Batting August 3, 2009

The joy of twinkling Clarke

I can't take my eyes off him, when he is batting against spinners. There is something about batsmen who use their feet, and the contest between a courageous spinner and a courageous batsman
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I like watching Michael Clarke bat. He is not quite the stylist in the mould of Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn, the two recent pleasure givers from Australia. His batting is not as much about touch as it is about quick hands. In that, in there is a bit of Steve Waugh in him.

But I can't take my eyes off him, when he is batting against spinners. There is something about batsmen who use their feet, and the contest between a courageous spinner and a courageous batsman is one of the great joys of cricket. It's a battle of wits as well as of skills.

Usually, cricket's central action, the act of bat meeting the ball, or the ball beating the bat, lasts only a moment. The rest is all build up. Watching the bowler galloping can be a sight, but rarely does a run-up reveal anything. But when you see a batsman spring to his feet, it heightens anticipation: you know something is about to happen. Apart from a ball hit in the air in the direction of a fielder, nowhere is the drama as drawn out. That an aggressive stroke is not inevitable only enriches the experience.

In fact, Clarke is one of those who dance down the pitch to defend. That's the way they taught you to play spin in the good old days, but there aren't too many left who do it like that. Most find comfort in the security of the crease, and use their pads as often as they can. And many - and this includes a lot of Indian batsmen - use the sweep as the percentage aggressive stroke against spin. The sweep is a hugely effective stroke, but it is among the least attractive. Clarke played a couple today, but that was perhaps to try out a variation: the sweep is not his preferred option.

I watched Clarke on his debut in Bangalore, and what a dazzler it was. Rarely have I seen anyone, much less a rookie, rough up Anil Kumble with such insouciance and relish. His footwork was both sparkling and certain, when Kumble went around the wicket to bowl the defensive line outside leg stump, Clarke jumped wide off the crease to cart it over his head. Sitting in the dressing room, Shane Warne might have felt avenged. From then on, I have tried to be near the television every time Clarke has come up against a spinner.

I was curious to see how he would deal with Graeme Swann today. By modern standards, Swann is a vanilla offie. His art contains no sleight, but plenty of old-fashioned virtues. He throws the ball up, drifts it away occasionally, and spins it back nicely. Ricky Ponting was a perfect victim yesterday. The flight drew him forward, the drift drew the bat wider from the pad, and the turn got the ball to squeeze through. In the final innings in the previous Test, Clarke had played splendidly till he overran a full ball from Swann and yorked himself. The match was in the balance still when Andrew Strauss summoned his offspinner against Clarke this morning.

The second ball he faced from Swann, Clarke had twinkled down the pitch if only to pat the ball down the pitch. Off the batsmen playing currently, only Virender Sehwag uses his feet as frequently against spin, but not in his worst nightmare would Sehwag contemplate a defensive stroke against a spinner once he has gone down the pitch. But for Clarke, the sashay is a mere extension of his footwork. It makes spinners shorten their length, and when they do, Clarke can rock back in a flash to cut or punch the ball the away.

He gave a perfect illustration of this in the 89th over today. To the fifth ball, he came down the wicket, met the ball on the bounce, and drove it with an open blade to the left side of cover. Swann dropped his length the next ball, but only slightly. It wasn't short enough for a cut, but Clarke used the depth of the crease to punch it to the extra cover boundary.

Muttiah Muralitharan is yet to dismiss him. The first time they squared off in a bilateral series, Clarke took 58 runs off Murali from 92 balls including three sixes. Now how wonderful would it have been to watch him bat in a Test match against Warne. That might have settled a few arguments.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chris on February 17, 2010, 7:36 GMT

    Why does Michael Clarke get picked to play Twenty20?

  • Hemant on August 30, 2009, 21:51 GMT

    Clarke is all twinkling feet against spinners. Australian teams always had one such player. Dean Jones in that epic tie match did that countless times.Great Lara was a sight to behold . And as Sambit so eloquently said - for a batsmen gliding down the wicket against a world-class spin bowler makes cricket such a thrill to watch . Sadly with spin bowlers throwing it flat and heavy bats this spectacle may become a relic soon and that will be a sad day for arm-chair watchers like me.

