This is the silver jubilee year of the ball of the century and that one delivery by Shane Warne to dismiss Englands Mike Gatting gave leg-spin bowling a leg-up. Now another delivery by another leg-spinner Adil Rashid to take the off-stump of Virat Kohli has created an uproar in English cricket.
Warne’s ripper to Gatting was his first delivery against England on day two of the first Test of the 1993 Ashes series at Old Trafford, Manchester. That one delivery has not only transformed Warne’s career but also gave a new image to leg-spin bowling.
Another leg-spinner has given his own career a boost with one delivery that pitched on the leg-stump and even before Kohli could decide what to do with it, the ball zipped past him to take the off-stump.
The comparison should end there.
The discussion in the last couple of days is more on Rashid’s ability to produce an unplayable delivery than Kohli’s failure to read it. That one delivery got the England captain, coach and selectors excited.
They all were unanimous that Rashid should play the first Test against India at Edgbaston, Birmingham. There was a hitch and they all knew that Rashid’s selection could create a ruckus in domestic County cricket.
Rashid was picked despite his decision to play only white ball cricket this season for Yorkshire and not having played red ball cricket. Chief selector Ed Smith had a ready reason for bringing in Rashid into the Test squad, but not many on the county circuit are with him, they thought the move has devalued county cricket and was unfair to Somerset spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess, who have been toiling away in the domestic red ball arena.
Rashid had an escape clause when he entered into a pact with Yorkshire for playing only in the shorter formats. He had said that his decision did not mean he’s through with red ball cricket. That came in handy for selectors to justify picking him, recognizing his 23 wickets in 10 One-Day internationals (ODI) this season. But the ball that changed the minds of all the stakeholders of English cricket is that one delivery to Kohli.
Former England captain Michael Atherton and Michael Vaughan were critical of his selection, but their predecessor Ian Botham saw nothing wrong with his selection. Botham went a step ahead to offer a contract with his Durham County next season. In any case Rashid was thinking of moving to Worcester next year to join his close pal Moeen Ali.
The Rashid controversy takes world cricket back to the often expressed grouse of many old-timers, who are clearly unhappy with players being picked for the Test squad on the basis of their performance in the shorter formats.
Veteran cricketers in India bitterly complain that players are judged by their performance in the Indian Premier League (IPL), not exactly on their performance in red and pink ball cricket.
If India had not lost the ODI series against England 1-2, Virat Kohli would have insisted on selecting his favourite leg-spinner Yajuvendra Chahal for the Test series and he had said so in a manner of speculation.
In the last year or so, suddenly there has been a question mark over the selection of the two reliable spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, even in Test cricket after being discarded from the teams for shorter formats.
The debate is which two of the three spinners would be playing in the first Test. The speculation is that Ashwin could be replaced by Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav because the captain and coach like Jadeja for his fielding.
But the theory of playing two left-arm spinners defies logic and also Ashwin’s batting in Tests has been far superior to the so-called all-rounders.
The English media thinks the heat wave conditions in England could tempt the Indians to play all three spinners instead of three pacers. No one is willing to talk of the pitches in these climatic conditions.
The only reason for India toying with the idea of playing three spinners is the weak line-up of fast bowlers in the absence of injured Bhuwneshvar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah.
Instead of wasting time on whether both Rashid and Moeen will play or not, the Indian think-tank should weigh their own strengths. Dinesh Karthik, Hardika Pandya, Ashwin and Jadeja can give depth to the batting and that will make Kohli-Shastri to go with five top-order batsmen.
Even picking five batsmen is seen as a major problem with unfair whispers over Cheteshwar Pujara’s selection. All because his two best scores came in the last week of May when he made the only hundred in England this season, 101 for Yorkshire against Worcestershire and four days later an unbeaten 75 at Leicester. In the next 11 innings, his best score was 35 in the Test against Afghanistan.
What India should decide is whether Pujara is their best Number 3 or not. There is little doubt that he is the best man to bat at one drop, no more discussion.
The mind games of the former English players and the media have started. Who do they pile on to? Yes, Virat Kohli, recalling his past troubles in facing James Anderson, forgetting that was four years ago and a lot of water has flown down the Thames under the London Bridge.
Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])