Spinners need to look to past to see future: Harsha Bhogle

In the way dynasties used to rule (and dare I say still do in political life!), countries seem to dominate sport in a somewhat peculiar way. The United States rules the pool, Jamaica produces track and field athletes that belie the size of their nation, the Russians have only ever allowed two outside their fold to win a world chess championship and for about fifty years India produced spin bowlers that left the cricket world mesmerised.

And yet these countries aren't powerhouses at other sports, or even sometimes, at aspects within the same sport. India, for example, produces fast bowlers like it does chief ministers; with a lot of fanfare and only occasional success. No more than a hundred kilometers separate the Indian Punjab with its Pakistani equivalent, the culture, the idiom and the food are almost identical, but only one of those produces fast bowlers. Karachi was once part of the Bombay Presidency but seems to have lost the art of producing batsmen.

There must be a culture of handing down knowledge from one generation to another, sometimes sharing it within a generation, a bit like it used to be with Hindustani classical music, that produces these dynasties. Those that care for that tradition, and nurture it, continue producing champions, those that ignore it and let it fade away, who let the know-how drain away, seem suddenly incapable of being as good.

It is something that India needs to think about seriously for, quite apart from the drought that threatens many parts of it, there is another in the sporting world that is as dangerous.

Joy no more

You can scan the horizon in India, you can map it with sophisticated gadgetry, you can do what you want but you will not find a spinner that makes your heart rejoice, that plays with the ball with the joy a child might reserve for a favourite toy. The tradition is broken and the know-how lies like a dusty book in an old library. It is there but no one is flipping through the pages. Two things reminded me of what we possess. Setting aside some pretty well known differences Sourav Ganguly invited Bishan Bedi to train spinners in Kolkata saying the old wizard was still the best man to teach spin bowling. And, as it turns out, in a 20 over game, I interviewed Erapalli Prasanna and he spoke of the joy of spin bowling. "If you have guile and you have control, you shouldn't worry about the batsman" he said merely putting into words what he practiced so many years ago.

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