New Delhi: Whenever there are talks about “dangerous bowling units’ in cricket, there’s almost always only mention of fast bowlers. But when one glances at the highest wicket-takers in cricket, it’s the spinners who are at the top of the list.
The top three wicket-takers in Tests are spinners, and among them, two are leg spinners. Indian leg spinner Anil Kumble with 619 wickets is one of them. Surprisingly though, for the last 10-12 years, leg spinners have disappeared from the Indian Test team.
When India lost the first Test against England in Chennai, former cricketer Aakash Chopra and others felt the need for a leg spinner in the team.
Chopra had suggested the inclusion of Yuzvendra Chahal in the playing eleven so that the bowling attack has variations. The last legspinner to play for India was Amit Mishra, who last played a Test match in 2016.
The highest wicket-taker of this country has been a leg spinner but the disappearance of a leg spinner from the team is intriguing. It’s not that this is the trend prevailing in Test cricket these days. In our backyard, Pakistan has a very dangerous leg spinner in Yasir Shah in their team. Yasir is credited for winning matches for his country even overseas. A little further away, who can forget Rashid Khan of Afghanistan?
However, many teams in the world are in the same situation as India. One can find many leg spinners in the limited-overs teams, but they are not found fit to be included in the Test team. Chahal, Adam Zampa, Adil Rashid etc.
The current scenario in world Cricket is similar to the decade of 1980s and the early years of 1990s. At that time, Pakistan had a world-class leg spinner in the form of Abdul Qadir but other teams were not giving much importance to leg spinners, while preferring finger spinners.
Back then in India, a long article was published in a very popular Hindi magazine ‘Cricket Samrat’ in which it was said that leg-spin is more varied than off-spin but is also an art difficult to master. However, after this article was published, we had three wizards of leg-spin who took the world of cricket by storm, including Shane Warne and Anil Kumble.
Currently too, other than Yasir, no leg spinner has a dominant presence in any Test team even as they dominate white-ball formats. Take Adam Zampa of Australia. He even makes Virat Kohli an easy prey in limited-overs. England’s Adil Rashid too, has a similar story. In T20 tournaments like IPL, you cannot imagine a team without a leg spinner.
There were 8 to 10 Indian leg spinners in various teams across IPL 2020: Chahal, Rahul Chahar, Ravi Bishnoi, Amit Mishra, Shreyas Gopal, Rahul Tewatia, Mayank Markande, Karn Sharma and Murugan Ashwin. They all are match-winners for their respective teams. Though barring a few of them, many have failed to earn any respectable position in the first-class matches in their state teams as they command in the T20 teams.
There is a valid reason for this too. After T20 has gained its popularity in the world, leg spinners have become the main weapons of their respected teams. They are not known to save runs but try to take wickets, and it does not matter that they suffer some big hits in the process. And this has altered their style of bowling. Anil Kumble had said in an interview that he used to ensure that the batsman playing the first ball of the over should be made to play the whole over. And for this, he used to deliver all the balls of the over in the same way with minimal variations. Now in T20s, the bowlers introduce variation in quick successions. That is why when it is time to play Test matches, they are not as effective.
The abundance of leg spinners in IPL however tells one thing: that the art is still strongly practiced in India and it is flourishing. Now it depends on the functionaries of BCCI as to how they use their talent first in Ranji teams and when they are mature enough, in the Test teams.
India has played 100 Tests after 2010, and only in 14 matches were leg spinners included in the team. Out of these 14 matches, Amit Mishra played in 12. Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma both played one Test match each. 33 players have debuted after 2010 and this includes only one leg spinner. Another interesting thing: the last time a leg spinner played for India was in 2016, and that too in a match in Chennai.