It has to be said that spin bowling of the highest class is a treat to watch and it is something which appeals to the eyes in a way no other cricketing skill does. Over the past few decades, India have been blessed with a host of great spinners who have excelled in the art of spin bowling. Former Indian cricketer Maninder Singh was one such bowler who mesmerised us with his bowling performances on the international stage.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the former Indian cricketer spoke about the art of spinning the ball, the key to success, and gave his opinion about the pitches which are produced in India.
“The hallmark of a great spinner is when he’s able to produce the same results he does at home abroad as well. A spinner should not depend upon the pitch to produce turn. He should be able to take wickets on the bouncy and seaming tracks as well, and just not on the rubble,” said Maninder.
Maninder was one who enjoyed reasonable success abroad and home. He was often credited to have bowled an over, in which each of the six balls would be different than the previous one, juggling with flight, length and spin.
He spoke about his practice regime which made him a successful bowler and the reason for his shortcomings as well.
“The more you practice the better you get. I was at the peak of my career when I used to practice 3-4 hours a day. I was fortunate enough that used to work with the Steel Authority of India so I used to practice for them in the morning and practice for Ranji in the afternoon. When you bowl to brilliant batsman you learn a lot of things. My shortcoming arrived when I bowled lesser in the nets.”
Maninder Singh credited a lot of his success to Bishan Singh Bedi and heaped praise on the legend who was his inspiration growing up. Interestingly enough, Maninder was even compared to Bedi in the beginning of his career in terms of his style of bowling and the fact that both of them are left-handers and Sikhs.
“Bishan paaji was the one who told me that the more you practice the better you get. If I listened to him as my bowling progressed, then I probably wouldn’t have retired at the age of 30.
“Growing up, he was my inspiration. I was 10 or 11 when I used to watch him play on tv. So I thought to myself – I am a left hander, I am a Sikh and I can spin the ball, so I want to be famous. But comparing me to him is an insult to Bishan Singh Bedi. Despite not believing in comparisons, I feel no one can ever match paaji. He is by far the best left arm spin bowler there has been.”
Interestingly, Bedi was Maninder’s first ever captain in the Ranji trophy for Delhi.
“He made me play Ranji when I was 15 and he was at the fag end of his career, he was still so beautiful to watch, so I could only imagine what he would have done with the ball when he was younger. There is only one Bishan Singh Bedi and I can never be compared to him.”
Maninder was of such high praise of the legendary spin bowler that he credited him to be the best captain he has played under.
“Both my Ranji captains - Bishan paaji and Mohinder Amaranth were excellent captains. They were very positive and great communicators and they had so much confidence. If I have to choose the best captain I’ve played under, I would choose Bishan Singh Bedi. I believe a leader has to be a motivator and has to have the knack of communicating which Bishan paaji was brilliant at.”
Success of the current Indian spinners
Although the current Indian spinners, including the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have a better average than Maninder and Bedi, one of the reasons, according to Maninder, has to be the types of pitches which are available to bowl on in India currently.
Ashwin has been breaking records for fun off late might go down as the greatest spinner in the world, and might even eclipse Kumble or Warne’s record. On being asked whether he is the best bowler in the world, Maninder agreed and pointed out the reason for his success.
“On the pitches or the rubble he is bowling on, yes he is. He has got a very good idea of what to do. I’m nobody to judge but if you see his performance on paper, his record is phenomenal, but somewhere down the line I have seen he has it in him to take wickets on good pitches as well. Playing on these bad tracks, that belief has gone missing. He needs to be constantly told that he is capable of getting wickets abroad as well.
“The Indian bowlers don’t know the art of spin bowling. They depend upon the pitch,” claimed Maninder.
“Let's hope Kumble being the coach can change a few things. I want to see Ashwin take wickets when he goes to Australia. Spinners should get wickets on those type of pitches as well,” he went on.
Rank Turners – Boon or Bane?
