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Title:Indian batsmen's vulnerability against spin

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In 1998, when Mark Taylor-led Australian team was about to land in India, Mohammad Azharuddin was asked as to how he plans to tackle the Australian legspinner Shane Warne and the then Indian captain was unfazed and is reported to have simply replied that he had 4-5 batsmen in his team to deal with Warne. How Navjot Singh Sidhu, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Azhar himself dealt with Warne is well documented as India won the three-match series 2-1 with Warne picking up ten wickets in the three Tests in Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore.

Warne toured India for two more Test series in 2001 and 2004 but somehow never had the success rate that he had around the world. So what was the reason for perhaps the greatest legspinner to have played the game, who bamboozled batsmen around the world with his mastery and craft and who finished with 708 Test wickets to not to achieve great heights of success in India? There may be reasons galore. But the first and foremost that comes to mind is: Indian batsmen have always been excellent players of spin bowling, perhaps the best in the world.

Cut to 2015. Indian batsmen are excellent players of spin bowling. Really? Perhaps the best in the world. Are you joking? In the Mohali Test, South African part-time left-arm spinner Dean Elgar took four wickets in the first innings, offspinner Simon Harmer and legspinner Imran Tahir took four wickets each in the second innings on a track that had started turning from Day One.

Yes, India won the Test inside three days but they were brought back in the game by their spinners after a resolute knock of 77 runs by Cheteshwar Pujara, apart from whom only three other batsmen crossed the double figure mark in the second innings.

Between 1990 and 2011, in which India had a stellar batting line-up, the batsmen enjoyed a healthy average of 45 against spin bowling. In fact, from 2006-2011, the average rose to 46.43, which was better than any other Test playing nation. But since then the average has dipped to 34.22 and among the top seven Test teams, only England's batsmen have a poorer average against spin (32.98) than India.

But when the bar is set high by the batting credentials of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman, all of whom averaged more than 70 against spin between 2006-2011, it is difficult to live up to that expectations. Ever since the retirements of Dravid and Laxman in January 2012, five spinners have taken ten or more wickets against India at an average of less than 32.

England spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar both of whom toured India in 2008, a tour that was marred by the Mumbai attacks, hardly made any impact with the ball against a famed batting line-up. Swann accounted for four wickets each while Panesar took three wickets each in the two Tests in Chennai and Mohali as India won the two-match series 1-0. But in the four Tests played in November-December 2012, Swann took 20 wickets at an average of 24.75 while Panesar took 17 wickets at an average of 26.82 in the three Tests that he played in the series that England won 2-1.

The focus away from Test cricket and more attention towards the shorter formats of the game can be cited as the reason of this alarming dip. The Indian spin cupboard seems bare and that was the reason the national selectors had to fall back on Harbhajan Singh for the limited overs series against South Africa. The absence of world class spinners in domestic cricket who are afraid to toss the ball up in a battle that is steadily dipping towards the big willows that are getting thicker by the day will harm Indian cricket in the long term the wounds of which will be difficult to heal.