The Spin Kings struggle in England

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

In the late 70s and 80s batsmen were judged by how good they were against the West Indies. It was as if a formal seal of approval on your ability had been stamped if you got runs against them. Then it was Australia and some batsmen almost tried too hard against the men from Down Under. You could be a very good player, but if you hadn't done very well against those two it tended to come out in most arguments!



It's been much the same with spinners against India. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have produced wonderful players of spin, too, but India has always been seen as the final frontier in that regard, some even holding it against the great Shane Warne. I remember seeing Muralidaran bowl in the 1994 series and conceding a lot of runs for his wickets. The doosra changed all that and that was the weapon Saqlain Mushtaq had when he took five wickets in each of four Test innings in 1999 against India in Chennai and Delhi.



So where does that leave Graeme Swann? He's in the midst of one his leanest series and in 2009, when he came to India, only had limited success. His record suggests he is the best spinner in the world at the moment, but at times in this series he has looked short of ideas and, dare I say it, of patience.



There could be a story here. The English love to sweep and that is their staple shot against spin. Coaches recommend it and their wards pick it up. The South Asian way is to advance to the pitch of the ball and that is why some of the finest batsmen against spin hardly ever played, or needed to play, the sweep shot. It is just likely, and this is a hypothesis, that Swann may not have had to bowl enough at batsmen who advance against him and that, like all spinners, he is more comfortable with crease-bound batsmen.


In three Tests Swann has only picked up four wickets, while Harbhajan has taken two in two Tests and Amit Mishra three in one. None of them feature highly on the Castrol Index for this tour, with the best bowler list dominated by seamers - such as Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Praveen Kumar - and it has been tough going for spin in general. Swann has also gone for more than four runs an over, which indicates that the Indians have found it somewhat easier batting against him than against his pacier team mates.



So from the point of view of the Harbhajan-Swann debate, it has been a stalemate in England but the winter will be interesting with Harbhajan playing the West Indies at home and Australia away, while Swann has to play Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Challenging times for them both, and it'll be fascinating to see how they perform on those tours.



Harsha Bhogle, is writing in his role as a Castrol Index spokesperson.