These are good times for Indian cricket. The senior team outclassed New Zealand in the Hyderabad Test last Sunday (August 26), a couple of hours after the junior side covered itself in glory by scoring a brilliant win over Australia in the final of the Under-19 World Cup.
The Under-19 triumph came some 18 months after the senior team’s World Cup success in Mumbai, thereby making India only the second country, after Australia, to hold the senior and junior World Cups at the same time.
While the Test win against New Zealand was welcome, especially in light of the travails of last season, the colts’ success in Townsville was sweeter. It’s not often that an Indian team goes to Australia and tames them in their own backyard. The entire nation is proud of the achievement of the young lads, and rightly so.
Under-19 cricket is the platform, the supply level to the senior national team, and although it is still early days, I hope the players who did outstandingly well in Australia are nurtured carefully both by their state associations and the BCCI so that they can graduate to the international level. It is very important to strike the right balance when it comes to pushing them to play at the senior level; it should not be too early, or too late. The quality of Unmukt Chand, Smit Patel, Baba Aparajith, Ravikant Singh and Harmeet Singh is very obvious, but they will need to be handled with care so that they are ready to make the step up to the next level.
The senior team was very impressive in Hyderabad, with the spinners being particularly outstanding. I thought Jeetan Patel bowled quite well for New Zealand, but having watched Pragyan Ojha and Ashwin, he must have realised how important it is to bowl at the right pace on Indian pitches. Although Patel was tight, he lacked the guile and control that the two Indian spinners displayed in ample measure.
Ashwin has a very good record in India, and I hope he uses this experience to become more effective overseas. He has only played three Tests away from India and must not be judged immediately, but he has to try and improve despite the fact that he is picking up so many wickets in home conditions. He must keep getting better and add more variations to his repertoire, which will come in handy when India travel abroad.
Ashwin has to realise that away from home, he will not get as much purchase as he does in India but will still be expected to take wickets. I am sure he will get better with time. His carrom ball and top-spinner will pose a lot of problem to the tail-enders and if he can master those two deliveries, that will be great both for him and the Indian team.
Over the years, India have produced several high-quality spinners – Bishan Bedi, EAS Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, S Venkatraghavan, Subhash Gupte, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, to name a few. I am sure Ashwin too will feature in that illustrious list in time to come. Every bowler is different and it is not right to compare because each one’s craft is different. Each one has his own way of being successful.
Generally, offspinners are not so much in the limelight; there is not much of an aura created around them because their style is orthodox. Legspinners and left-arm spinners are the ones who come away with the plaudits because their art is unconventional. Offspinners have a tougher job because most teams have more right-hand batsmen than left-handers, and their stock ball comes in to the right-hander. It’s always easier to play the ball coming in than the one spinning away from the bat. So for people like Harbhajan and Ashwin, it is comparably tougher to break through a batsman’s defence.
What is admirable in Ashwin’s case is the beautiful trajectory he bowls. He uses his height to great advantage and he doesn’t have to toss the ball up much, but can still get a lot of turn and bounce on Indian pitches. He has started off well at home, but I would love to see him mature and deliver abroad too.