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Spinning mystery

Trinidad Express / Maybe it’s the 40-year spectre of the Port of Spain declaration or the deep scars of a debutant’s dusty annihilation in Chennai. Whatever it is, West Indies cricket continues to treat the specialist spinner with scant regard. Yesterday’s bewildering utili­sation of Devendra Bishoo on the opening day of the final Test against Pakistan in Sharjah was typical. True, the leg-spinner made the final session of the day his own with four wickets, complementing the increasingly impressive fast bowler Shannon Gabriel to leave the hosts uncomfortably placed at 255 for eight at stumps. Up to the tea interval, though, with Pakistan reasonably poised at 148 for three and opening batsman Sami Aslam well entrenched alongside captain Misbah ul Haq, Bishoo had only been allowed four of the 54 overs bowled. As has become the norm since his debut against India in Antigua last July, Roston Chase’s still developing off-spin was first out of the blocks before lunch. And based on what has transpired over the past 12 months, it was half expected that Kraigg Brathwaite’s part-time stuff would get a tryout before the frontline slow bowler. Yet there was Bishoo at the end of the day, dominating proceedings to the extent that it delayed the taking of the second new ball, and with Gabriel removing the dangerous wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed to added to the dismissals of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq in the first over of the match, West Indies were able to reflect on their best day in the field on what has so far been a wretched campaign in the Arabian desert. But this sort of treatment has been nothing new for the incumbent or any of the other previous wearers of the “specialist spinner” tag going back four decades. Almost without exception, it’s as if they are only useful to give the faster bowlers a rest and block up an end with no real expectation of success. If for some unexplained reason a wicket or two fall, well then they are the toast of the town… at least until the next innings when the indifferent attitude returns. Granted Bishoo had a poor second Test with overall figures of one for 189 in Abu Dhabi. Yet just the week before he played a key role in giving the West Indies the chance of a shock victory, snaring eight for 49 in the second innings at the expense of an admittedly reckless home team under lights in Dubai to complete match figures of ten for 174. Going into the second day’s play in Sharjah in his 21st Test, the wrist-spinner’s tally of wickets stood at 74, by no means staggeringly impressive but decent enough to be considered worthy as a first spinning option. So often though, that has not been the case since his return to the international scene last year against England in the Caribbean. It is fair to suggest the bowler’s body language often betrays a lack of confidence in his own ability, and it was the policy of the Indians and Australians notably to go after him at every opportunity to dent that self-belief even further in earlier contests. That tactic proved immensely successful, resulting in a cricketer who, after three years of rehabilitation and success on the regional first-class circuit, still seems disinclined to tempt batsmen to take him on. As for Jason Holder’s utilisation of this presumed resource, well, it may be an unconscious legacy of Queen’s Park Oval, 1976 when Clive Lloyd declared, setting India what appeared then an impossible target of 403. They reached it with four wickets down thanks to centuries from Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath while the failure of Raphick Jumadeen and debutant fellow spinners Albert Padmore and Imtiaz Ali to deliver the victory seemed to have been the death knell for the art in the eyes of the West ­Indies captain, especially with the unprecedented supply of world-class fast bowlers that was follow over the next two ­decades. Even in the midst of all that fast bowling dominance, West Indies were still inclined to play horses for courses. When the horse couldn’t get out of the starting gate however, the failure just seemed to solidify the scepticism towards spin as a match-winning ­asset. It was January, 1988 and the last match of the four-Test series in Chennai where a raging turner was prepared to help India earn a series-­levelling victory. This they duly achieved with the West Indies crumbling to debutant wrist-spinner Narendra Hirwani who reaped the astonishing harvest of 16 wickets. Compounding the tourists’ woe was the incomprehensible ­reality their specialist, off-spinner Clyde Butts, went wicket­less through 45 overs. Those experiences have stained the reputation of practitioners of flight and deception by spin, ugly smears that Bishoo and so many before him have struggled to wipe clean.

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