India tour of West Indies: A spin army for all seasons

Sandip G
Leg-spinner Rahul Chahar is the latest tweaker to be picked in the national squad. (Source: IPLT20)

As many as seven different spinners would feature in India s tour to the West Indies: Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav for the five-day bouts; Jadeja, Yadav and Chahal for the 50-over installment and Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar for the T20Is. While it could be that the selectors are working on format-specific combinations, and not necessarily building rigid classifications, the bigger narrative thread here is the abundance of India s spin-bowling riches, the sheer variety at their disposal, each dispensing a distinctly unique array of skills.

It s hard to think of a more versatile a raft of multi-skilled spinners in the country s sparkling spin-bowling tradition. There all sorts: The classicists, the modernists, the mysterious and unorthodox. The lone elusive quotient is an ambidextrous spinner.

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Remarkably, even those ones under broader genre-labels are different. Take for instance the T20I group, Chahar was picked over Chahal for the T20I series in the Caribbeans, not because the latter s form has plummetted but because Chahar simply forced the selectors gaze with his sustained excellence. Both are fundamentally leg-spinners, have essentially the same assortment of variations, the leg-break, googly and the flipper. But both are markedly differently operators; Chahar has a quicker, whippier action, but is slower through the air than Chahal. He doesn t extract spitting turn like Chahal either. He begins his action pitter-pattering like Abdul Qadir but without his extravagant flourish at the release.

He has exceptional ball-control, a fact corroborated by his remarkable IPL last year. Among those who d bowled more than two overs, his economy rate of 6.55 was third thriftiest. Among his Mumbai Indian colleagues, he had the second-best average (23.69) after Jasprit Bumrah (21). Nothing is as valued in T20 cricket as the wicket-taking skills combined with thriftiness. He slipped in 125 dot balls, eighth on the table, highly impressive for a 19-year-old IPL debutant. Both could be correlative strangling run-rate could automatically buy wickets but it s among the most valued entity in the shorter versions.

What impressed his Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene was his composure in different situations. You throw him the ball at any time of the match, he delivers. Whether he s tasked to contain or pick wickets, he delivers. He can open the bowling, bowl in powerplay, middle overs and death.

Similar yet dissimilar

Likewise, left-arm spinners Krunal and Jadeja are similar yet dissimilar. Both are masterly in stifling batsmen, both could freewheel, both are extremely agile fielders. But dissect their bowling, the strains of disparity unfurls. Jadeja has, as part of his Test-cricket resurgence, added more nuance to his craft. He can seamlessly vary the pace, flight angles and lengths, purchase both side-spin and over-spin.

Krunal is limited that way, but can unwaveringly hit the same spot. Little flight, little turn, little variations, full, flat and fast deliveries on off-stump that snake into the right-hander. The archetypal limited-over left-arm darter, but incredibly difficult to hoist for sixes. He hardly gives the length to slog or cut, he hardly lets batsmen get underneath him. The pace means that it s difficult to step out against him or pull out those fancy sweeps.

The off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar brings in an entirely different set of skills. He is essentially right-handed Krunal Pandya, a mirror image if you may. Like the latter, his repertoire isn t stacked with mystery balls or the doosra. He hardly drifts from his default operational methods, doesn t tinker with his lines or mixes his lengths, bowls exactly the same way in powerplays as he does at the death, flings flat, full deliveries at the stumps.

But most importantly, he knows exactly what he s going, a streak of maturity that belies his age. He s yet to turn 20, but he s crystal-clear of what he needs to do of what he is expected to do. When an offspinner is bowling, as a batsman you know that most of his deliveries are going to come at around 100 kmph. It s important to bluff the batsman at times, and it s important to ensure that ball lands in the right spot. Flighting the ball in this format is very difficult so when you re trying it, you should be absolutely sure of being able to execute it. That s what I try to do and that s how I practice too, he had told this newspaper.

So effectively, India has a spread of differently skilled and persely gifted spinners, who the selectors could summon depending on the variables of form, format, country, conditions, opposition and ground-dimension. It s not a restrictive classification–for example, Kuldeep and Jadeja feature predominantly in all three versions. Chahal and Chahar wouldn t be denied Test-match access in the future if they keep piling wickets in A tours and Ranji games; Sundar has already made his ODI debut; Axar had stacked 38 ODIs to his name. Ashwin has 150 ODI scalps and hasn t buried limited-over ambitions. He has tried everything, from bowling leg-spin to round-arm, and the most recent with a wrong-footed release.

It s a bit like England s pace bowling resources. When the ball is swinging dial Branderson, when it s bouncing ping Mark Wood, Chris Jordan and now Jofra Archer. For cutters in shorter version shout out the names of Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett. For left-handedness, summon Sam Curran and David Willey.

It s not surprising that the third list is also the most populated. It could have been necessitated by the World Cup next year, or it could be the format that throws up perse talents. It, no doubt, is a format the selectors could be encouraged to experiment, even if they have identified/finalised the core. It s where they could be least sentimental too—the choices hardly cause a flutter, leave alone a stir. Picking Chahar ahead of Chahal hasn t sparked a furore as it would if he had come in for Ashwin in Tests. In a way, it s like the formats: conservative in Tests, enterprising in ODIs and radical in T20Is.

But the end product is variety and versatility. While filtering the large pool in the end, not more than three could be picked–for as big an event as the T20 World Cup would be no straightforward exercise, it won t be a headache for which the selectors would scamper for aspirin strips. As the old sporting truism goes, it s better to have more than none at all.