Indian cricket has celebrated the emergence of a potent fast bowling unit but it is high time that the establishment focuses on producing quality Test spinners, especially off-break bowlers, feel former players.
Ravichandran Ashwin (365 wickets in 71 Tests) has been an impact bowler in home conditions but the current team management hasn’t exactly put complete faith in Tamil Nadu tweaker’s abilities in overseas conditions.
While former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh feels that seasoned domestic performers like Akshay Wakhare (34 years) and Jalaj Saxena (33 years) should be given a break, another veteran Laxman Sivaramakrishnan is of the opinion that a younger pool needs to be created as Ashwin still has “good three years of Test cricket left in him”.
“Ashwin is a very hard-working bowler and he has not taken his place for granted. He still has three good years left and it’s time now that we find the next crop of young spinners which is ready to take over when time comes,” Sivaramakrishnan told PTI.
But Harbhajan has a different idea.
“Jalaj Saxena and Akshay Wakhare have performed year after year at the domestic level, at times on flat tracks. I have seen Akshay closely at the Mumbai Indians nets. Age for me is just a number. I don’t believe these two can’t be tried,” the ‘Turbanator’ said.
But why have we not produced any second line of off-spinners in these years?
“I haven’t seen a good off-spinner at the Ranji level. That’s because of bad captaincy at the Ranji Trophy level. If an off-spinner gets hit by a right-hander, captains take him off and that hits his confidence. Harbhajan Singh became a great bowler because the captain was Sourav Ganguly, who gave him encouragement,” said Sivaramakrishnan, the hero of 1985 Benson & Hedges Cup.
Siva does have sympathy for Saxena though.
“Jalaj’s is a classic case of his career completely coinciding with Ashwin’s best years. But right now we can’t look at players who are 33 or 34 years. Because by the time another three years go by, the fitness levels might be an issue.”
What about Karnataka’s Krishnappa Gowtham?
“He is good but I don’t think good enough for Test cricket,” was Siva’s honest assessment.
“We need a new set of good spinners (all types) at the India A level, who should be ready in next three years. Rahul Chahar is very young but again, he is more of a white-ball bowler. Shahbaz Nadeem is 30 plus and Yuzvendra Chahal is in his late 20s,” he added with a note of caution.
Another former Test off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan believes that Ashwin’s problem is not knowing at times what is his wicket-taking delivery.
“Ashwin is a class bowler but with so much variations, he at times doesn’t know what is his wicket-taking delivery. About Jalaj, I don’t think he is a specialist off-spinner. He is more of an all-rounder.”
Former wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta felt that various state teams, on the junior cricket set-up, do not put emphasis on creating a talent pool.
“We had a phase where we wanted only wrist spinners at the highest level. So at the junior level (U-16 and U-19), boys started feeling what’s the use of being an off-spinner. But I agree with Harbhajan that Wakhare or Jalaj could be tried in future.”