  • Maxgilli on August 10, 2009, 18:21 GMT

    I think the best player of spin in the last two centuries is Mohammad Azharudin. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • krishna on August 6, 2009, 17:59 GMT

    brian lara was the best batsman against spin,he was utterly destructive consistently.

  • IndianDad on August 6, 2009, 3:47 GMT

    How come no one wants to look beyond late 1990s? Of the batsmen I had watched in the 80s and early 90s, Vengsarkar, Miandad and Zaheer Abbas stand out as being extremely skilled at handling the spinners. These were guys who could always be trusted to score 3/4 runs an over off the best spinners of the time on their best days on helpful pitches of subcontinent. Mohinder Amarnath, Azharuddin and Salim Malik are a few other names that readily come to mind.

    Some of these columnists sound as if Cricket is a game invented in mid 90s. Every list that they come up with is heavily prejudiced in favor of modern day cricketers. That is a bit unfortunate.

  • sting on August 6, 2009, 1:52 GMT

    I too love watching Clark batting. even against pace bowling, one gets the sense of twinkling footwork and a mental direction of looking to score. He's a wonderful entertainer. The player he reminds me of most is Michael Slater, but Slater was just that bit more aggresive and had just that little less respect for all kinds of bowling.

  • Nomi on August 6, 2009, 0:46 GMT

    What kind of drug are people on who compare Clarke with Sehwag? Clarke is class, Sehwag is more suited to baseball.

  • Winston McFarlane on August 5, 2009, 21:44 GMT

    Lara made Australia drop Shane Warne (then vice captain)when the great B.C. Lara kept scoring 100s in the fourth innings during Shane's final visit to the West Indies!!!

  • Rocket on August 5, 2009, 10:33 GMT

    What I liked the most watching these recent innings is his obvious enjoyment at playing the game. He has come in at faily tense times but he is always smiling and joking. It reminds you that it is just a game after all!

  • Simon on August 5, 2009, 4:11 GMT

    I saw Mark Waugh face Shane Warne at the SCG in the mid nineties in a shield game. Fantastic battle. At one stage Warne was bowling around the wicket and Waugh padded up for a while before hitting him over cover. From memory, Waugh won the first innings, Warne the second. M Waugh would probably rate amongst these guys, if he showed off spinners a bit more respect.

  • Chris on February 17, 2010, 7:36 GMT

    Why does Michael Clarke get picked to play Twenty20?

  • Hemant on August 30, 2009, 21:51 GMT

    Clarke is all twinkling feet against spinners. Australian teams always had one such player. Dean Jones in that epic tie match did that countless times.Great Lara was a sight to behold . And as Sambit so eloquently said - for a batsmen gliding down the wicket against a world-class spin bowler makes cricket such a thrill to watch . Sadly with spin bowlers throwing it flat and heavy bats this spectacle may become a relic soon and that will be a sad day for arm-chair watchers like me.

  • Maxgilli on August 10, 2009, 18:21 GMT

    I think the best player of spin in the last two centuries is Mohammad Azharudin. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • krishna on August 6, 2009, 17:59 GMT

    brian lara was the best batsman against spin,he was utterly destructive consistently.

  • IndianDad on August 6, 2009, 3:47 GMT

    How come no one wants to look beyond late 1990s? Of the batsmen I had watched in the 80s and early 90s, Vengsarkar, Miandad and Zaheer Abbas stand out as being extremely skilled at handling the spinners. These were guys who could always be trusted to score 3/4 runs an over off the best spinners of the time on their best days on helpful pitches of subcontinent. Mohinder Amarnath, Azharuddin and Salim Malik are a few other names that readily come to mind.

    Some of these columnists sound as if Cricket is a game invented in mid 90s. Every list that they come up with is heavily prejudiced in favor of modern day cricketers. That is a bit unfortunate.

  • sting on August 6, 2009, 1:52 GMT

    I too love watching Clark batting. even against pace bowling, one gets the sense of twinkling footwork and a mental direction of looking to score. He's a wonderful entertainer. The player he reminds me of most is Michael Slater, but Slater was just that bit more aggresive and had just that little less respect for all kinds of bowling.

  • Nomi on August 6, 2009, 0:46 GMT

    What kind of drug are people on who compare Clarke with Sehwag? Clarke is class, Sehwag is more suited to baseball.

