ASHWIN, JADEJA KEEP AGLOW RICH INDIAN SPIN TRADITION
March 9, 2022: For all the greater solidity in batting over the years and the vast improvement in the fast bowling resources the finest and the richest tradition in Indian cricket is still spin bowling. There should never be any let-up in this and thankfully there hasn’t been. Over the years even when the batting was brittle and the pace bowling a joke, India could always depend on the spinners either to rescue the side or even shape a notable victory.
Indian cricket has thrown up every variety of spin bowlers – off spin, orthodox leg spin, unorthodox leg spin, left arm spin, chinaman bowlers and they have been the best in the business. Batsmen from other countries have always looked forward to their contests with Indian spinners on home turf as they reckon it is the ultimate education in combating this mode of attack. Ian Chappell, for one has gone on record as saying that the tour of India in 1969-70 was the ultimate test even for him, a superb player of spin.
Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh might have been the two best bowlers in the early years of Indian cricket but from the time Vinoo Mankad emerged on the scene in the 40s spin was supreme. He was soon joined by Ghulam Ahmed and Subash Gupte and in the 50s they constituted the first great spin trio. When they left the scene almost simultaneously bowlers like Chandu Borde, Salim Durrani and Bapu Nadkarni took over the mantle in the early 60s. But it was the formation of the spin quartet in the mid-60s that constituted the apotheosis of spin bowling. Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkatraghavan even made light of the fact that the pace bowling had been reduced to a farce with the new ball being operated by the likes of ML Jaisimha, MAK Pataudi, Budhi Kunderan, V Subramanyam, Eknath Solkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar and Durrani. Their greatness is underscored by the fact that India started winning Tests and even series overseas.
There was always the lurking fear as to what would happen when the quartet would call it a day but the strong tradition has seen to it that the cupboard has never been short of world class spinners. In the 80s there was Maninder Singh, Dilip Doshi, Ravi Shastri and Shivlal Yadav. By now the advent of Kapil Dev meant that the pressure was considerably less on the spinners and with more fast bowlers coming to the fore the attack was more balanced. In the 90s Anil Kumble and Venkatpathi Raju carried the torch and in the first decade of the new millennium Kumble along with Harbhajan Singh maintained the tradition most successfully.
Over the last decade first Ravichandran Ashwin and then Ravindra Jadeja have kept the torch aglow even as the fast bowling resources have touched a new high. Both have set several records and what is even more encouraging is that they are genuine all-rounders capable of getting hundreds even as they bowl out the opposition. Ashwin is 35, Jadeja 33 and both are at the peak of their powers. Spinners keep maturing in their 30s and so both have plenty of cricket left in them. In any case there are any number of young spinners around and some of them have already displayed their prodigious talent at the international level so there is never any danger of the abundant spin tradition ever grounding to a halt.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)