The Indian squad for the first Test against England may have four spinners (R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh), but that doesn’t mean the country is flushed with spinning talent.
Harbhajan must count himself fortunate to have earned a recall to the Test squad. His return to the traditional form of the game has come about not because he has got a load of wickets in domestic cricket, but because he is among the best available in the land.
He may go on to torture England, who have not been able to win a Test series here since 1984-85, but he ought to have been more successful in the lead-up to his recall.
Ashwin is India’s best spinner and he deserves a lot of credit for maintaining his sharpness despite playing all forms of the game. Pragyan Ojha fared well in the last Test series against New Zealand, but he is yet to be considered a class act. The selectors had few options.
Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla is injured and Amit Mishra is not a bowler who the opposition will fear.
That India is not producing many quality spinners is a problem that has to be tackled firmly and swiftly. Sure, there are no shortage of experts and past masters, but one-day cricket is clearly preventing the emergence of good spinners, who have to adopt a restrictive approach instead of going all out to claim wickets. The amount of Twenty20 cricket our spinners play doesn’t help too.
Domestic captains can contribute in India’s improvement on the spin front by encouraging attacking play. Spinners should be made to feel fearless. Bishan Singh Bedi, that wily left-arm spinner, who claimed 266 Test wickets, used to applaud the batsman when he was hit for six. But invariably Bedi got him out. Therein lie not only bravado, but also brilliance.
Contemporary spinners need to have these qualities.