  • Winston McFarlane on August 5, 2009, 21:44 GMT

    Lara made Australia drop Shane Warne (then vice captain)when the great B.C. Lara kept scoring 100s in the fourth innings during Shane's final visit to the West Indies!!!

  • Rocket on August 5, 2009, 10:33 GMT

    What I liked the most watching these recent innings is his obvious enjoyment at playing the game. He has come in at faily tense times but he is always smiling and joking. It reminds you that it is just a game after all!

  • Simon on August 5, 2009, 4:11 GMT

    I saw Mark Waugh face Shane Warne at the SCG in the mid nineties in a shield game. Fantastic battle. At one stage Warne was bowling around the wicket and Waugh padded up for a while before hitting him over cover. From memory, Waugh won the first innings, Warne the second. M Waugh would probably rate amongst these guys, if he showed off spinners a bit more respect.

  • Jason on August 5, 2009, 1:00 GMT

    Totally agree with you about Clarke's ability to play spin using his feet - it is good to see some one out there still doing. Another player I have observed using their feet a bit to the spinners is Brad Haddin. Interesting to see how he develops.

  • md on August 4, 2009, 15:36 GMT

    pup is the best player of spin rite now...its a pleasure to see him play spinners so calmly...he's matured from a flashy player to more of a waugh like player...its great for australian cricket to find a player like him...he'll be one of the greats soon

  • omar hussain on August 4, 2009, 15:27 GMT

    That is a welcome article about a player who is possibly the most durable in the Australian team.I have a hunch Clarke is going to be the foundation of a new Australian team.He is great against the spinners but what strike me most is his diplomacy.I wish him luck.

  • surya on August 4, 2009, 15:18 GMT

    Ya..He is lovely really..But i have found great players of spin differently.VVs doesnt sweep,doesnt loft but yet plays spin beautifully..Sachin,lara and now clarke do almost everything in hand to demoralise spinners.Whereas sehwag's is a curious case.Its always a gamble to see sehwag against a spinner.but frankly,i havent seen anyone destroy a spinner's psyche as he can.clarke to me is the best youngster around all teams considered

  • derrida derider on August 4, 2009, 13:52 GMT

    There's a technical reason why Australians (especially) used to use their feet to spin rather than playing from the crease as most everyone does now. They grew up on fast wickets.

    On a slow turning wicket you can play back to all but full balls, read them off the pitch and use your wrists to score. Subcontinental players were, and are, great exponents of that approach. But where the ball fizzes off the pitch at speed that's a recipe for trouble. It's most obvious against wrist spinners who get lots of bounce; I well remember seeing Dutchie Holland absolutely toying with the great Viv Richards on a wicket like that.

  • Priyank on August 4, 2009, 13:19 GMT

    Michael is good against spinners who don’t extract prodigal bounce from the pitch. He has not been successful on rank turners too. It is premature to say he is the best in world, but he is by far the best in current Aussie line up.

  • Suhaib on August 4, 2009, 13:10 GMT

    Great article, read a few comments aswell about BC being one of the best player of spin, no doubt but could not see the name Sachin Tendulkar. He's definately up there with the all time great players of spin aswell as fast bowling. Another name that occurs to mind is Kallis.

  • Ron Summerton on August 4, 2009, 12:45 GMT

    Nice article - goodness me, you are getting close with your writing to being as good as Michael is at moving from the crease! Well done Sambit Bal

  • Ano on August 4, 2009, 12:29 GMT

    Some of us haven't watched any cricket if we this pup (laugh) is the best (or one of the) player of spin today. Dravid is still by far the best currently and noone beats Brian Lara in last 20 years overall.

    pup (I can't resist) is not even close.

  • The King on August 4, 2009, 11:57 GMT

    Perhaps the greatest Aussie player of spin recently has been Glenn McGrath

  • Fahad Jalil on August 4, 2009, 10:49 GMT

    Very nice article Sambit! I enjoy following you writing on cricket. It seems like an appreciation for the sport. Michael Clarke is definitely a character on the field whose presence on the field will be that of Steve Waugh's after Ponting.. 2nd inning centuries, footwork, all round shots, test match mentality, effectiveness of his occasional spin ..say it all...

