June 24, 2012

Bowling

The conundrum of mystery bowlers

Ewan Day-Collins
Ajantha Mendis is pumped up after bowling Brad Haddin first ball, Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Twenty20, Pallekele, August 8, 2011
Ajantha Mendis was the first authentic mystery spinner of this era  © Associated Press
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Since the introduction of Twenty20, the mystery bowler, particularly the mystery spinner, has had an unprecedented impact on the game. Coupled with the addition of the Decision Review System, which has seemingly instilled a greater confidence in umpires to award marginal decisions, mystery has thrived. Ajantha Mendis became perhaps the first authentic mystery bowler of this era. Initial success stemmed from being undefined. He seemed to possess countless deliveries, with players such as Sunil Narine and R Ashwin replicating this. Carrom balls have overtaken the doosra, and the cycle continues.

However, quickly batsmen have studied these variations, implemented the necessary technical adjustments and have successfully combated the creation of different deliveries. Mendis was swiftly rendered useless, and doubtless Narine will follow the Sri Lankan to the wayside.

Jade Dernbach, the England fast bowler, may share little with the mystery spinner. He is, though, remarkably alike. He concocted a devastating back-of-the-hand slower ball, alongside several others which deceived batsmen with astonishing success. Yet, he seems to have gone the way of the mystery spinner. The central flaw in Dernbach's method was always his lack of a "stock ball." While possessing indisputable skill, so as to bowl the impressive slower deliveries, perhaps his tenacious development of this particular ball had prevented or inhibited the basics to be sustained. Usually, these additions merely complement a consistently fast, good-length ball. Eventually batsmen played Dernbach with greater ease, knowing that the likelihood of a slower ball was high, but the likelihood of a brilliant ball low. He seems to have copied the timeline of a mystery spinner - successful in the short term, yet unproductive in the long-term.

T20, though, has given an opportunity to these mystery bowlers. An allotment of four overs is such a small period that consistency is not required. Coupled with the batsman's natural aggression, wickets are likely. Dernbach continues to prosper in the shortest format, but struggled in 50-over cricket where regularity is essential.

This is not to say, though, that variation is disadvantageous. Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne perhaps stimulated the utilising of spin as an attacking weapon. They both possessed variation. Yet, they also, as is imperative in spin bowling if success is to be maintained, used variation in flight and dip, alongside a rarely exploited turning difference to great prosperity.

To bowl 30 overs in a Test innings requires a certain level of consistency. Mystery does not provide this, perhaps as a result of not having a "stock ball." As mystery spin, specifically, does not seem to mean deception in flight, but variation in turn, part of the most potent weapon of a spin bowler is lost. As Dernbach discovered, a fast bowler has to be able to bowl a good-length delivery to survive in longer formats, not just change his pace.

Therefore, mystery bowling's greatest strength, the unpredictability, is also its greatest weakness, the inconsistency. Paradoxically, the unpredictable, with time, becomes predictable, the mystery eventually revealed. This is the conundrum.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by danoz on (June 30, 2012, 11:03 GMT)

as some who bowls both leg spin and off spin aswell as the iverson ball and the gleeson ball if i were telling some one who to play ajanta mendis i would say reverse the spin(which is what the iverson ball is a hard to detect wrong un and the gleeson ball is a front of the hand back spinning off break which turns to the leg)

i bowl the iverson ball with my ring finger not my middle finger like iverson and bowl my gleeson ball with my index and middle finger(using 2 fingers) unlike gleeson using just his middle finger

this flick spin bowled by a pace bowler dips when bowled,bowled as you would bowl a pace letting your ring finger imparting topspin it would be a good slower ball for fast bowlers.

a mendis would be more effective if he had a traditional off break and leg break

i have invented a flick spin off break by bending my thumb and index finger with my ring finger curled around the seam,i have lots of variations which with the position of my wrist, which i will expain

Posted by Dean Frenkel on (June 28, 2012, 23:49 GMT)

Ajantha Mendis is not finished, he has been injured (his back) since the 2011 World Cup. Indeed batsmen desperately used technology to study him but this was because he was so devastating. His last great performance was 6 for 16 against the Aussies. Remember that he has not yet publicly responded to the batsmans' response and has not been given the chance to evolve as a spinner. He has only played 15 Tests - if he does evolve, watch out!! Few spinners can make impact like him.

Posted by ACRICFanInMclean on (June 28, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

Not saying ajanta mendis is a bad bowler but his bowling had only made an impact in cricket for about one year. He is out of the playing 11 for a reason and that reason is because every test plating nation has played him before. Mystery spin is nothing but hiding the spin of the ball its self. If you hide the spin of the ball , that would be a mystery to the batsman. Ajanta mendis was a one time wonder I doubt any of us will see him playing international cricket anymore.Variations are not a mystery if a batsman can read him. But they can be mysteries if he cant read them. And I believe that you havent watched cricket in the past 2 years or you would have mentioned Ajmal. Ajmal IS the best spinner in cricket currently, its because of his variations which he hides so well, which in my mind makes him a mystery bowler. I also think that Murli and Warne should be given much more credit then you have given them. These are the top 3 bowlers of the decade and for many batsman there Mysteries!

Posted by d_tech_will on (June 27, 2012, 1:15 GMT)

England was so worried by the news of narine's inclusion in the test squad, that they prepared all of their wickets to favor pace attacks. They probably forgot that swan was a part of their sqaud, and so, like narine, he too struggled.

England's batsmen still cannot truly read narine. They only play him when he delivers them short-balls since they try to read off the pitch instead of from his hand. If I'm reading you off the pitch, obviously I'd be more observant and easily able to spot the short-ball. They are extra cautious against nairne than they are against any other bowler. See how Trott was caught behind? He could have played on the front foot but since reading from the hand was a problem, he chose to wait on the ball and was out when it didn't spin. The batsmen who played him straight back over his head only did so since they knew the wicket didn't offer much assistance to spinners.

next time England tours the West Indies, they'll be fully tested against true mystery spin.

Posted by Sam on (June 26, 2012, 8:26 GMT)

Saeed Ajmal is labelled a mystery spinner sometimes though, and he has been hugely successful! The stock ball is key, as you said, but it is clearly possible to have mystery and a good stock delivery. As well its too early to write off Narine, his off-break is much better than Mendis' because it actually turns and bounces. Just wait till he plays NZ in Windies conditions, better spinners than him have struggled in foreign conditions.

Posted by Siddhartha gupta on (June 25, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

Smart article I remember how Yuvraj said after he scored a century against Sri lanka and played Mendis with ease that he'd been advised by Sachin to play Mendis like a fast bowler, and that had worked wonders.

Posted by Murtaza on (June 25, 2012, 15:30 GMT)

If Carrom balls have overtaken the Doosra, then why didn't narine and mendis prosper for long at international circuit??

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