Spin bowling in India is a dying art
Traditionally, in India, with the pitches taking turn it's always been up to the spinners to take wickets. For the Indian teams over the years and also for most Ranji Trophy teams, spin bowling has been the attacking option just like seam bowling is for the English. In earlier days as a batsman the safer and saner choice has been to hit the ball along the ground and score through the gaps in the field. Another factor that helped spinners back then was that the pitches were never covered and so were open to the natural elements. With batsmen not looking to loft the ball it was an effective option to toss the ball up and invite a drive and try and get the batsman to play a false shot.
There used to be a time when it was frowned upon if a batsman played the ball in the air even if he did it well and scored runs that way. The coaches always taught their charges to play along the ground and to place the ball in gaps to score. The thinking behind this was to minimise the risk of getting caught. While playing spinners one was taught to use the crease or to step out and drive along the ground. To a great extent this was also because of the quality of bats of the time. Nowadays the bats that are being produced have a much larger sweet spot so the batsman is not fearful of mistiming the ball while lofting, as even balls that connect off center of the bat tend to fly over the infield and land safely.
A few years back, before Twenty20 cricket began taking its hold on world cricket one would see quite a few quality spinners in Indian domestic cricket. With the pitches generally taking turn quite early in a match it was common to see young enthusiastic spinners coming up through the ranks. They looked to flight the ball and derive turn and bounce. There was reward in doing this. For a spinner gets a kick having a batsman stranded down the wicket and stumped. Or in getting a batsman to drive and beat him in flight.
Spin bowling is an art that is going out of fashion in India at the moment. With the Indian team looking to win more Tests abroad the pitches in the last few years have been friendly to seam bowling in Ranji Trophy cricket. The thinking is that, with younger players growing up playing on seamer friendly pitches, in a few years time when these players make it to the Indian team, India will be able to put up better scores in adverse conditions abroad. Most of the pitches now at the domestic level in India are either seamer-friendly tracks or then great batting surfaces.
Either way the role of the spinner has changed from being an attacking option to being a defensive one. A lot of the teams now use spinners as defensive bowlers so that the seamers can get a bit of a breather between spells or then to make sure that they bowl their stipulated overs in time and so avoid fines. Though we see many youngsters doing well at the domestic level as seam bowlers it's clear that India is facing a tough time finding quality spinners even at state level. There are a few reasons for this and it's slowly becoming clear how it's affecting young spinners.
With the advent of T20 cricket we see batsmen standing like baseball strikers even while facing fast bowlers so where is there a chance for the spinners? The only ones that find it possible to survive and sometimes thrive are bowlers like Sunil Narine, who deceive batsmen with their variations and mystery deliveries. But such bowlers a very few and are exceptions.
For all the rest who grow up playing a lot of T20 or limited-overs cricket, the only way to keep their place in the team is by bowling flat and full, something you don't want a spinner to do in a Ranji match. So when these spin bowlers play the Ranji Trophy games they do what they know best to do. That is bowl flat and straight. This is the type of bowling that a batsman never minds because when a spinner bowls flat on a good batting surface he doesn't get turn and drift and so it's much easier for the batsman to not only survive but dominate and score.
As a result of such difficulties that a spin bowler faces, a team like India, who have always had legendary spin bowlers, are finding it tough to get youngsters with the ability to flight and turn the ball fearlessly even against attacking batsmen.
On the other hand we see spin bowlers like Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, who have made Test cricket their priority, weave their magic around much accomplished players of spin. This is because their clear priority is Test match cricket and they keep their T20 cricket to a level which doesn't compromise their skills as spin bowlers.
More about Hrishikesh Kanitkar
Hrishikesh Kanitkar is a former Test and ODI player for India, and a veteran batsman on the domestic cricket circuit. He captained Rajasthan to consecutive Ranji Trophy titles in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
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