India's spin tradition is so strong that the cupboard can never be bare. One great spin bowler retires and another suitable candidate takes his place. That's how the tradition has been carried through 75 years ever since Vinoo Mankad, the first world class spin bowler, appeared on the scene.
Mankad, Ghulam Ahmed and Subash Gupte in the forties and fifties gave way to Salim Durrani, Bapu Nadkarni and Chandu Borde for a short while in the early sixties before the famed spin quartet took over. Bishen Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna and S Venkatraghavan lasted from the mid sixties to the late 70s bowling India to famous and historic victories with such regularity that Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar could not figure even in a single official Test match. Replacing the quartet was not easy but Dilip Doshi, Ravi Shastri, Shivlal Yadav, Maninder Singh, Narendra Hirwani and (very briefly) Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Arshad Ayub took care of the spinning roles admirably through the 80s before the arrival of Anil Kumble in the 90s. Kumble was joined by the likes of Venkatpathi Raju, Rajesh Chauhan and (very briefly) Sunil Joshi but it was until the new millennium when Harbhajan Singh really came into his own that the Indians could boast of a world class spin duo.
There is always a sense of alarm when a legend retires and this was the prevailing mood when Kumble called it a day in 2008. But there was no cause for worry. Suitable candidates were round the corner in Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra even as Harbhajan slipped into the senior spinner's role. And in the last three years the trio have played a game of musical chairs when it comes to inclusion in the playing eleven. In limited overs cricket there is generally place for only one spin bowler but in Tests two are a must in the playing eleven and it is for the second spinner's spot that Chawla, Ojha and Mishra are fighting for a place given that Harbhajan's place is more or less secure. And now with the arrival of Ravichandran Ashwin on the scene the scenario is even more encouraging.
On figures there may be very little to choose between Mishra and Ojha. Mishra has 36 scalps in ten Tests at almost 40 apiece with one five-wicket haul. In 14 ODIs he has 17 wickets at an average of just over 31 and an economy rate of 4.5. Ojha has taken 42 wickets from 11 Tests at an average of 40.4 without a five-wicket haul. He has also figured in 16 ODIs having taken 20 wickets at at 30 apiece and an excellent economy rate of 4.31. Chawla on the other hand has played just two Tests for three wickets but he has figured in as many as 25 ODIs taking 32 wickets at an average of almost 35 and an economy rate of 5.1.
On the most current evidence however it would appear that Mishra has stolen a march over the others. In the last three ODIs against the West Indies he has taken nine wickets at an average of 13. But more than the impressive figures it is the manner in which he has bowled that has caught the eye. Even after granting that this is a rather weak West Indian side and batsmen from the Caribbean have been generally vulnerable to Indian leg spin bowling since the days of Subash Gupte, Mishra has earned kudos for being on the attack, turning the ball appreciably and giving the ball a lot of air - something that is not done readily in limited overs cricket. His line and length have been commendable and he has used the googly to good effect.
I would also back Ashwin for a major role in the near future. The 24-year-old Tamil Nadu off spinner has had limited international experience so far in that he has not played in a Test and has figured in only ten ODIs. But he is clearly the man for the big occasion. Temperamentally very strong and high on bowling skills Ashwin's figures of 19 wickets at an average of just over 24 and an economy rate of 4.76 clearly brings out the attacking nature of his bowling. I think he is ready for a Test cap more so when he can be pretty handy with the bat. Fielding two off spinners should not be an impediment to his selection for two such purveyors have bowled in tandem in the past. Moreover Harbhajan and Ashwin are two very different bowlers.
All in all then there is nothing to be alarmed about the Indian spin scenario. After all there is also Murali Kartik who at 34 has not given up hopes of a comeback to international cricket after performing exceedingly well around the English county circuit.