to be a spinner. Yes, line and length are important but spin is what actually makes a spinner.
Role of administrators
With the grounds getting smaller, the pitches getting flatter and bats getting heavier, it’s the duty of the administrators to ensure fair competition between the bat and ball. Once again, I’d talk about the tournaments organised at the grass-root level. If there’re more innings games, kids would be encouraged to bowl for longer durations and that will automatically mean flighting the ball a lot more.
The Way Ahead
Although my suggestion might sound too radical but I believe that the shortest version of the game should be kept out of bounds for young spinners. Once you spot the talent in someone to become a good spinner, keep him away from this non-stop hitting. It is nearly impossible to resist the temptation of bowling a little quicker. Let’s face it, nobody wants to get clobbered all over the park and the easiest way to ensure that you survive is to cut down on flight.
Good pitches are only a part of the problem. Good spinners, just like quality quick bowlers don’t thrive only on crumbling surfaces. Monty Panesar, perhaps not the best among the present crop of spinners, managed a five-for at Perth, a track known for its pace and bounce. In fact, spinners should come into play more on batting surfaces because they can get purchase on all kinds of pitches. Look at Murali and Warne.
That’s why I won’t be too worried just yet. There’s always a lull before and after the storm. The good thing is that the three spin legends of our generations-Shane Warne, Muralitharan and Anil Kumble- have left a legacy that would inspire thousands to take up the art of spin bowling and one day we will surely have our next generation of good spinners.
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