  • swaminathan on August 4, 2009, 10:47 GMT

    Ofcourse clarke is a good player of spin bowling.. a special bowler like murali missed him but clarke never escaped from tactics of Bhajji.. T20 inaugural WC will remind u.. also abt sehwag foot movement.. (hard to believe) u could have see gambhir to play some defensive stroke by coming down the track towards spinners.. almost most sub-continent players play spin really well and stylish than any other around the world... And Mate dont forget sachin tendulkar at his age... who is the nightmare for all the world class bowlers around the world including shane, murali and mc grath...

  • ndigits on August 4, 2009, 10:44 GMT

    Clarke does have a known weakness of yorking himself against off-spinners which is a by product of his dancing down the wicket too much. I have seen him getting out this way more then 4 times. As far as playing spinners effectively and looking good at it is concerned, VVS will always be top of the chart.

  • jitendrs on August 4, 2009, 8:49 GMT

    i m bit surprised how u can forget india's best player of spin bowling from gennext who uses his feet superbly against spin bowling and is a trat to watch.....

  • Yohan on August 4, 2009, 8:46 GMT

    Moin, i although i agree Laxman is a great player of spin, MJ Clarke is only 5'9 and Laxman is over 6'2. Height makes it a lot easier against spin!

  • amit on August 4, 2009, 8:42 GMT

    Michael Clarke is very young and best player of his age in this world.He has done very well for his country.He is one of the best player of mine

  • Kishore on August 4, 2009, 7:46 GMT

    I agree with sambit that clarke is one of the best players of spin bowling among current cricketers

  • Sugz on August 4, 2009, 7:43 GMT

    To be honest, I have not been much of a Clarke fan, until I had the pleasure of watching the 4th innings hundred at Lords. What makes his performances so special is that, at no.5 in the batting order, he is more often than not(with this Aus side at least) required to dig the team out of a hole after top order failure. Punter had the advantage of having players like the Waugh's, Martyn, Langer, Hayden and Gilchrest in the side when he was on top of his game, so the team situation was seldom dire. Clarke does not have the benefit of such names before or after him in the batting order.

    That he manages to be the team saviour without falling victim to the sedation that usually comes with added responsibility reveals much about his character. He could, in fact, be the only typically Australian Australian in this side.

  • Vignesh Shenoy on August 4, 2009, 7:34 GMT

    Awesome writing...yeh its a treat to watch pup play spinners with the ease as he does.Its rightly said that he's got dat little touch of senior waugh.All n all he's a prolific player in today's era,much more can be expected from him once he takes the mantle of Australia's captaincy,Aussie fans would definitely be pleased if he inherits Steve Waugh's style of captaincy.

  • Moin on August 4, 2009, 7:18 GMT

    Clarke is really good against spinners and probably among the best at present. But please dont forget VVS Laxman. Laxman may not be using feet as much as Clarke but who better to handle the spinners than Laxman.

  • sukh on August 4, 2009, 7:10 GMT

    did u forget the last ball of the day,the wrong one from amit mishra to dismiss pup in mohali test.i would luv to watch him using feet against a leggie.

  • Sourabh on August 4, 2009, 7:08 GMT

    I think VVS Laxman is also good against spinners, the way he handled Warne, notwithstanding his performance against Mendis.

  • bob c on August 4, 2009, 7:05 GMT

    Oh Tim! Clarke boring? He comes from a great line of classic NSW batsmen - McCabe, Kippax, Trumper. NSW coaches still know about using the feet - it is the malign influence of English coaching that has set back the stylist.

  • Ashok on August 4, 2009, 6:50 GMT

    its a clinically analysed article. keep it up.

  • Muthu on August 4, 2009, 5:37 GMT

    Nice Article to pay tribute to one of final Torch bearers to Stylish batting... Keep it up Sambit...

  • faisal on August 4, 2009, 5:28 GMT

    First,I want to give my salutation to you sambit,the articles that you posted get no poles apart from your usuals,a sparkling one,a great insight of the tiniest details.I always liked Mark Waugh whether he was playing against a fierce spell of fast bowling or a cunning one of spin but watching someone like Clarke playing the latter is also something.This current Australian squad is turning out to be a fade empire with only last great man standing(of course Ponting) but the hope of "empire strikes back" can come only if someone like clarke can take the relay from him rightfully and jhonson decide to stay with his mom.