In fact, over the past few years, the Indian pitches have come under a lot of scrutiny for the “rank turners” which have been produced. Maninder was of the opinion that pitches should not be prepared in such way that they assist spinners. He feels the spinners should be able to produce the spin on the good, bouncy tracks and goes on to speak about the art of spin bowling, something which he feels the Indian spinners lack.
“Sometimes I feel - what are they doing? People argue that when we go abroad to England, Australia, New Zealand etc., they prepare the pitches in such a way that they bounce a lot, but the fact is that, the pitches are naturally like that. In India, sometimes I don’t feel like watching the test match when the ball spins from day 1 because then you know the result.
"The whole idea of pitches spinning is not a good idea. We do not see the art of spin bowling in such a case. The art of spin bowling is when you can spin the ball on good pitches. If you look at the first match at Rajkot, that was a good pitch. The English bowlers were able to spin the ball better than the Indians.”
Also Read: Do India need 'rank turners' to win at home?
As fans, we have always wondered as to how different the pitches were back in the 1980s compared to the pitches which are being produced now.
“Oh yes, the pitches back then were completely different. I remember just one or two odd pitches which were bad, for example, the one against Pakistan in Bangalore and another one in Ahmedabad. Otherwise, I don’t remember any other pitch which was bad,” said Maninder.
“I feel the trend of the rank turners started only after India’s 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia and England back in 2011 when Dhoni was the captain. The mentality to ‘win at any costs’ started after those losses.”
“I don’t have a great opinion about Dhoni as a good Test captain. I feel he was a very lucky captain. Most losses abroad, most wins at home. Those are not records to be proud of.”
Despite being critical over Dhoni as the Indian captain, Maninder praised a lot of qualities which he possesses.
“Despite all that I'm a great fan of him. He doesn’t have any technique at all but his ball sense was phenomenal. It was tremendous and that is why he could hit those good balls into the stands. He is also a great athlete. If you’re mentally and physically fit, you’re bound to be great,” Maninder said.
The historic moment of 1986
Maninder Singh was part of the Indian team which achieved a historic tie against Australia in 1986 in Chennai. As the 30th anniversary of the famous Test arrived two months ago, Maninder reminisced the Test he described as the best match he has ever played in.
As John Lennon famously once said, “There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be...”
On 22nd September 1986, it was destiny, that led Maninder Singh to be trapped in front of the wicket in the final over of the historic tied Test against Australia.
In the sweltering heat of Chennai, India looked to achieve the impossible against a formidable Australian team. They were on the verge of history when Australian bowler Greg Mathews spoiled the party for Kapil Dev’s heroes by dismissing Maninder Singh in the final over of the match to deny the Indians a victory.
“Honestly, I feel that was the right result for the Test. It was destined to be,” said Maninder
“I think it was one of the best tests I’ve seen or played in. Both the teams were on a high and I think both teams played exceptional cricket. It was a great decision by Allan Border to declare the innings and probably a better decision by Kapil Dev to chase it.
“Honestly, I think if you’ve got a positive frame of mind, I don’t think the heat really matters. Dean Jones started vomiting when he was on 100, but he went on to score a double hundred. When there is competition and you’re doing well, you don’t feel the heat. You only feel the heat or cold when you don’t perform well.”
Having been asked the question numerous times during his career, the former left-arm spinner opened up about the fateful delivery.
“It doesn’t really matter if I nicked the ball or not. If you see the record books it says lbw Greg Mathews, that's where the matter ends. After so many years, when you’ve gained so much experience in life, it doesn’t really matter if you nicked the ball or not.”
Unfortunately, Maninder Singh is known more often for that particular Test rather than all his other successes which he has had with the Indian cricket team. But being the calm and composed person he is today, he does not regret a thing.
“Yes, I will be remembered for it even when I’m gone from this world. But at the age of 51 now, I don't regret anything. I believe in destiny and I’m into a lot of meditation which gives you belief and gives you a certain calm. Regretting things will bring negative thoughts in you. To avoid that, you’ve got to forget all the regrets that have happened in your life.
“Whatever happens, there is a reason for it. It just takes some time to realise it,” exclaimed Maninder.