The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Nathan Lyon have been world class bowlers in Tests but their failure to translate red ball success into white-ball cricket could be due to the “lack of variations” on flat decks, feels former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed.
Ashwin (365 wickets from 71 games), Lyon (390 wickets in 96 Tests) and Pakistan’s leg-break bowler Yasir Shah (213 wickets in 39 Tests) have won innumerable games for their countries in the longest format only to be found wanting in ODIs and T20Is.
“Look at Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. They have won so many (white ball) games for India in the last two years. May be the likes of Lyon, Ashwin and Yasir don’t have enough variations to survive in one-day cricket,” Mushtaq, a Pakistan great, told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Mushtaq, who has coached around the world including a champion England side that had a spinner of the calibre of Graeme Swann in its ranks, feels the categorisation of Test and limited overs spinners is the need of the hour.
“Test cricket remains the ultimate challenge for the spinners as you get to know their true skills. The likes of Yasir, Lyon, Moeen Ali, Ashwn. These are the guys I admire. Their contribution to Test cricket has been huge. Some of them have been successful in one day cricket also but the game has changed drastically since the five fielder rule inside the (30-yard) circle came into being. For that, mystery spinners as well as wrist spinners have become more effective. Guys like Like Adil Rashid, Adam Zampa, Chahal, Kuldeep, Shadab Khan.”
Ashwin, known for his carrom ball as well as “reverse carrom ball” which he recently said that he had used, has not played white ball cricket for India since 2017 West Indies tour and his comeback doesn’t look imminent.
“In one -day cricket, if the pitches are good and you don’t have variations or a mystery ball, you can’t survive. For example, a champion bowler like Lyon has been exposed in one day cricket. He has not been as successful as he has been in the longest format.”
Mushtaq said the ever increasing role of power-hitting in the modern one-day game has made mystery spinners more valuable than the conventional ones.
“You need to have someone who can bowl leg-breaks, googlies, flippers, someone with a different (unorthodox) action. There is so much power hitting in the game, you need spinners with variations.”
And that is why he endorses different set of spinners for Tests and limited overs cricket. “In ODIs, you can still play one good conventional spinner but in T20s you need mystery spinners as he can get a wicket even with a bad ball as the batsman doesn’t have the time to read him,” said the 49-year-old.
“Also, the amount of cricket being played, you need to have different spinners for different formats. You zero in on five-six spinners and use them in different formats. That way their career is prolonged also.”
According to Mushtaq, skill-wise, Lyon and Ashwin are on par with greats like Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan but not best suited for the one-day game.
“We had four fielders inside the circle, there was extra protection in the deep. Now with five fielders inside, if you are consistent with your line and length, you may struggle. Ashwin and Lyon are as good as the spinners of the past. It is just that the limited overs game has overshadowed Test cricket,” Mushtaq said.
The burly spinner of yesteryears further said that the art of leg-spin is here to stay as it is the best wicket-taking option in limited overs cricket.
“You will see a lot of leg-spinners in the next 10-15 years. Batsman nowadays are used to playing express pace but they still struggle against leg-spinners.”
Mushtaq played in the times of Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, calling them “great players of spin”. Now, Asian teams including India struggle against high-quality spin. “Moeen Ali takes a lot of wickets against India and so does Lyon. The sub-continental teams don’t play spin that well anymore. In the last 10-15 years, we have been preparing more for pacers on overseas assignments and that is one reason why the batsmen have not been learning how to play spin.”
“When I used to play against India, I knew that they would get a single off a good ball also. Technically, they were very strong. Their gravity levels, intent, trigger movement, use of crease, how to play on different pitches. It is not the same anymore
“And thanks to IPL and PSL, the foreign batsmen have become good players of spin,” reckoned Mushtaq.
He opined too much focus on playing pace can backfire, like it did for hosts India against England in 2012, when the visitors won a Test series on Indian soil after 27 years.
Mushtaq was with the England team back then, plotting India’s downfall with Monty Panesar and Swann. “We won in 2012 because we knew what fields to set, what pace to bowl at. Neither Virat was sweeping nor Dhoni. Only Sachin was there. The Indians were focussing on England seamers but the spinners surprised them. Swann and Panesar were much quicker in the air than their Indian counterparts and that was the reason for their success,” Ahmed added.