  • Theena on August 4, 2009, 5:20 GMT

    Clarke is awesome, but Martyn, among recent Aussies, was, I thought, the best player of spin. Of course all of them pale in comparison to Lara's defensive and offensive play against spinner. Now THAT is a sight to behold.

  • Ajay on August 4, 2009, 4:35 GMT

    Nice post. Clarke is a real talent and no wonder why he is tipped to takeover captaincy after Ponting retires. In the current squad I think only Clarke and Hussey are better players of Spin

  • raj on August 4, 2009, 4:11 GMT

    I predict he will be "the best batsman in the world" soon, and will hold this title for a long long time.

  • Tim on August 4, 2009, 4:07 GMT

    Clarke is solid and dependable. But man is he boring to watch, like Waugh was. If you can't take your eyes off Clarke, then the likes of Tendulkar (for all his faults) and Ponting (for all his) must really blow your mind

  • Samuel Sisti on August 4, 2009, 4:00 GMT

    I love reading your blogs.

    Watching Warne against Clarke would be something wonderful and inspiring. I always watch spin bowlers because when I get the chance; it is a true art form. Whether it's Marcus North on a dead WACA pitch after school, or Muthiah Muralitharan at Kandy, there is something hypnotising and masterfull about spinners.

    And something elegant and gracefull about Michael Clarke.

  • Fabian Holt on August 4, 2009, 3:39 GMT

    Great article Sambit! Thank you! Cheers!

  • Andrew Vidor on August 4, 2009, 3:38 GMT

    How right you are Sambit Bal. It is a delight to watch Clarke playing spin. I fear he will be one of the last such players who use their feet so beautifully. Let us hope that eventually he becomes coach to a new generation of batsmen.

  • DK on August 4, 2009, 2:57 GMT

    Agreed that Clarke is a 'good' player of spin and one of the very few players in the modern era who use their feet to spinners. But is he in the same league as Sachin circa 1998 (vs Warne), VVS circa 2001-02 (vs Warne), Lara circa 2001-02 (vs Murali and co in Sri Lanka) or Sehwag circa 2008 (vs Murali and Mendis)? Don't think so.

    Murali hasn't dismissed him as the only time they played was in Australia (Nov 2007) where the bounce is true and Murali has traditionally struggled down under.

    It would be very interesting to see how Pup fares against Murali, Mendis and any other Sri Lankan spinner in Sri Lanka. The last time I checked, Pup averaged around 35 during the series against India where he faced an out-of-form Kumble, Harbajan and Amit Mishra.

  • Abhishek G on August 4, 2009, 2:51 GMT

    Nice article... never liked clarke .. especiallyd due to his condescending attitude towards Symonds playful/ Aussie nature and his reports to the CA to ensure remedial action for Symond..

    BUT that said.. he is a good player of Spin.. in fact .most current players of good spin are Non Indians.. something our past icons would rue... yuvi should learn some tricks... from an extremely able competitor..

  • Luke on August 4, 2009, 2:49 GMT

    I've learnt so much from watching Clark play against spin. Using the crease so well he gives himself the best opportunity to play a shot he wants to play. And if it isn't there to hit powerfully he has the eye to bat it down gently: not offering a catch to close in fielders. I hop that when Ponting retires Clark remins at 5 like Waugh did as his role with the bat will be to anchor the innings.

  • Nicholas Thomas on August 4, 2009, 0:40 GMT

    I agree with you totally on this one. The first time I ever saw Micheal play spin I thought this guy was special. However, the best player of spin I have ever seen is the great BC. Lara. Just asked Murali and Warne.

  • Elayaraja Muthuswamy on August 4, 2009, 0:10 GMT

    Brian Lara has been the best player of spin bowling among players in the last two decades.

  • Yogesh on August 3, 2009, 23:09 GMT

    The first time i saw him in the 2003 Tri-Series in India, his footwork against Vettori was so impressive. Truly it was refreshing to watch his style against spinners. Sehwag and Clarke are probably the most fascinating batsmen to watch against spinners. Clarke holds the slight edge among them as he gives spinners little more respect. I think Clarke for Ponting was a boon in disguise for Aussies as regards them conquering the final frontier.

