Ever since Anil Kumble retired from international cricket in 2008, India have struggled to find a replacement leg-spinner. Amit Mishra, who missed out on this series as he is being treated for a back injury here at the National Cricket Academy, has dabbled for the spot with Piyush Chawla.
Indian cricketer Pragyan Ojha bowls during the third day of the first Test match between India and New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad . AFP Photo / Noah Seelam
Unfortunately, both have been finding it a struggle to get into the playing eleven.
The main reason has been the sudden success of off-spinner R Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who are creating records of sorts. The duo has shared 60 wickets in four Tests. The strike rate is mind-boggling and no Indian spin duo has emulated it before. Just for comparison, Kumble (34) and Harbhajan (10) took 44 wickets in their first four Test matches together.
Ashwin and Ojha have been lucky that all these four Test matches together have come against weaker sides and on Indian tracks tailormade for the spinners. Kumble and Harbhajan have played two of their first four Tests in Wellington and Harare - not tracks suitable for spin.
Despite this, they earned praise from Kumble, the highest wicket-taker for India in Test cricket. Kumble, who is now the president of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) was effusive in praise when HT asked him about the two.
"Well, bowlers should hunt in pairs. And that is what these guys have done successfully. They complement each other well. They are bowling well. Although I couldn't see much of the first Test but of whatever I've seen of them, they're looking good," said Kumble who worked out a good combination first with Venkatapathy Raju and then with Harbhajan Singh.
The former India skipper was the driving force behind the decision to replace the domestic under-22 championship with an under-25 competition from the coming season.
The main concern was the maturity of the spinners. "There are some good players, especially the spinners, who miss out on playing at the U-22 level as they generally take time to develop. But U-25 allows them more time," Kumble told HT.
The initiative was taken primarily because India seem to have a dearth of spinners at the moment with only Amit Mishra looking the next best serious option (going by his experience and performance in Ranji Trophy). Somehow, the performances of Ojha and Ashwin have covered it up.
Ashwin, with 34 wickets in first four Tests with Ojha, has pushed Harbhajan Singh to the backburner who gets a much-needed chance to return to international cricket in the next month's World Twenty20.