An off-spinner, left-armer and leggie — a diverse and joyful combination that ought to be savoured as long as it lasts
These are pleasant times for Indian spinners. They have thrived in sultry, hazy Dhaka, winning matches for their country and encumbering rival batsmen no end. First, they returned niggardly figures of three for 63 from their combined 12 overs to Pakistan; the West Indies game brought them six for 90, when no bowler outside the trio took a wicket.
R. Ashwin went through his overs without a noise; Ravindra Jadeja only came under attack in the last over of the West Indies innings, but had taken an important wicket by then; and Amit Mishra, rather enjoyably, embarrassed a couple of batsmen en route to two man-of-the-match trophies.
It is a happy picture, of some devilish, invincible tag team that vanquishes opponents with co-ordinated craft.
Yet, it is one little can be made of, for so rarely has this arrangement featured or worked this well. In the three years leading up to the Asia Cup here last month, India had fielded three full-time spinners on only seven occasions.
Four of these were Test matches in India, of which two were won, one lost (to England in Mumbai), and one drawn. The rest included a one-day game and two T20s, with a total of five wickets taken by spinners over three innings. It demonstrated M.S. Dhoni’s reluctance to risk three of them, especially overseas where sometimes even two could feel like too many. It took the Asia Cup and Virat Kohli to break with tradition.
Mishra’s inclusion was an unqualified success, one that has spilled over into the ICC World Twenty20. However long this lasts, it ought to be savoured: an off-spinner, a left-armer, and a leggie, diverse and joyful.
Their routes to this tournament have been different, and their future in the first eleven is not known.
By the numbers alone, Ashwin has been India’s best spinner across formats over the last three years — snaffling 204 wickets from 107 matches. Yet, these last few months have been difficult, in New Zealand and South Africa, where he was overtaken by Jadeja as the first-choice spinner.
The Asia Cup brought a change in fortunes and here he has operated with control, with the express trust of the captain. “Well, you expected me to open with Ashwin, which means Ashwin was the normal choice and if you don’t bowl Ashwin, that is a surprise,” Dhoni said of the decision to deploy Bhuvneshwar Kumar against Chris Gayle.
“I thought if I can get a couple of overs off the fast bowlers, then when Gayle decides to hit I have Ashwin, and I can push him to play the big shot against the bowler.”
Jadeja, meanwhile, was briefly ranked the world’s number one ODI bowler by the ICC, and has now become indispensable.
He is accurate, and showed in Durban that he didn’t depend on Indian pitches for wickets.
Mishra has comfortably been the best of his kind on view in Bangladesh. He has shunned defence for glorious attack, floating the ball up and ripping it out of the batsman’s reach. The approach requires courage, and has brought him wickets by the bucketful in the IPL.
It seems perverse that it has taken twenty-over cricket for this, but the last week has delivered a bracing reminder of strengths that were once traditional.