Given the socialization avenue the IPL offers, Harbhajan Singh could take fellow off-spinner Johan Botha for dinner or a drink. And once their topic of discussion hits a vigorous note, they might dwell on the general well-being of their brethren and might reflect with a hint of anguish on how the IPL has meted out their tribe a cold deal.
They can’t be faulted for thinking of IPL as left-centric, for the stock of off-spinners in the IPL has plummeted. Harbhajan and Botha are only two of the eight-membered tribe of genuine tweakers that operate under the broad “right-arm off-break” classification. And of the eight, only two of these are conventional operators, as opposed to freakish variants such as Sunil Narine and Muttiah Muralitharan or the unorthodox ones like Parvez Rasool and R Ashwin.
Harbhajan and Botha must yearn for the pedigreed company of Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann and quietly sneer at the bulging breed of left-armers in the league. Even if you discard the part-timers, there are 24 genuine left-arm spinners, and most squads are stocked with two or more.
In RR and DD’s case, the number spirals to five. Likewise, CSK have Ravindra Jadeja and Shadab Jakati, Kings XI Punjab have Bipul Sharma and Bhargav Bhatt. KKR are endowed with Iqbal Abdulla and Shakib Al Hasan while RCB have Murali Kartik, Daniel Vettori and KP Appanna. MI have Pragyan Ojha, Pune Ali Murtaza, and Sunrisers Hyderabad Ankit Sharma.
This is not an overnight phenomenon, as they have been in demand right from the inaugural edition of the IPL. “Most teams now have good left-arm spinners. It has just become so over time,” said Rahul Dravid.
One factor could be the dominance of right-handed batsmen, as there are only three left-handers among the top-ten run getters in IPL (overall). Hence, there’s a tendency to stuff the team with bowlers that take the ball away from right-handers, especially in a format wherein the ball remains hard throughout.
Even so, these bowlers aren’t particularly successful, since there is only one left-arm spinner (Ojha) among the top 10 wicket-takers while six have snuck into the top-20 in the economy-rate chart.
Thus, as their role is to stifle the opposition, most of these left-armers hardly impart loop, dip or flight. “They have been asked to restrict runs and therefore they bowl flat. The demands of this format are different and you don’t see them flight the ball,” opined Dilip Doshi.
The off-break conventionalists are not alone, for the plight of their leg-break counterparts is as bleak, despite their overwhelming success.