cricket in the 1990s and he lived just long enough to see his tribe hold its own in the shorter formats of the game.
Warne will remain an obvious case study for any spinner, especially those travelling to Australia. He defined the potency of a wrist spinner. When the wave of wrist-spin swept across limited-overs cricket from 2018, he wouldn’t stop gushing. At the forefront of that wave were Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. India’s emphatic success in the middle overs through wrist-spin prompted every team to groom at least one in their ranks.
Wrist-spin became the prescribed tonic. Spinners were no longer meant to just contain with the white ball. Come this T20 World Cup, only Chahal has survived to make it to India’s T20 World Cup squad.
Suddenly, there is reliance on the control of finger spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel. If one browses through the squads, one wrist-spinner seems to be the
norm. But India’s issues are beyond just getting in a few overs from spinners.
Jasprit Bumrah’s absence, Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s indifferent form, the lack of T20 match-practice behind Mohammed Shami and the inexperience of Arshdeep Singh and Harshal Patel mean the spinners will need to play a greater role. Cutting through opposition’s batting line-ups remains a challenge.
Warne was ahead of his time even when he was in his 40s, retired for a good five years from international cricket. Playing for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League (BBL) in 2012, he was the first one to demonstrate wrist-spinners had a greater role in T20 cricket even as batters were getting stronger, bats getting meatier,
pitches resembling concrete roads and the boundaries were shrinking.
The video of Warne explaining on the ear mic how he’ll set up Brendon McCullum, the then poster boy of T20 cricket, and then cleaning him up behind his legs in a BBL game has a cult following on the internet.
Top spin, overspin, drift and angles had been Warne’s primary weapons to disrupt the myth on fast and bouncy pitches in Australia. To extract exaggerated turn on
T20 pitches in Australia is a fallacy. That is the template.
Adam Zampa, Australia’s trump card in T20Is, testified on Wednesday: “In Australia, you can try and hit the top of the bat, bowl a lot of overspin and try to get guys caught at longon and long-off because if you’re (bowling) at the top of the bat, that’s where the ball goes. Side-spin here is not really a key factor, it’s more about getting guys hitting the top of the bat.”
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One bowler in Indian cricket who could do all of that with consistency is Ravi Bishnoi. Extra pace, fizz and frightening overspin on the ball have helped him have a rather smooth initiation in international cricket in the last eight months. The Indian selectors and team management had to choose between him and Ravichandran Ashwin. Axar has been the convenient like-for-like replacement for the injured Ravindra Jadeja. They chose to play safe with Ashwin’s experience.
The Asia Cup debacle must have been playing in their minds. Preferring experience rather than youth has been the template for captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid. Bishnoi was the pick of the bowlers against Pakistan in the Asia Cup. That was the only game he played in the tournament and never found a place in India’s first-choice XI since.
“Everybody has to wait for his time. We don’t drop or select players on the basis of stats. It’s about the role a person plays in the team. If some new guy performs, it doesn’t mean a player who has been performing for two years sits out. That’s where that player loses confidence,” India vice-captain KL Rahul had stated after India finished their forgettable Asia Cup campaign in early September.
(File image of India captain Rohit Sharma with Ravi Bishnoi – ANI Photo)
On paper, India’s spin attack is formidable. Axar and Ashwin had formed a potent combine for Delhi Capitals in IPL in UAE. But the pitches there offered variable pace and turn. With Australia’s big boundaries, their guile and experience could very well work out fine.
Again, one needs to mark Zampa’s words on the conditions expected: “We haven’t had a summer for a long time now where there has been (enough) sun so the pitches have been dry enough to spin. As a spinner if there is a bit of juice in the deck, you hope for that.”