If the threat of left-arm pace wasn’t formidable enough for India, the introduction of left-arm spin has now compounded their challenges. On Tuesday, during the third Super Four match of the 2023 Asia Cup held in Colombo, the young Sri Lankan bowler, Dunith Wellalage, who specializes in left-arm orthodox spin, wreaked havoc on the star-studded Indian batting lineup. Wellalage secured a maiden five-wicket haul, a remarkable feat for the 20-year-old who made his debut for Sri Lanka just a year ago. In only his 13th ODI appearance, Wellalage dismissed key Indian batsmen including Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, and Hardik Pandya. This performance by the spinner exposed a potential vulnerability in the Indian batting order.
Former India batter Gautam Gambhir agreed with this assessment, offering a candid evaluation of India’s performance against Sri Lanka. Notably, it was the first time that India had lost all 10 wickets to spin, highlighting the growing challenge posed by spin bowlers in international cricket.
Speaking to Star Sports during the rain delay after the 47th over of India’s innings, Gambhir recalled how the Indian batters had incurred a similar problem when they were up against the likes of Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar in the Australia ODI game earlier this year in Chennai. Six wickets were picked between the two as India fell 21 runs short in chasing 270. Explaining the dismissals on Tuesday, Gambhir pointed out how three of the five dismissals happened because the batters were committed on their front foot.
“This is becoming a pattern. You remember that match against Australia in Chennai when the ball was gripping a bit and India were chasing some 260 odd runs against spinners like Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar. And we couldn’t chase it. Whenever the ball grips, we struggle and we don’t even know whether we can take the game deep. This is not a 350-run wicket…it’s of 270. Imagine if in 40 overs you are three down for 160 or 170, then when the ball grips, it is very important for the batters to adjust. Virat Kohli and KL Rahul’s were soft dismissals, but rest were beaten by the front foot. Rohit Sharma was beaten by pace, Gill by…that was a brilliant ball. You expect better from Indian batters,” he said.
Wellalage was introduced in the over after powerplay and he began with the wicket of Gill with a dream of a delivery before dismissing Rohit and then Kohli in a space of just three balls. He later stood key in breaking the partnership between Ishan Kishan and Rahul which looked to revive India’s innings after the top-order collapse. And eventually ended his quota of 10 overs with the wicket of Hardik in his final delivery. When further asked to explain the reason behind India failing to read Wellalage, Gambhir explained that it was down to the angle created by the bowler, who went wide of the crease.
“As a batsman we often try to play the angle, but if the ball spins from there then things become difficult. If you deliver it closer to the wicket then it becomes easier, but when you deliver it wider from the crease then it becomes difficult. And that is why it is necessary to play it off the backfoot rather than front foot, where both the edges are tested. Look at Hardik’s dismissal. And you mentioned (Ajantha) Mendis…he had carrom ball and we did not even know how those deliveries would behave. But these were proper left-arm spin deliveries,” he explained.
Gambhir was also critical of Gill’s dismissal explaining that while the ball might have looked like a dream delivery, the opener had erred in not playing it towards mid-off or towards the bowler.
“Gill could have defended that ball. You cannot say that it was an unplayable delivery. Look at the bat face, it is towards the leg side… towards mid-on. Against such deliveries, you should always play it towards mid-off or towards the bowler. The moment you go for mid-on you are giving the chance for an outside edge,” he said.