Spin-playing is endemic in India.

In Asia, do you want to claim Virat Kohli’s wicket? Target the stumps with a spinner, particularly a left-armer. He’ll probably get bowled or out leg-before.

In Asia, he has been dismissed 13 times since December 2021. Nine of them have either bowled or seen him leg-before (2). Get them to bowl around the stumps is the second obvious tendency. To be fair to Kohli, who until recently was a top predator in all conditions and across all forms, playing excellent spin on beneficial tracks isn’t a Kohli-specific issue. It’s endemic and has recently been quite contagious.

Ignore what occurred in Indore. The pitch’s condition is obviously a mitigating factor, but India’s deficiencies against spin (regardless of the spinner’s current performance) have been hurting them for a while. It is very evident that they are not inherently poor spin bowlers. In opposition to their bowling style away from home, India’s top six keep up a respectable average. Since 2017, they have averaged more than 70 runs per wicket in four of those years (2017, 19, 20 and 21).

Yet, since they dominated the South Africans in 2019, their averages against spin at home have been on a very apparent downward slope. Since then, the law of diminishing marginal returns has been in force (37.48 in 2021, 34.78 in 2022 and 18.96 in 2023). What those figures don’t tell you is that they have been significantly exaggerated as a result of certain blows from Rishabh Pant’s blade.

Players*Avg (from debut to Jan 1, 2020)Avg (from Jan 1, 2020 – till now)
Kohli68.42 (39 Tests; 13 100s)25 (10 Tests; 0 100s)
Pujara59.84 (41 Tests; 10 100s)23.28 (9 Tests; 0 100s)
Rahane39.28 (27 Tests; 4 100s)18.87 (5 Tests; 0 100s)
Rahul44.25 (14 Tests; 1 100)12.66 (2 Tests; 0 100s)
Rohit88.33 (14 Tests; 6 100s)45.85 (9 Tests; 2 100s)
*Current batters who played at least 10 Tests at home before Jan 1, 2020

When you look at each player’s statistics who has played at least 10 home Test matches before 2020, it becomes obvious. Consider Kohli as an example. In his final 10 tests in India, his average against spin has decreased from 68.42 in the first 39 Tests to 25. In his first 14 Test matches, Rohit Sharma, one of the nation’s top batsmen against red-ball spinners, averaged 88.33. Over his last nine games, it’s been 45.85. In his first 41 Tests, Cheteshwar Pujara averaged 59.84; in his last nine Tests, he averaged 23.28.

No. of times dismissed by left-arm spin
BatterTill Jan 2021Since
Shreyas Iyer, who made his debut in Nov 2021, has lost his wickets nine times to spinners. Out of that, six have come against this bowling type.

During the 2015 series against South Africa, former India batting coach Sanjay Bangar gave instructions on how to play on turning tracks. He had suggested exploiting the crease’s depth, moving forward to smother the turn, or simply trusting your defence. That has been done by those who have occupied the crease, such as Axar Patel (361 balls) and Marnus Labuschagne (375). Before making sure they don’t swipe across the line, a tricky shot on surfaces, players have either gone straight back or used their feet to get to the pitch of the ball. This is what’s been troubling players like Kohli.

Indian top six’s avg vs spin
YearAway TestsHome Tests

While the idea that Kohli has been extraordinarily unlucky in that he almost always makes his first mistake early in the game has some weight, those errors have really been rather serious. Consider making both leg-before choices in the Indore Test. He tried to pull a short pitch in the second inning, but the ball skidded off the surface. He attempted to whip a delivery in the first inning that pitched on middle and off before straightening a touch, which put Kohli in a lot of difficulty.

It’s important to pay attention to Todd Murphy’s first-innings wicket. Nathan Lyon was questioned about coming around the wicket to right-handed batters after taking eight wickets in India’s second innings. “I know a lot of people see it as a negative. I see it as the total opposite,” he had said after the second day of the Test. “I think it’s very attacking, you are bringing all modes of dismissal. Times have changed when you were able to bowl over the stumps and still get guys in line.” Many hitters on both sides have been caught by it in this series because of the strong spin and the available natural variation (Moeen Ali got Kohli out in the second Test at Chennai in 2021 coming around the wicket). Similar delivery, Kohli attempted to make contact with the ball but was unable.

Speaking of this series, it came as a major surprise when Australia decided not to field Ashton Agar in the opening Test. It was expected that Matthew Kuhnemann will be flown in for the second Test and be given the ball before Lyon. It was also expected that he would choose a five. In recent times, India has become vulnerable to left-arm spin in all formats. Regarding red-ball cricket, in the past 16 months or so, Taijul Islam, Jack Leach, Ajaz Patel, Praveen Jayawickrama, and Lasith Embuldeniya have all been among the wickets.

Vikram Rathour, the team’s batting coach, defended the group when asked about the hitters’ results against spin. “Of course, as a batting unit, you can go out occasionally, but we do prefer to play on turning tracks,” he had said after the first day. “That is our strength. To be fair this is a one-off wicket.”

It may have been a one-off wicket but the diminishing returns are an increasing cause for concern.

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