  • Vinod Gangaputhran on August 3, 2009, 22:56 GMT

    Bravo...nice article, a pleasure to read...keep it up

  • LM on August 3, 2009, 22:17 GMT

    Couldn't agree more. Regardless of what else I think of him, Clarke is far and away the best player of spin in cricket today. There's just something mesmerizing about the way he plays.

  • Deepanjan Datta on August 3, 2009, 21:49 GMT

    Was among the few fortunate enough to follow his dazzling debut at Bangalore. Indeed, he is by far, the most assured of footwork against spinners among the recent Australians. What sets apart the version-II of Clarke from the sprightly one who collared Kumble and Harbhajan is his grit, and ability to knuckle down. Like Ponting or Tendulkar he has matured to the need of adding steel to style.

    Personally, i'd love to see him face spinners who toss it up, using the teasing loop and flight more than the turn, to see how his footwork adapts to the time lapse and judgment of length. In that respect i'd relish someone like Daniel Vettori or Ramesh Powar up against him !!

  • Lou on August 3, 2009, 21:31 GMT

    Lovely article. Dancing down the pitch to defend is very rare. He just looks right against spin bowling.

  • Yaswanth on August 3, 2009, 20:55 GMT

    Yaa when it comes to spinners,clarke uses his feet very well and about sehwag,sehwag is always a victim for spinners...Sehwag uses his feet?? that should be a joke

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  • Yaswanth on August 3, 2009, 20:55 GMT

    Yaa when it comes to spinners,clarke uses his feet very well and about sehwag,sehwag is always a victim for spinners...Sehwag uses his feet?? that should be a joke

  • Lou on August 3, 2009, 21:31 GMT

    Lovely article. Dancing down the pitch to defend is very rare. He just looks right against spin bowling.

  • Deepanjan Datta on August 3, 2009, 21:49 GMT

    Was among the few fortunate enough to follow his dazzling debut at Bangalore. Indeed, he is by far, the most assured of footwork against spinners among the recent Australians. What sets apart the version-II of Clarke from the sprightly one who collared Kumble and Harbhajan is his grit, and ability to knuckle down. Like Ponting or Tendulkar he has matured to the need of adding steel to style.

    Personally, i'd love to see him face spinners who toss it up, using the teasing loop and flight more than the turn, to see how his footwork adapts to the time lapse and judgment of length. In that respect i'd relish someone like Daniel Vettori or Ramesh Powar up against him !!

  • LM on August 3, 2009, 22:17 GMT

    Couldn't agree more. Regardless of what else I think of him, Clarke is far and away the best player of spin in cricket today. There's just something mesmerizing about the way he plays.

  • Vinod Gangaputhran on August 3, 2009, 22:56 GMT

    Bravo...nice article, a pleasure to read...keep it up

  • Yogesh on August 3, 2009, 23:09 GMT

    The first time i saw him in the 2003 Tri-Series in India, his footwork against Vettori was so impressive. Truly it was refreshing to watch his style against spinners. Sehwag and Clarke are probably the most fascinating batsmen to watch against spinners. Clarke holds the slight edge among them as he gives spinners little more respect. I think Clarke for Ponting was a boon in disguise for Aussies as regards them conquering the final frontier.

  • Elayaraja Muthuswamy on August 4, 2009, 0:10 GMT

    Brian Lara has been the best player of spin bowling among players in the last two decades.

  • Nicholas Thomas on August 4, 2009, 0:40 GMT

    I agree with you totally on this one. The first time I ever saw Micheal play spin I thought this guy was special. However, the best player of spin I have ever seen is the great BC. Lara. Just asked Murali and Warne.

  • Luke on August 4, 2009, 2:49 GMT

    I've learnt so much from watching Clark play against spin. Using the crease so well he gives himself the best opportunity to play a shot he wants to play. And if it isn't there to hit powerfully he has the eye to bat it down gently: not offering a catch to close in fielders. I hop that when Ponting retires Clark remins at 5 like Waugh did as his role with the bat will be to anchor the innings.

  • Abhishek G on August 4, 2009, 2:51 GMT

    Nice article... never liked clarke .. especiallyd due to his condescending attitude towards Symonds playful/ Aussie nature and his reports to the CA to ensure remedial action for Symond..

    BUT that said.. he is a good player of Spin.. in fact .most current players of good spin are Non Indians.. something our past icons would rue... yuvi should learn some tricks... from an extremely able competitor..