August 5, 2009

Batting

If I ever have a conversation with Warne...

Sambit Bal
VVS Laxman drives on his way to 281, India v Australia, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day, March 14, 2001
VVS Laxman drives during his epic 281 in Kolkata  © AFP
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As some of you promptly pointed out, I forgot to mention Gautam Gambhir in my post on batsmen who use their feet against spinners. Hell, Gambhir even jumps down the pitch against the quick bowlers, and that takes some nerve. He was India's best batsman on their last Test tour of Sri Lanka, where some of his more illustrious colleagues struggled to decode Ajantha Mendis. Virender Sehwag's double-century in Galle was the innings of the series, but Gambhir was the most consistent and secure Indian batsman on tour.

For sheer viewing pleasure, though, I'd still go for Michael Clarke. Gambhir is quick out of crease, but he is more jerky, and he moves around a bit too much; sometimes he gives himself away by moving out too early. Clarke is more fluid and graceful and he keeps the bowlers guessing.

Traditionally, Indian batsmen have always used their feet against the spinners, as have the Australians. Good players of spin bowling don't merely hit booming shots after having come down pitch, but often knock the ball around for singles. Sunil Gavaskar, who had the surest footwork, did it all the time, as did Ravi Shastri. Gavaskar never swept. And he rarely lofted the ball.

So also VVS Laxman. Of the all the things he did at the Eden Gardens in 2001, his driving against Shane Warne was the most sensational. One ball, he'd drive Warne off the rough and against the spin through midwicket. The next, Warne would go fractionally wider and Laxman would drive it inside-out through cover. He was god that day.

Of course, no one did better for a whole series than Brian Lara. Warne has confessed to having nightmares about Sachin Tendulkar jumping down the pitch; I wonder what visions Muttiah Muralitharan had in his sleep in those days in 2001, when Lara tormented him with the most dazzling array of strokes you could ever see employed against a spinner. In picking the ball out of the bowler's hand, Lara had few rivals.

Carl Hooper, his team-mate, was one. I was told this delightful story about Hooper by a cricketer. Warne forever looked for little signs in batsmen that would give him foreknowledge about a possible sortie down the pitch. But Hooper proved impossible to decipher. He stayed still till the last possible moment, and never left the crease before the ball was delivered. Finally, after many overs, and many videotapes, Warne cracked it. It was in the eyes. If Hooper had decided to advance down the pitch, his eyes widened and the stare grew a bit harder in the stance.

If I ever have a conversation with Warne, the first thing I will ask him is if he managed to exploit this knowledge.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by mark adams on (January 11, 2010, 19:32 GMT)

Lara never did handle the Indian spinners in India over time. Minus his exploits against Murali in Sri Lanka in the 2001 series, he descends to the ranks of all the others mentioned who performed creditably against spin. For sheer artistry against spin bowling period, my money is with Hooper, Azhar, M. Waugh, VVS and Miandad

Posted by Andy on (September 6, 2009, 1:25 GMT)

Well, I am a believer that spinners can play other spinners a bit better if they are an all-rounder. If I could ask Warne a question, why the hell is Adil Rashid considered a leg spinner when he barley turns the ball on a pitch? I watched the recent ODI against Aus (my home country) and he batted well but spun the ball like a left arm orthodox. He had no turn.

Posted by Biju on (September 1, 2009, 8:53 GMT)

I think most people responding to this article are missing the point (maybe one person pointed out the same earlier).Sambit is not really stressing so much on the 'better' players of spin (Miandad, Sidhu etc) but on the most pleasing to watch. Definitely Azhar would fit. But didn't he look good against anything (except bounce which he could not really cope with!). So my thought is that there are some batsmen who look good....period! It does not matter what kind of bowling it is. If their innings lasted for any decent amount of time, it was a pleasure to watch. Azhar, VVS, Lara, Gower, Hooper, Roy Dias, Zaheer Abbas, GV, Mark Waugh etc. all fall into that category? Or are there really batsmen who was pleasing to watch against only one type of bowling .I mean say Azhar, like I said he struggled against genuine bounce but if his innings lasted for a bit, then he used to 'look' good even against them (even if it was for just 30 or 40 runs!). Any thoughts anyone?

Posted by Biju on (September 1, 2009, 8:53 GMT)

I think most people responding to this article are missing the point (maybe one person pointed out the same earlier).Sambit is not really stressing so much on the 'better' players of spin (Miandad, Sidhu etc) but on the most pleasing to watch. Definitely Azhar would fit. But didn't he look good against anything (except bounce which he could not really cope with!). So my thought is that there are some batsmen who look good....period! It does not matter what kind of bowling it is. If their innings lasted for any decent amount of time, it was a pleasure to watch. Azhar, VVS, Lara, Gower, Hooper, Roy Dias, Zaheer Abbas, GV, Mark Waugh etc. all fall into that category? Or are there really batsmen who was pleasing to watch against only one type of bowling .I mean say Azhar, like I said he struggled against genuine bounce but if his innings lasted for a bit, then he used to 'look' good even against them (even if it was for just 30 or 40 runs!). Any thoughts anyone?

Posted by Biju on (September 1, 2009, 8:52 GMT)

I think most people responding to this article are missing the point (maybe one person pointed out the same earlier).Sambit is not really stressing so much on the 'better' players of spin (Miandad, Sidhu etc) but on the most pleasing to watch. Definitely Azhar would fit. But didn't he look good against anything (except bounce which he could not really cope with!). So my thought is that there are some batsmen who look good....period! It does not matter what kind of bowling it is. If their innings lasted for any decent amount of time, it was a pleasure to watch. Azhar, VVS, Lara, Gower, Hooper, Roy Dias, Zaheer Abbas, GV, Mark Waugh etc. all fall into that category? Or are there really batsmen who was pleasing to watch against only one type of bowling .I mean say Azhar, like I said he struggled against genuine bounce but if his innings lasted for a bit, then he used to 'look' good even against them (even if it was for just 30 or 40 runs!). Any thoughts anyone?

Posted by Vinod Krishnan on (August 31, 2009, 16:04 GMT)

Clarke..the BEST player of spin..? Well, I've gotta say he's certainly the BEST defensive player against quality spin I've ever seen. The best player of spin all-round..BC LARA...no question. Great eye-sight,good hands,superb wrists,quick silver feet..just MAGNIFICENT to watch when at or near his best.

Posted by Shannon on (August 29, 2009, 4:19 GMT)

it's good to see how people backing up their fav players against spin, in my opinion no one can ever single out 1 batsman as a the greatest of spin (definitely not clarke), coz there were way too many good players against spin i think mahele jayawardena is one of them too

Posted by theeban tavarasa on (August 28, 2009, 20:05 GMT)

how comes no one mention Andy Flower?

Posted by S.V.Ramanan on (August 16, 2009, 4:51 GMT)

We are forgetting Alvin Kallicharan and our own G.R, Visvanath.It is a pleasure to behold both dancing down the pitch.Another player, whom we can not exactly call very good against spin, is Clive Lloyd, who , with sheer brute force and coming down half the pitch on two strides and whack!

Posted by Straddler on (August 11, 2009, 11:49 GMT)

While I too rate Lara as the best modern player of spin (amazing footwork - as graceful as a ballet dancer), I don't believe he was better than other great modern players at reading it from the bowler's hand. He struggled to pick Saqlain's doosra in the Test series in Pakistan, 1997 (as did Tendulkar, etc.) and dominated Murli in the 2001 series, but that was before Murli developed the doosra too. But I do agree no batsman was more thrilling against spin in the last 2 decades.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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