Shivlal Yadav is as qualified as anyone else to talk cricket in general, and offspin in particular. The former India offspinner finished with 102 wickets from 35 Tests, and had 330 wickets overall in 112 first-class matches in a career than spanned 13 years, between 1977 and 1990.
A former Hyderabad captain, Yadav has been a national selector, and has travelled on several tours as team manager, most recently to Australia when India were beaten 4-0. Now one of the vice-presidents of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, Yadav said he was delighted that Hyderabad had played its part in India getting their own back.
"I know what Australia must be going through right now," said Yadav to Wisden India on Wednesday (March 6). "We were in a not-too-dissimilar position last year when we got thrashed in Australia. I am really happy the Indian team is doing well in this series. The Australians will now realise that it can be pretty challenging to play away from your comfort zone, and when you lose in the manner in which Australia have in the first two Tests, you will appreciate the demands of touring better."
Yadav has done several battles with the Australians, and took 2 for 100 - the wickets of Kim Hughes and Allan Border - in the first innings in Melbourne in February 1981 when India came back from the dead to fashion a series-levelling 59-run win despite defending a paltry 142. "This Australian team is a very weak side," said Yadav. "In fact, it has to be one of the weakest, if not the weakest ever, Australian teams to tour India. Barring Shane Watson and Michael Clarke, I can't see a single batsman equipped enough to handle the Indian spinners in our conditions. I won't be surprised if India go on to win the series 4-0."
Yadav had excellent returns in Australia, picking up 23 sticks from five Tests at 28.13, with a best of 5 for 99 in Sydney in January 1986. Crucially, he had a vice-like grip over Border, the former Australian captain; of all offspinners worldwide, no one has got rid of Border on more occasions than Yadav, who dismissed him six times in 13 Tests.
"Australia have never been comfortable against offspin," pronounced Yadav. "People like Ghulam Ahmed, Jim Laker, EAS Prasanna and John Emburey have enjoyed good success against them. They are more used to playing fast bowling, but having said that, they have also produced some excellent batsmen against spin and at the end of the day, it's the bowler's skill that counts."
Modest about his returns against Border, Yadav said, "Basically, AB never liked facing offspinners, not unlike most left-hand batsmen. As a rule, batsmen are uncomfortable against any ball going away from them, and I enjoyed bowling to AB. I always had a plan, I always believed in attacking him with close-in fielders so that you can put him under pressure. Without close catchers, there's not much you can do except to keep the batsman quiet. But when you put some pressure with men surrounding the bat, that's when you get rewards. I believed that even in one-day cricket, there should be at least a couple of close-in fielders, but that also necessitated you to bowl to your field."
Yadav has seen R Ashwin blossom from close quarters, and has watched Harbhajan Singh ply his trade for several years now. "Basically, Ashwin is much slower through the air than Harbhajan," offered Yadav. "Harbhajan is the kind of bowler who hits the deck, as a result of which the ball comes on to the bat easily and it becomes easier for the batsman to negotiate him. Ashwin gives the ball more air, which is why he is getting good bite and turn off the pitch. That is the fundamental difference between the two offspinners.
"I personally feel Harbhajan is under pressure, and his body language suggests he is someone who is not totally relaxed. He wants to take a wicket off every ball, and that is not possible. He must try to enjoy his bowing and give the ball more air so that he can take maximum advantage of the conditions on offer. That's what I told Ashwin when we were in Australia - flight the ball because it can then dip in the air. In Australia there may not be much turn, but you can get appreciable bounce. I am quite satisfied with the way Ashwin has bowled in this series, he has exploited whatever assistance there is."
Yadav said he had also spoken to Harbhajan during the course of the second Test. "I told him to relax, and not put himself under so much pressure," revealed Yadav, as classical an offspinner as they come. "You can't get five wickets every innings. He is thinking along the lines of 'I am a 100-Test bowler, I have more than 400 wickets, what will people say if I don't deliver'. That's not the right approach."