The hard, deteriorating dry and dusty surface, impregnated with the foot-marks of the colleague operating at the other end. The close-in fielders surrounding the crease often sending shrills down the spines of the batsmen. Running into the crease in a rhythmic manner, the arm rolling over, the fingers whirling in a mysterious manner. Well looped, pitching just short of length, the batsman coming well forward to reach out to the pitch of the ball, the ball kissing the bat first and then the pad, the silly point diving to his left, taking a sensational one-handed catch. It takes a poet to elucidate the exquisite sight in the appropriate parlance.
This resplendent sight can be witnessed on a 4th day evening or a 5th day of a test match in the sub-continent. The home ground to the art of spin bowling, India has nourished and nurtured quite a few spin stalwarts over the years. Turning back the pages of history, the ball was set rolling by the acclaimed spin quartet which comprised of the likes of Erapalli Prasanna, Venkatraghavan, Chandrasekhar and Bishan Singh Bedi. In the 1960s, under the captaincy of Pataudi, India made huge strides in spin bowling. The quartet shared among them 853 test wickets in 231 games. Analogous to the deadly pace trio of the West Indies, these spinners gave the visiting batsmen a run for their money. They were as lethal as the Carribean trio, not as devastating yet demoralizing for the batsmen. This sent out an early message to the world, if your armoury is pace dominated, our arsenal has an equally demolishing one, spin. Hence, spin bowling was born in the sub-continent.
Then forayed another magnificent match winner, Anil Kumble. About the quartet, I have only heard or read; but Kumble, I have had the pleasure of watching. Our childhood cricket memories have always been dominated by Sachin Tendulkar, but another underrated or unnoticed match winner who toiled hard under the scorching sun to break a frustratingly solid partnership that was just cruising away was none other than Anil Kumble, the genius. Not the greatest of bowlers abroad, but nevertheless a champion at home. In the dusty sub-continent conditions, he dazzled and befuddled the batsmen. In sharp contrast to the orthodox bowling of Chandrasekhar or the former legends, his was more of variations in pace. The flipper was his stock ball and not the one going away from the right hander. Inducing the minimum of flight to the delivery, he maintained a flat trajectory often making room for an LBW or a bat pad catch to the close-in fielders. Just that one wicket at the top to set sail his motivation and then it would be a treat to watch the misery that unfolded for the batsmen by his mystery. The batsmen fell like 9 pins. His master art was often overpowered by the firepower in the batting department, yet the tenacity and fortitude remained intact. The drudgery a bowler goes through is often overlooked. I have lost count of the various occasions when Kumble has spun us to victory The numero uno status that the side claimed for a short while has a major chunk of contribution in it from him.
Alongside him, blossomed another war hero, our Bhajji.
With Kumble holding it tight at one end, Harbhajan Singh unveiled some bamboozling stuff at the other end. For around a decade, these two guys bowling at tandem created worries for even the best of batsmen, like Ricky Ponting. Harbhajan broke the glass ceiling in the infamous Australia tour of India in 01 with some scintillating spells and often accounted for the heavyweights at the top. From being a support bowler to Kumble, the transition was made to a strike bowler. The turbanator was a natural talent and has to his credit a handful match winning spells.
To one’s dismay, just after Kumble left the international scene, Bhajji fumbled and mumbled. The wickets weren’t coming by and his uncanny knack of breaking partnerships was in exile. Leaving alone the wickets, by no means was he posing any form of threat to the batsmen. It was a walk in the park for the batsmen who earlier held their nerves while facing the offies he rolled out. In the England tour of 2011, his bowling was a sheer mockery of the Bhajji the world has seen and talked about. The reluctance to pitch it up and the variations all going awry, the spin department needed a look into.
In recent times, the IPL hero Ravichandran Ashwin has shown great promise in the shorter formats of the game. Has been a constant wicket taker and his ability to bowl in the powerplay has won him quite a few accolades. However, in the longer format, he needs to buck up his accuracy. He often tends to forget the fact that he is an off-spinner and the off-spin is his stock ball and more so against the left handers. Over dependent on the doosra and the carrom ball isn’t going to help him in the test matches. Certainly, he has been the pick of bowlers in the recent times and given his orthodox style and the heart to pitch it up, the future looks better lit. Piyush Chawla or Ojha have shone in patches, but on the whole lacked consistency.
Today, to one’s surprise there is a dearth of spinners. Fast bowlers for long weren’t India’s forte but now, spinners too are going extinct. The natural left arm orthodox spinner, like Murali Karthik is scant in the nation. As against the fast bowling herds that mutate every year and make it to the national sid(and go astray after an injury), the spinners can be counted with the aid of just an hand. The reasons for this betrayal are aplenty.
The hesitancy to induce the much needed flight, the disinclination to pitch it up to the batsmen make him play and get him in the front foot are the common follies. In an esoteric sense, with the modern day bats and the short boundaries, expectations of a spinner to pitch it up despite anticipating the long handle isn’t pragmatic. The defensive fields and the modern format of the game might become the scapegoats, yet adaptation is key. Evolution shouldn’t be compromised on. If excuses are made and the blame games played, there wouldn’t been an evolution from the Stone Age.
With the exploits of T20s and other factors taking over, the guile of spin bowling needs to be reinvented. The legendary bowlers need to come out of their comfort zone and impart knowledge to the young lads hitting it out at the NCAs. Being the art it is, spin bowling has got a lot to do with the brain than the body. This underlines the significance of a coach who could instil in the spinners the right ideas. The insights they would impart with their experience is priceless.
India can write off spin bowling only at its own peril. The long legacy of spinners in the nation is what has made it the final frontier for the best test nations across the globe. India, over the last two decades, has lost just a single test series. The astounding home records should all be attributed to the advents of spin. There have been numerous instances where the opposition have been spun out and India have wrapped up a test match. Given the current lack of technical know-hows to battle spin, it certainly calls for the revamp of the spinners. If India needs to hit the numero uno status again, spin bowling needs to be reincarnated in form of another Kumble or another Venkatraghavan. The dying legacy needs to be given the oxygen.