No one has taken more wickets (640) in Ranji Trophy history than Haryana’s Rajinder Goel. But the left-arm spinner never got an opportunity to play for India because his contemporary happened to be Bishan Singh Bedi. Despite his colossal accomplishment, his legacy was lost—Haryana failed to produce skilful spinners for many generations after his retirement in the mid-1980s.
Then the proverbial wheel came full circle with the arrival of leg-spinner Amit Mishra. In an ironic comparability, Mishra’s early years also coincided with Anil Kumble’s.
Though Mishra was fortuitous to get his break for India in One Day Internationals (ODIs) in 2003, it was only after Kumble’s retirement in 2008 that he got his Test cap. He has since played 78 international matches across formats so far.
Mishra may not have been a regular feature for India for various reasons yet his never-say-die attitude inspired a new generation of Haryana cricketers who could dream of playing for India. “He has been a warrior for our state team and an inspiration for youngsters,” says Yuzvendra Chahal. “During the Bengaluru Twenty20, he advised me on varying pace in the second spell as I bowled a little full with the new ball.”
Chahal, another leg-spinner from Haryana, now has the best-ever bowling figures (six wickets for 24 runs) for India in Twenty20 internationals, which he achieved against England in that Bengaluru match on 1 February.
If Chahal will be competing with his senior, 34-year-old Mishra, for a place in the Twenty20 and ODI teams, the latter is also facing the heat from another state-mate, Jayant Yadav, 27, in Test cricket.
When Mishra was dropped from the team for the second Test against England in Visakhapatnam in November, his replacement, Jayant, grabbed the opportunity and played the next three matches (9 wickets at an average of 29.55, 221 runs at an average of 73.66). Mishra played in the last Test in Chennai because Jayant suffered an injury. But Jayant is likely to play against Bangladesh in the match starting in Hyderabad today if captain Virat Kohli decides to go with three spinners (R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being the other two) after Mishra pulled out on Tuesday (Kuldeep Yadav has replaced him in the team).
“It is the nature of cricket. One generation goes and the next comes in. More so in this age, there is a tremendous amount of competition for every place in the Indian team,” says former India player Joginder Sharma.
“You shouldn’t be comparing Mishra either with Jayant or Chahal because they have just started, while Mishra has been doing well for a long time both for his state and country,” adds Sharma, who represents Haryana in domestic cricket and has spent a lot of time with these spinners.
Mishra has rarely enjoyed his captain’s confidence, which is so essential for prolonged success at the international level. Not once but twice in his ODI career, Mishra has been dropped from the playing XI after being adjudged Man of the Series in his previous assignment.
“You can easily sense that both (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni and Kohli prefer youngsters with athleticism and fielding ability, so Mishra will face stiff competition from his fellow state players,” says Vijay Yadav, a former India player and current coach of Haryana.
Yet, Mishra is known to have guided and mentored both Jayant and Chahal selflessly. For the first time in his eight seasons of first-class cricket, Chahal, 26, played more than five Ranji Trophy games in a season. In the absence of Mishra (he played just two matches) and Jayant, Chahal became Haryana’s most successful bowler this season, with 33 wickets from seven games.
“Jayant and I have been friends for over 15 years and have been together since our junior days for Haryana. Apart from my interactions with him and Mishi bhai, the exposure to (Indian Premier League) IPL has certainly helped me a lot,” says Chahal, who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“It’s nice to see that they look up to me for guidance and advice. We have had a great time in Haryana and I try to help as much as I can,” says Mishra.
It’s not merely good PR or diplomacy when the trio speaks about each other—many in the Haryana dressing room believe that the camaraderie is genuine. “It’s Haryana’s culture of (people) helping each other. Mishra always spoke highly of Jayant and Chahal as future India prospects,” says Joginder.
Vijay adds: “Mishra might feel a bit of insecurity since the youngsters have time (on their side). But in the end it’s good for everyone, the individuals and the teams, since all of them will try to improve.”
In the mid-1980s, the greatest bowler from Haryana, Kapil Dev, was ably supported by his state-mate and fellow pace bowler Chetan Sharma—even as Goel’s domestic career neared an end. Since Dev’s retirement, Mishra has been the best bowler from Haryana in almost a quarter- century.
Mishra still has a few years left, but along with Jayant and Chahal, he can take pride in reviving the art of spin bowling in his state.
Goel, 74, currently chairman of selectors of the Haryana Cricket Association, perhaps won’t be able to miss the great irony that today not just one, but three spinners from his state are in the reckoning for India across formats.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.