Defensive mind-set doesn’t help

The Indian bowling has created chances but failed to seal victories in Tests. In the abbreviated forms of the game, the attack has struggled to strike in the middle-overs or send down potent yorkers at the death.

The attack is under scrutiny. The Hindu caught up with former leg-spinning legend Anil Kumble and batting great V.V.S. Laxman to seek answers to vexing questions.

“It is all about the mindset,” said Kumble. “If you go with a defensive or a fixed mind-set, it doesn’t help,” he said.

Questions logic

Kumble also questioned the logic of India fielding only one spinner in the Test XI away from the sub-continent. “If your two spinners are among your best bowlers they should play, irrespective of the conditions. Do you change your batting line-up just because you are playing abroad? You expect your batsmen to adapt. It’s the same with bowlers.”

The leg-spinning ace spoke about role definition. “You cannot go in with a pre-conceived notion that the spinners will only play a defensive role away from the sub-continent. For instance, you cannot expect Virender Sehwag to play differently whatever be the country. It depends on the kind of bowler you are.”

Kumble was of the opinion that a spinner needed to attack. “You can have five fielders close to the bat and you could be bowling defensively. Or you can have nine fielders on the boundary line and yet be looking to pick wickets all the time.”

He said India had to be flexible tactically abroad. “You cannot sit and wait for things to happen. In India, the two spinners will attack and pick wickets from either end. It doesn’t happen that way abroad. You have to strategise.”

Kumble added, “The batsmen play a lot of shots these days, even in Tests. Even a mid-on, a mid-wicket or a cover becomes a catching position. But you need to have a plan.”

The former India captain believed both R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should figure in the Test XI, even in non-sub-continental countries. He added leg-spinner Amit Mishra to the mix too. “He has control and variations and his bowling has quality.”

Another aspect

Laxman looked at another aspect of Indian bowling — pace. He felt it was important for the pacemen to bowl potent yorkers. “Yorker is all about practice. Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have useful yorkers but they should work more on their control. It’s not an easy delivery to bowl and execution is important.”

Laxman disagreed that Ishant Sharma had lost his yorker. “He never had a good yorker. His strengths as a bower are his bounce and seam movement.”

Ishant has copped a fair deal of criticism in recent times but Laxman defended the lanky paceman. “He is among the most hard-working pacemen I have seen. He was brilliant in New Zealand. A lot has been said about his wrist position. But I thought his wrist position was upright and exemplary in the Wellington Test.”

India was baulked at the doorstep of victory by A.B. de Villiers and Faf du Plessis at Durban and Brendon McCullum and Bradley Watling in Wellington but Laxman said credit had to be given to the batsmen.

“Just because Dravid and Laxman had that big partnership at the Eden Gardens does not mean Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne bowled badly.”

Laxman also made two critical points. “We need bowlers who can swing the ball at a telling pace to strike when the pitch flattens. The Kookaburra ball does not swing after the first 30 overs or so and we need to maintain the ball.

“Often when we see big partnerships develop, we forget small things like maintaining the ball and retaining its shine for a longer period. It’s not about reverse swing alone. It’s also about conventional swing with the older ball.”

There has been speculation about Zaheer Khan’s future with former India captain Rahul Dravid calling upon the left-arm paceman to introspect. Laxaman, however, felt, “If you see how Zaheer was at the beginning of the 2013 season and how he bowled in South Africa and New Zealand, there has been a big improvement. He still has a lot to offer.”

More In: Cricket | Sport