June 28, 2012

Bowling

Is spin bowling a dying art?

Aamod Desai
Saqlain Mushtaq in action, India v Pakistan, Asia Test Championship, Eden Gardens, Calcutta, 16-20
The craft of spin bowling was best illustrated by the likes of Saqlain Mushtaq  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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It has been said time and again that subcontinent batsmen are the best players of spin; there would be only a few who wouldn't subscribe to that thought. Yet, about 70% wickets (out of 28) fell to spin during the first three days of the Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Galle; either the track was a rank turner and the bowling exceptional, or the batting skills were inadequate. Quality bowling could be a reason, but this is only the half side of the story. Who are the leading spinners in world cricket at the moment? Harbhajan? Vettori? Swann? Ajmal? Or somebody else?

Harbhajan is out of the Indian side for almost a year now, Vettori has become more of an allrounder, Swann and Ajmal hold promise but would need to deliver something special to join the league of Murali, Warne, Kumble & Co. So is world cricket devoid of players to carry the legacy of Bedi, Chandrashekhar, Underwood, Benaud and Qadir forward? If that is indeed the case then it is a serious threat, for that implies the slow extinction of an important facet of the game. Twenty20 cricket and the Powerplay rule in ODI cricket could be looked upon as the turning point for the spinners' community.

It was speculated that spinners would find it difficult to adapt to the newest format. Seven years on from the first T20I, you find that the assumption is indeed true. Spinners had, have and will continue to have a role in limited-overs cricket, for more often than not it is the batsmen who make a move in pursuit of runs, thereby providing opportunities. But there is a downside when shorter games come into the equation. Test cricket is a completely different avatar altogether, where the bowlers have to be penetrative and matches are won only after the opponent has been dismissed twice. By featuring in coloured clothes more and more often, spinners across the globe have allowed their natural ability to be overtaken by demands of run rates.

The soft seam Kookabura and Dukes balls aren't helping the spinners either; the effects are visible and evident. Spinners are expected to be less effective during the first innings of a Test match, yet Murali, Warne and Kumble are among the top wicket-takers in the first innings.

The art of spin bowling isn't meant to be based on support from the track. Variety in arsenal shouldn't constitute alterations in pace and length only. A spinner shouldn't be the bowler to bowl you through the day, but somebody who can be your attacking option at any point in the day. Saqlain Mushtaq discovered the doosra but the game hasn't really seen any new spinning innovation thereafter. Spin bowling has to be about unpredictability, guile, forming a web, relentless persistence and not about bowling flat after a couple of hits, negative lines, good economy rates and bowling with the field spread.

Bowling quality in general has dropped a few notches from when the likes of Akram, Donald, Warne and Murali played, yet names like Steyn, Anderson, Philander, Zaheer reassure us that seam and swing bowling isn't disappearing altogether. Flatter decks, shorter formats, new-ish balls for a longer period, shorter boundaries, and defensive captaincy have become the trend after the advent of Twenty20 cricket. Today spin bowlers are meant to 'squeeze-in' economical overs and dry up the boundaries, rather than being the wicket-takers in the side.

For the generation that grew up watching likes of Murali, Warne, Kumble, the craft of spin bowling was an integral part of watching cricket. It could be that the change had to come at some point, yet you cannot forget Saqlain's deceptive doosra, long spells from Kumble, Murali's ability to run through a line-up and Warne's jaw-dropping deliveries. Five men around the bat when a spinner is bowling might soon become a rare sight, as almost every spinner today marks his run-up with an eye on the fielders on the boundary line. Maybe that's the way it shall continue to be.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Anonymous on (June 30, 2012, 18:52 GMT)

Saeed Ajmal can never be better than Murali, Kumble, or Warne. Simply because these legends have proved themselves against almost every cricketing nation and every class batsmen in the world and stayed at the top for a significant period of time. Ajmal has a long way to go before he proves himself as a consistent performer. Which is something that he will find very difficult to do given his age and lack of consistent cricketing action.

Posted by Asad on (June 30, 2012, 17:21 GMT)

T20 cricket is turning spinners into medium pacers who bowl with a slight off cut or leg cut. The same is being done to fast bowlers who are seen to be bowling more cutters then they are seam up deliveries. Nonetheless, Ajmal along with Rehman and Swann hold promise and the Pakistan team seems to be one of the few that uses spinners with an aggressive intent.

Posted by anahita on (June 30, 2012, 12:14 GMT)

very true... the advent of t20 has killed the art of 'TRADITIONAL' spin bowling... especially wrist spin bowling (they are indeed a dying breed)... ten years ago there were atleast 10 quality spinners in the world who bowled conventional spin ... now apart from swann and ajmal (and vettori to some extent), every so-called 'spinner' either relies on some mystery action, or firing darts... left arm spinners have come up by the dozen a prime example is harbhajan... before the t20 and ipl, bhajji was one of the best bowlers because he relied on giving the ball air, extracted bounce from the pitch, had an excellent top-spinner & doosra... t20 has made him bowl more defensively, and cutoff all the weapons in his armoury.... swann and ajmal dont play as much t20 cricket and hence are successful....

Posted by Chattha on (June 30, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

Don't really see the point 1. Dude Harbjhan Singh seriously ? 2. Zaheer Khan in the league of styen and anderson ? 3.

Posted by Middlestump on (June 30, 2012, 4:58 GMT)

Cricket changed permanently for the worse in the mid 70s with the introduction of favouritism in rule changes. The game until then was an even contest between bat and ball and no rule was deliberately introduced to favour one aspect of the game over another. The ODI brought artificial limits on the number of overs a bowler is allowed to bowl, and rules about where fielders ought to stand! Of course batsmen were allowed to bat right through the innings. Ever since, all aspects of bowling have been under stress to survive, spin bowling being pressured the most. The so called doosra is no new invention. Earlier it was called the floater. Class spinners like Prasanna, Venkat, Mallet and Gibbs sure used it. Spin bowling as we knew it is almost dead and its survival is now dependant on the occasional brilliant bowler who comes on the scene in test cricket alone. In the shorter circus form of cricket, there is no spin bowling in the real sense. Just some slow-defensive bowling.

Posted by Suresh Murugaser on (June 30, 2012, 4:38 GMT)

I'm at a loss to understand why you have left Herath out of your line-up of present spinners. I feel he only ranks behind Ajmal. Please take a look at his record in all forms of the game!

Posted by lakitha123 on (June 30, 2012, 3:24 GMT)

you can't replace all time greats like Murali,Warne,Lara,Akram,jayasooriya,gilly,pollock,ponting...... they are born only for a century, just like Bradman. So we have to wait and see till new talents arrive to the cricket world.

Posted by Nadeem on (June 30, 2012, 3:22 GMT)

Advent of ODI destroyed spin bowling in 80's and after ward. If you think that Warne, Murli, Saqlain, Kumble were real spinners then you are wrong. The real spinners were of 70's bedi, parsana, etc and qadir. After that every spinner is hybrid version. Warne did not have perfect leg break bowling action. (though he was genius of all time) Kumble was medium fast spinner Murli action is controversial Saqlain did not know any thing other than Dosra.

You will never find a genuine spinner due to T2020 in future at all. Real spin bowling is dead.

Posted by Anonymous on (June 29, 2012, 18:15 GMT)

T20 cricket is dying out the true way cricket should be played.Test Cricket is the ultimate form

Posted by syed muhammad faisal on (June 29, 2012, 18:02 GMT)

it cant be especially when 6 out of top ten odi bowlers are spinners in icc ratings

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