“Spinners have to be given at least 10-15 overs to create an impression” : Harbhajan Singh
9 expensive overs costing 44 runs … in three tiny spells.
The left-arm wrist-spinner who tied the English batsmen into complex knots during the T20I series, and picked as a rather surprising choice in the team for the second Test match at Lord’s, spent one of the most fruitless days on the field.
Not only was he taken for runs, some of the balls he bowled, like the waist-high full-toss to the new batsman at the crease Sam Curran, made an already easy task even easier for England.
A nightmarish day indeed, and one that will do very little to help his confidence.
Additionally, the way Kuldeep was used today reflected quite poorly on the thought process of the Indian team management and also on the captain Virat Kohli.
Firstly, he was brought on early enough, in the 12th over. The Ravichandran Ashwin trick that had worked twice on Alastair Cook, was not tried again, for reasons as unknown as most of the decision making by the Indians in this Test match.
Besides, Kuldeep could have been the surprise package of the team, but he is still a rookie in the Test game. Putting him on to bowl before the accomplished and the genuinely great bowler was surprising to say the least.
Kuldeep started with three fielders close to the bat. A common-enough ploy in the subcontinent, but somewhat over-optimistic at Lord’s on a grassy wicket. The result was quite expected. A couple of poor balls, expected with a wrist-spinner getting into the groove, and the lack of protection around the field resulting in two boundaries.
Gone was the refreshing confidence which had been the hallmark of Kuldeep’s bowling in white ball cricket. By the second over, there were flatter deliveries and even a nervous full toss. This was followed by another boundary.
But the young man did make an effort to come back into his own. He started tossing them up, mixing his variations. And even beat the bat a couple of times.
And then, as soon as he had been introduced, he was taken off.
Four overs. That was all he got … before he was reintroduced 25 overs later. A rather long gap.
Once again, he was hit for two boundaries, and the youngster was taken off yet again, and banished to patrol the country.
By tea break, there had been just 6 overs by Kuldeep and 7 by Ashwin. Which made the decision to go in with two spinners even more surprising.
Former Indian off-spinning ace Harbhajan Singh was quite vocal in his criticism when this writer met up with him during the post-Tea session. “How has Kuldeep bowled? I will rather ask did he bowl at all? The spinners have to be given at least 10-15 overs to create an impression. He has bowled 6 overs till now, that too in two spells.”
In the long post-tea session, Kuldeep was brought back for 3 more overs before being taken off again. By then he was bowling a couple of boundary balls in each over.
Harbhajan was also critical about the fieldset when Kuldeep came into bowl for the first time.
“A spinner has to get into his groove before he can attack. For that one has to set a field to protect too many runs being taken from him from the very start. Kuldeep started bowling with three fieldsmen close to the bat. And he got hit for boundaries. That does not help the bowler.”
The former Indian offie also felt that there was no question that Ashwin should have bowled before Kuldeep. “He is a much senior bowler.”
The resulting figures of Kuldeep at the end of the day, 9-1-44-0, may have made a rather lasting dent on the psyche of the young spinner.
The role of the guiding hand of an astute captain cannot be overemphasised in the journey of a young spinner. Not only in the way he is used, the fields he is given, but also in the steady flow of new ideas with which he can work on his tactics and methods.
Kuldeep struggled in the short spells he was given. Besides, used to batsmen attacking him in the shorter formats, he seemed to become clueless once Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes decided to combat the uncertainty of spin by going back and tapping the confusing deliveries back down the pitch. Once Kuldeep pitched up as a response, he was driven for runs. Not much help seemed to be at hand for the rookie spinner from either the skipper or the other senior pros in the team.
Ashwin’s 10 overs after tea notwithstanding, it was a rather curious day in the way the bowling resources were used by India. One cannot help but wonder about the thinking behind the entire process.