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Lack of leg-spinners in India an alarming concern

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Last updated on 01 Mar 2022 | 07:28 AM
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Lack of leg-spinners in India an alarming concern

I don't see modern-day leg spinners being coached properly, being guided properly, or being captained properly

There has been a big derth of leg-spinners in world cricket currently. Not too many leg-spinners are playing Test matches because their success in T20 cricket was mainly dependent on batters playing rash shots and getting out—and they have to bowl only four overs and have fielders in the deep. But for a leg-spinner to be successful in a Test match, you should be able to bowl maybe 40 overs and have men round the bat—slip, gully, forward short leg, etc.

We cannot have people on the boundary and bowl and expect to take wickets. In T20, people because they play rash shots, they get out. That’s why the success rate is very high for the leg-spinner in T20 format. In a Test match, it is totally different. You have to bowl for long periods of time; you have to be able to turn the ball; you have to have variations; you have to have control. Only if you have control, can you keep men close to the bat catching. Only if you have the accuracy, can you create pressure. So I think the training methods of modern-day leg-spinners to bowl for long periods of time, to be accurate, to be able to turn the ball, to have variations like the googly or the topspin or the flipper is all missing.

There are a lot of reasons —practical, technical, poor captains all around the world. To handle a leg-spinner, you need a good captain. You need to be able to manage the leg-spinner pretty well. 

In my case, there was Gavaskar, who was very understanding. He also made me play one-day matches. In fact, he was one of the trendsetters—Gavaskar—in making a leg-spinner play one-day matches in the 1985 World Championship. And the only thing he told me was, “Don't worry about the runs. In 10 overs, I want two or three wickets.” So in the middle overs, when you take wickets, there are no partnerships building up. When there are no partnerships building up, you're not looking at a very big score from the opposition. 

Then I will go to Anil Kumble. Sourav Ganguly had a lot of confidence in Anil Kumble. In one tour of Australia, they were going to leave Kumble out, but Ganguly wanted Kumble in the side—and Kumble ended up being the highest wicket-taker. There, again, the captaincy matters—the captain matters.

Self-confidence is one thing. But confidence should also be given by the others to you, by the captain to you—that, “I have confidence in you to get the wickets, no matter what happens.” You should encourage modern-day bowlers to bowl at, say even four an over in the longer format for 25 overs. Under 100 runs, if he picks up four or five wickets, it’s a good effort. You're bowling a side out in under one and half days when a leg-spinner gets four or five wickets in 25 overs even if he is going at four runs per over. So even if it's the first day of a Test match, you're batting on the second day of the Test match because the leg-spinner is taking wickets. That encouragement should be there from the captain.

So when you're batting on the second day of the Test match, you have batting conditions which are very favorable to the batsman. Now, most of the captains are using leg-spinners as a defensive option. And also because of reverse swing, leg-spinners are being sidelined in the longer format of the game—not encouraged.

With the advent of white-ball cricket, people practice power hitting. They don’t practice defense. Once your defense is not certain and you're forced to defend matches, you're trying to do something that you're not used to—that you have not practiced. Then you lose patience, you try to do something different and you get out. And modern-day batsmen panic when the ball turns. Once that panic sets in, even a straight ball can get you a wicket. The batsman doesn't know which ball is turning, which ball is going to go straight. 

A good spinner should be able to bowl on any wicket. The pitches that we play in India are pitches that are conducive to spinners. So you just have to come and bowl on the spot and the pitch does the rest. But on a good batting track, they're struggling. I think the youngsters are to take the blame as well. Most of the youngsters who go for coaching want to be a part of the IPL. They're not looking at playing Ranji Trophy. They're not looking at playing the Duleep Trophy. They're not looking at playing Test match cricket. They all want to make the shortcut: playing IPL, playing for India in the shorter format, and achieving success.

It is also important to understand that world over, people don't understand the intricacies of leg-spin bowling. So they can't impart knowledge. They just put four cones on the pitch and ask them to bowl there. How is your alignment—back leg landing, front leg landing, your arm position, your wrist position, and your hip drive—everything needs to come into play. Only if you're technically good and be able to repeat the action over and over again, will you develop consistency. Only when you develop consistency, you can be successful in the longer format. If you don't have consistency and bowl only one good ball in about four or five overs, you're not going to be successful. So the coaching system, the captaincy, and the players’ value for Test cricket have to go up.

Anil Kumble was not a big turner of the ball—not a big spinner of the ball. But his accuracy was extremely good. If the pitch was helpful, then he had the ability to run through a side. So Anil Kumble probably was a little bit more dependent on the pitch than Shane Warne. Shane Warne’s successes also came a lot in the second innings, when they were footmarks outside the leg stump which he could use to very good effect because he turned the ball big. Whereas Anil Kumble didn't have that because he was not a big turner of the ball. Anil Kumble depended on the bounce and the accuracy of his flippers.

But Shane Warne had a big leg break and a fantastic flipper. But I don't see modern-day leg spinners being coached properly, being guided properly, or being captained properly. Indian teams were very good players of spinners. Because, at that point of time, there were good spinners around: Harbhajan Singh was there, Anil Kumble was there, and Sunil Joshi was there. In our time, there were at least two or three good spinners in every team. So those teams were very good players of spin. Now, because we lack quality spinners in our Indian team—apart from Ashwin who is a fantastic bowler—we're struggling to play spinners because we ourselves don't have quality spinners.

Earlier when Sehwag, Sachin—all of them—were playing, Anil Kumble was there, Harbhajan was there—some great bowlers around. So you would play them in the nets, and you'll find the opposition spinners very easy to play. Now, because we don't have quality spinners to play in the nets, we are struggling against the Santners and the Ish Sodhis. And we've been consistently struggling against spinners. So, the thing is you need to find a way to produce good spinners for India. Only if you produce good spinners can the Indian batsmen improve their batsmanship against spin bowling. It’s interrelated.

Even though we play in Indian conditions, these days we bat twice. In earlier days, we used to bat only once. In the days of Virender Sehwag, Gavaskar, Vishwanath, etc., we would bat only once because we were so good against the spinners. Now, even though we play home Test matches, we bat twice because our quality of playing spinners has gone dramatically down. For me, that is an alarming concern.

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