Usually the pre-series hype is created by the host broadcaster and the players add some spice by making comments in the media, which the Aussies love to call the mind games. However, just before the start of the India vs England series for the Pataudi Trophy, the first “spice” has been added by the new Indian Selection Panel, headed by the flamboyant cricketer of yesteryears, Sandeep Patil. By not selecting a single spinner for the three day game which the tourists would play against India ‘A’, they have ruffled a few feathers and none more vocal than the former England Captain Michael Vaughan, who himself was involved in an infamous ‘jellybean’ episode during the test involving India five summers ago. The line of thinking behind Indian selectors is understandable, more so because of the lack of depth in the spinning cupboard that we possess, than not wanting to give Englishmen some practice against spinners in a match situation. Such is the state of bench strength for quality spinners in India that I won’t be surprised if the young U-19 tweaker Harmeet Singh gets a look in for one of the eight home tests that India will be playing this season, if he has a couple of good Ranji games.
After the retirement of Anil Kumble, India has hardly possessed a spinner who can run through the opposition even on helpful tracks, leave aside taking wickets in unhelpful foreign conditions. To add to India’s woes, Harbhajan Singh has seen a rapid decline in form and fitness. In such a scenario, does India really have the spinning ammunition in its arsenal to demolish strong sides like England and Australia?
R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have scripted last two home test series wins against the West Indies and New Zealand but with all due respect, their batting line ups were never going to be a threat in Indian conditions. While they have more than 100 wickets between them in home tests, Ashwin has managed only 9 wickets outside the subcontinent (3 matches; 62.77 average) and Ojha is yet to play outside India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. So what are other options which India has and which could have been tried out by the selectors in the warm up game against England? Let’s look at the spinners who were a part of last two “A” team tours to the West Indies and New Zealand:
This young left-arm orthodox bowler who plays Ranji Trophy for Maharashtra, was included in the two “A” Team tours during the Indian summer where he figured in 3 tests, taking 8 wickets, all against WI ‘A’; 6 of those in one innings. He couldn’t take a single wicket in the solitary test he played against the NZ ‘A’.
A tall leg spinner in the mould of Anil Kumble and capable of extracting bounce from the wicket shot to stardom with decent performances in the IPL 2011. However, he soon realized the vast gulf that exists between franchisee cricket and International cricket, which reflected in his mediocre returns in the limited opportunities he got playing for India in ODI’s and T20’s. He was also a part of two ‘A’ tours and had returns of 9 wickets from 3 tests (5 in WI and 4 in NZ). His first class returns too are ordinary, with 34 wickets from 16 games.
Known more for his batting than his bowling, Jalaj was the only off spinner on the two ‘A’ tours and returned with 3 wickets in the solitary test that he played on the tour to the West Indies. But he shone with the 5 wicket haul in the recently concluded Duleep trophy final.
Not surprisingly, none of these three spinners have been selected to play any warm up game against the touring Englishmen.
What is even more alarming for a country known to produce spinners like Bishan Singh Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrashekar, Kumble et al, is that out of top ten wicket takers in the Ranji Trophy in 2011-12, only 2 were spinners – Karnataka left armer K Appanna and out of favour former Indian spinner Ramesh Powar. Hence I don’t see any reason why Englishmen should be annoyed at not having to face spinners for the practice games. There aren’t enough quality spinners in the country any way.
Though India isn’t in as bad a state as Australia, who are struggling to find a replacement for Shane Warne and had to fast track a curator to fill the role of a test match spinner within a year, this certainly is a reality check for Indian selectors. If India has to regain its place as the epicentre of spinning talent in world cricket, BCCI would do well to nurture and groom the spinners who have the potential and not throw them into the slam-bang world of T20 cricket.