No longer good players of spin bowling
While the result at Southampton was disappointing, and make no mistake, the Indian cricket team has thrown away two glorious opportunities to win away series in South Africa and England, what should be a matter of great concern is the Indian batsmen’s struggle against Moeen Ali. When you take in to account the fact that India lost a test in Pune to Australia when they could not handle Steven O’ Keefe, when you take into account the team’s struggles against Monty Panesar in 2012, when you take into account that Rangana Herath bowled Sri Lanka to victory and bowled India out in a test a at Galle in 2015, one aspect becomes abundantly clear- Indian batsmen are no longer great players of spin bowling.
Indians have always been proud of the fact that their batsmen were the best players of spin bowling. Spin bowling has never been a threat for the Indian batsmen. Shane Warne troubled batsman all over the world but never posed a problem to Indian batsmen- handled with great confidence and skill on the Australian tours of 98, 2001 and 2004. An odd test match apart, Murali never worried Indian batsmen either. Saqlain Mushtaq had a great tour of India in 98 but was ruthless smashed away by Sehwag, Tendulkar and Company in 2004 at Multan. Spinners never bothered India and Indian batsmen never lost sleep when confronted with the idea of playing spin bowling.
Of the previous generation, Virender Sehwag believed that spin bowlers had no right to bowl at him. Every time a spinner came on to bowl, Sehwag threw them (literally) out of the attack. What they bowled, what variations they had, did not matter. VVS Laxman was an outstanding player of spin bowling- his 281 on a fourth day pitch in a third innings against Warne and company perhaps the best exhibition on how to bat against quality spin bowling on a wearing pitch. Use your feet and reach the pitch of the ball and drive. If it is short, rock back and pull and cut. No sweeps and no reverse sweeps in that 281. Rough or no rough, no left arm spinner ever fancied bowling to Saurav Ganguly. He was magnificent player of spin bowling, who very often used his feet and dismissed the ball out of the ground. Sachin Tendulkar’s success against Warne is well documented and although he was not as aggressive as his other colleagues, Rahul Dravid’s decisive footwork against spin bowling , in attack and defence , made him another wonderful player against the turning ball. Watch Dravid’s hundred against Kaneria, Afridi and others on a turning wicket at the Eden Garden in 2005. Watch how he and Ganguly chased down 260 against Murali at Kandy in 2001. Absolute master class those innings on how to play the turning ball.
It is not difficult to decipher why the above mentioned players were great players of spin bowling. When all the above mentioned players were developing as batsman and playing the Ranji trophy they would pit their skills against some very fine spin bowlers. Anil Kumble was playing for India and would occasionally turn up but a Ranji Trophy season would very often feature the likes of Narendra Hirwani, Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatpathy Raju, Sunil Joshi, Sairaj Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni, Bharti Vij, Santosh Jedhe and Kanwaljeet Singh- all playing for different team and all fine exponents of the art of spin bowling. There were no regulations stipulating minimum grass cover on wickets and hence Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag and others of their generations developed their game playing against quality spin bowlers on tuning tracks. Even batsmen of a previous generation grew up playing quality spin bowling. Mohammad Azharuddin and Sanjay Manjrekar would have played against the likes of Sivramkrishnan, Maninder Singh, Shivlal Yadav, Venkatramana and Arshad Ayub. The likes of Gavaskar and Vengsarkar would have anyways played a lot of first class cricket against Bedi, Prassana and Chandra but even without them a first class cricketer would have encountered quality spinners in the form of Shivalkar, Goel, Raghuram Bhat and others during those days. Indian batsmen played the best of the spin bowlers on the most difficult tracks at home and hence what was thrown at them at the test level never bothered them.
Sadly that has changed. India’s bleak overseas record in the 90’s meant that emphasis was more on developing techniques against fast bowlers. It also meant that emphasis was more developing fast bowlers. Quality spin bowlers have disappeared from the circuit and even the very few who exist, barely play the Ranji trophy. Harbhajan Singh did not play any international game last year but one did not see him turn up for Punjab even though he is technically still not retired. Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal also were barely seen playing the Ranji Trophy. In the nineties one could mention a leading spin bowler from each state team and more often than not those spin bowlers were in the national reckoning. Today I am not aware of spin bowlers of any state side apart from the ones that play from the country.
Hence the latest generation of Indian batsmen has not had the exposure to spin bowling like their predecessors. They have not had the exposure to turning tracks like their predecessors. In fact, many of them have not had the exposure to first class cricket like many of their predecessors. They have been brought up playing on hard, good batting wickets where they are encouraged to hit through the line and on the up with hard hands. No wonder they struggle against spin bowling. Unless radicle changes are brought about in our first class structure, this will continue and we will struggle against the likes of Ali, Lyon and Maharaj. Till these changes are brought about, let us accept the fact that we are no longer good players of spin bowling.