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Spinners’ dilemma: T20 thrills but kills

We are well into the third week of the IPL, and though the television ratings might have not gone up, an interesting development is how spinners are used in Twenty20. S Dipak Ragav writes.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2012 00:51 IST
S Dipak Ragav

We are well into the third week of the IPL, and though the television ratings might have not gone up, an interesting development is how spinners are used in Twenty20. For a format that was considered the final nail in the coffin for the art of spin bowling, teams have increasingly opted to open the bowling with their slow men, who have been quite effective. The thinking has even rubbed off on the one-dayers.

In IPL V, a spinner has opened the bowling in 16 of the 22 games played so far. After India’s disastrous tours to England and Australia, where the batsmen failed in alien conditions, one of the reasons attributed was the IPL and T20 cricket. Another factor in these tours was the below-average performance of India’s spinners. While many credit the shortest format of the game for helping bowlers develop new variations, others feel it has come at the cost of the skills that are needed to excel in Test cricket.

VANISHING SKILL http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/20_04_pg21a.jpgFormer India skipper and a member of the famous spin quartet of the 70’s, Bishan Singh Bedi, lashed out at the shortest format for ruining the ability of spinners. "Every spinner is just bowling flat and quick with little flight or loop in their deliveries," said Bedi. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/20_04_pg21d.jpg

The mentality of the tweakers can be gauged from what IPL’s two million dollar Ravindra Jadeja said after his five-wicket performance for the Chennai Super Kings against Deccan Chargers. “I’ll stick to bowling flat and quick. Taking wickets in one match doesn’t mean I will suddenly start tossing up the ball”, the left-arm spinner said while explaining his approach.

FRESH TALENT

Since Anil Kumble hung up his boots, India have been unsuccessful in finding a worthy replacement for the spin legend. Harbhajan Singh, who till last summer was the lead spinner, finds himself out of the national team. Even in the limited domestic games he played last season, Harbhajan barely picked up wickets to attract renewed interest from the selectors.

R Ashwin, a product of IPL, has been a revelation over the past two years ever since he began turning out for the Super Kings. Soon, he forced his way into the India squad. Ashwin replaced Harbhajan in the Test team too and had a good start in the home series against the West Indies. But during the Australia tour, Ashwin was found wanting and questions were raised if his skill would work in foreign conditions in Test cricket. Bedi feels T20 cricket has changed the mental attitude of a spinner. "The focus is on just containing the batsman and not on picking wickets," said Bedi. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/4/20_04_pg21b.jpg

Former India off-spinner EAS Prasanna explained why Ashwin struggled in Australia. “He became a stock bowler from being a strike bowler.” He added, “a spinner develops only by bowling as many overs as possible and not by bowling just four overs”.

Former India spinner Venkatapathy Raju, however, feels the shortest format has definitely helped the spinners reinvent themselves. “Definitely, T20 cricket has brought a lot of change for spinners and has helped them come up with variations.”

Even though the IPL franchises are delighted at how their slow men are performing, it’s certainly not a win-win situation for India as far as Test cricket is concerned.