Tangled in Spin Web

I started watching cricket when Sidhu was going down the hill and Muralitharan was fast making his name in international cricket, that was the time when Sidhu used to dance down the track and hit Murali for umpteenth number of sixes. His inning of 124 (8 sixes), on turning track of  Lucknow against Muralitharan led Sri Lankan attack, was one of the examples of India’s dominance against spinners.

Generation of Sidhu & co retired and paved way for the future legends like Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, and Sachin (since 1989). They were later joined by Sehwag in 2001. They not only dominated spinners but also toyed with world class spinners at their will. Murali and Warne who wreaked havoc around the world, tamely surrendered in front of these Indian batsmen. Warne looked like a lesser mortal against Indian batting giants. This was the time when India used spin web to trap touring teams. Indian batsmen piled runs on spin friendly tracks and Indian spinners bamboozled opponents to win matches for India. Spin web was perfect recipe for India’s success.

Golden generation of Sachin & co. paved way for new generation of Indian batsmen led by Virat Kohli and since then India seem to have tangled themselves into web of spin. The good old “decisive foot movement” against spinners was suddenly forgotten by this current crop of Indian batsmen and was replaced by apprehensive feet movement, tentative approach and defeating body language (kind of Ganguly used to show while facing Shoaib Akhtar). No wonder they fail miserably against spinners.

Between 2006 and 2011, Indian batsmen averaged 46.43 and between 1990 & 2011, Indian batsmen averaged above 45 against spin which was best among test playing nation but since 2012 Indian batsmen average only 34.22 against spin. Indian batsmen now languish at the bottom half of the rung among test playing nation and just one step above worst performing English batsmen in terms of batting average against spinners. This leaves us with no doubt that there is definitely a dip in batsmanship of Indian batsmen against spinners. Players like Rahane, Pujara play spin better and average nearly 40 against spinners but when compared to likes of Sachin, Dravid and Laxman their average look meager. Between 2006 and 2011, Sachin, Dravid and Laxman had staggering average of 70 against spinners.

So what has changed in last 3-4 years that led to this drastic fall?  Some might argue that it’s because this generation spends more time in finding innovative ways to score runs at a pace of AB de Villiers on flat wickets of IPL than grinding in domestic cricket as AB de Villiers does in test cricket. But players like Rahane and KL Rahul who have come through the grind of domestic cricket also struggle against spinners so IPL can’t be sole reason behind this losing art of batsmanship against spinners.

Another reason could be that few years back BCCI decided to introduce green tops with intentions of making players comfortable while facing seam bowling. But this change had the adverse effect and resulted in extinction of quality spinners from domestic cricket. Harbhajan Singh once famously said that spin could soon be dead art in India if we continue to give stress on developing seamer friendly pitches.

Barring Ashwin, there is no quality spinner around in India and even he fails in overseas condition. If Indian batsmen don’t play against quality spinners in domestic cricket then they are bound to struggle against spinners in international matches. This discomfort was pretty evident when part time spinner Moeen Ali took 19 wicket on seaming wickets of England against India. With no disrespect to Moeen Ali, he is the kind of bowler whom Siddhu, coming  straight  out  of commentary box in his stylish suit, would send out of the park at this age of 52 but, surprisingly, current generation of Indian batsmen failed miserably against Moeen Ali.

Nathan Lyon, Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann, Rangana Herath, and every other spinner who earlier struggled against India made Indian batsmen their bunny since 2012. Lyon and Moeen Ali in away tests, Panesar and Swann at home test tangled Indian batsmen in their spin web and won the test series for their respective teams.

In a recent test match at Mohali, pitch neither had any devil nor it was a rank turner but still Indian batsmen could post only 200 in each innings against South Africa, this should bother Indian cricket establishment. Playing spin was forte of Indian batsmen, if this art is also lost, Indian team will become only flat track bullies and Indian cricket establishment will certainly be responsible for it.

In this ongoing test series against South Africa, India has got the momentum but with captain Kohli insisting on turning pitches, it won’t be a surprise if we see a repeat of Galle where team India tangled themselves into spin web of Rangana Herath and T Kaushal. Even if India wins this series it won’t generate much confidence if India get bowled out at small totals and give wickets to part-timers like Elgar.

Tackling spinner on turning track is highly specialized skill which need hours of practice in the nets. Problem with Indian batsmen is not lack of skill but lack of practice and also their habit of taking spinners lightly. To reclaim team India’s superiority against spinners, Indian batsmen need to practice good old front foot defense, back-foot cuts and pulls for hours in the nets. If done with enough attention, there is no doubt that Virat Kohli & co would once again make Indian batsmen a nightmare for spinners because dominating  spinners is in DNA of Indian batsmen.

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