It’s not often that you get an opportunity to see two similar kinds of spinners operating in tandem, for rarely a team fields two leg-spinners or two off-spinners in the playing XI. India did that with Harbhajan and Ashwin in the first Test at Chennai, both bowling parallel on a turning pitch against a batting line-up that wasn’t too proficient against the turning ball. While it was only logical to assume that the senior pro Harbhajan Singh, playing his 100th Test match would steal a march on his junior, it didn’t pan out that way, for Ashwin remained miles ahead. What did Ashwin do right and where did Harbhajan miss out would make for an interesting study.
There’s always a temptation to bowl quicker on turning pitches but if bowling quick doesn’t come naturally, it backfires, for one tends to compromise on the technique. That’s what was visible during the first Test match where Ashwin bowled a lot slower and hence extracted more off the surface. Bowling slower also meant a bit more flight and that allowed the ball to grip the surface, extracting more bounce. On the contrary, Harbhajan chose to bowl a lot quicker and flatter, which resulted in the lack of bite. The problem with bowling fast is that it leads to under-cutting the ball, which results in the ball skidding through the surface instead of gripping it.
Looking for spin
Ashwin, in the past, has been guilty of trying too many variations too often. Just because he possessed weapons in his armory, he felt obliged to display all of them, at times in the same over. But here, he resisted the temptation of bowling different variations and stuck to bowling regular off-spinners instead. If the normal off-spin is causing enough trouble, there isn’t a need to do more. That’s where Harbhajan has lagged behind, not just in this Test match but also in the last couple of years, for his off-spinners aren’t turning as much as they used to earlier. Whether it has something to do with the over-exposure to T20 cricket or over-reliance on ‘doosra’ and ‘top-spinners’ is something only Harbhajan can and must figure out.
All great spinners tell you that the moment the batsman starts playing a spinner on the back-foot, the bowler is rendered useless. A spinner’s deception lies in throwing the ball up in the air, taking it above the batsman’s eye-line and drawing him forward. Ashwin’s length in the first Test match was a lot fuller than Harbhajan’s and hence produced the desired results. Ashwin drew the batsman forward and induced mistakes. On the contrary, Harbhajan’s length was a little shorter and thus allowed the batsmen to stay on the back-foot.
One Test match doesn’t make Ashwin a better bowler than Harbhajan, for the senior pro has done it over a decade. Yet, it gives clear indications about Harbhajan’s current form, which is a genuine concern.
This article was first published in Gulf News and Hindustan Times
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 at 3:52 am
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