India's famed spin department doesn't always turn a profit



There was a time when India playing three spinners in a home Test was as routine as a three-seamer attack in English conditions. For much of the Sixties and Seventies, India's bowling component consisted of any three from Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, with the likes of Abid Ali, Eknath Solkar and even Sunil Gavaskar sharing the new ball.

When England toured India two decades ago and were beaten 3-0, the pace bowlers – Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar – bowled fewer than 100 overs between them in the three Tests. Rajesh Chauhan, the off-spinner who was the least effective of the spin troika, bowled 169.2 overs for his nine wickets. Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju took 37 between them.

India enjoyed considerable success on home soil in the 1990s, often on pitches that resembled sandpits by the final day. But with a new generation of exceptionally fine batsmen coming to the fore, led by Sachin Tendulkar, realisation dawned that the emphasis needed to be on building a side that could compete away from home as well.

Javagal Srinath, capable of bowling quicker than 90mph when his rhythm was right, led the transition. In Venkatesh Prasad, who swung the ball at a gentler pace, he had a capable ally, and the two bowled quite beautifully on the tours of England and South Africa in 1996-97.

With Zaheer Khan entering the fray in the new millennium, the strategy of packing the bowling with spinners was gradually abandoned.

Since 2000, India have seldom played three slow bowlers together. The last time they did so to telling effect was at this venue back in 2004, when Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik spun them to victory despite Australia needing just 107 in the fourth innings.

In the following Test, a bore draw in Kanpur, the same three played together for the final time. A spin trio was tried against England at Mohali in 2006 but, as well as Kumble bowled, it was an incisive spell of pacy reverse-swing from Munaf Patel that opened up the game on the final morning.

By then, with Greg Chappell as coach, the emphasis was very much on unearthing quick bowlers capable of testing opposition batsmen overseas. Though Chappell's tenure was not hugely successful, Gary Kirsten changed little when he took over. The strategy for home Tests was simple: two pace bowlers and two spinners.

It worked, too. The surfaces tended to be abrasive, and reverse swing was as much of a factor as spin. Zaheer was the master of "keeping" the ball so it swung from early in the innings and, under his guidance, the likes of Ishant Sharma and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth learnt quickly.

When Australia were overwhelmed 2-0 in 2008 – at a time when they were still ranked No 1 in the world – Ishant and Zaheer took 26 wickets in the four Tests. The two front-line slow bowlers – Harbhajan and Amit Mishra – managed 29. The variety gave India options and allowed them to overcome the loss of Kumble, who retired midway through the series.

The pattern was repeated the following year when India took over the top spot after defeating Sri Lanka 2-0. Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha took 22 wickets, but there were 18 for Zaheer and Sreesanth, both of whom delivered telling old-ball spells.

After Umesh Yadav dropped out injured on the eve of this current match, India staked everything on giving England a trial by spin. While it had something to do with the surface preparation, it was also an admission of the paucity of pace-bowling resources due to loss of form and injury.

Turn, turn, turn is a risky strategy once batsmen work out the unique rhythms of the subcontinent. In 2010 Hashim Amla plundered 490 runs from two Tests, with three hundreds. Alastair Cook has already gone a fair way to emulating that.

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India:

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam