'A good spinner needs a ten-year apprenticeship'
Terry Jenner played nine Tests for Australia in the 1970s but it is as a coach, and specifically as Shane Warne's mentor and the man Warne turned to in a crisis, that he is better known. Jenner said that his CV wouldn't be complete without a trip to India, the spiritual home of spin bowling, and this September he finally made it when he was invited by the MAC Spin Foundation to train youngsters in Chennai. Jenner spoke at length to Cricinfo on the art and craft of spin bowling in general and legspin in particular. What follows is the first in a two-part interview.
How has the role of spin changed over the decades you've watched cricket?
The limited-overs game has made the major change to spin bowling. When I started playing, for example, you used to break partnerships in the first couple of the days of the match and then on the last couple of days you were expected to play more of a major role. But in recent years, with the entry of Shane Warne, who came on on the first day of the Test and completely dominated on good pitches, it has sort of changed the specs that way.
But the difficulty I'm reading at the moment is that captains and coaches seem to be of the opinion that spin bowlers are there either to rest the pace bowlers or to just keep it tight; they are not allowed to risk runs to gain rewards. That's the biggest change.
In the 1960s, when I first started, you were allowed to get hit around the park a bit, as long as you managed to get wickets - it was based more on your strike-rate than how many runs you went for. So limited-overs cricket has influenced bowlers to bowl a negative line and not the attacking line, and I don't know with the advent of Twenty20 how we'll advance. We will never go back, unfortunately, to the likes of Warne and the wrist-spinners before him who went for runs but the quality was more.
What are the challenges of being a spinner in modern cricket?
The huge challenge is just getting to bowl at club level through to first-class level. When you get to the first-class level they tend to you allow you to bowl, but once you get to bowl, instead of allowing you to be a free spirit, you are restricted to men around the bat - push it through, don't let the batsman play the stroke, don't free their arms up ... all those modern thoughts on how the spinner should bowl.
Do spinners spin the ball less these days?
The capacity to spin is still there, but to spin it you actually have to flight it up, and if you flight it up there's always that risk of over-pitching and the batsman getting you on the full, and therefore the risk of runs being scored. So if you consider the general mentality of a spinner trying to bowl dot balls and bowl defensive lines, then you can't spin it.
I'll give you an example of an offspin bowler bowling at middle and leg. How far does he want to spin it? If he needs to spin it, he needs to bowl a foot outside the off stump and spin it back, but if he has to bowl a defensive line then he sacrifices the spin, otherwise he'll be just bowling down the leg side.
|It's impossible for you to try and take a wicket every ball, but when you're really young that's what you do - you just try and spin it as hard as you can and take the consequences, and that usually means you don't get to bowl many overs. The art of improving is when you learn how to get into your overs, get out of your overs, and use the middle deliveries to attack|
Legspinners bowling at leg stump or just outside - there's been so few over the years capable of spinning the ball from just outside leg past off, yet that's the line they tend to bowl. So I don't think they spin it any less; the capacity to spin is still wonderful. I still see little kids spinning the ball a long way. I take the little kids over to watch the big kids bowl and I say, "Have a look: the big kids are all running in off big, long runs, jumping high in the air and firing it down there, and more importantly going straight." And I say to the little kids, "They once were like you. And one of you who hangs on to the spin all the way through is the one that's gonna go forward."
Great spinners have always bowled at the batsman and not to the batsman. But the trend these days is that spinners are becoming increasingly defensive.
First of all they play him [the young spinner] out of his age group. Earlier the idea of finding a good, young talent, when people identified one, was that they didn't move him up and play him in the higher grade or in the higher age group. There was no different age-group cricket around back then, and if you were a youngster you went into the seniors and you played in the bottom grade and then you played there for a few years while you learned the craft and then they moved you to the next grade. So you kept going till you came out the other end and that could've been anywhere around age 19, 20, 21 or whatever. Now the expectation is that by the time you are 16 or 17 you are supposed to be mastering this craft.
It's a long apprenticeship. If you find a good 10- or 11-year-old, he needs to have a ten-year apprenticeship at least. There's a rule of thumb here that says that if the best there's ever been, which is Shane Warne - and there is every reason to believe he is - sort of started to strike his best at 23-24, what makes you think we can find 18- or 19-year-olds to do it today? I mean, he [Warne] has only been out of the game for half an hour and yet we're already expecting kids to step up to the plate much, much before they are ready.
It's a game of patience with spin bowlers and developing them. It's so important that we are patient in helping them, understanding their need for patience, at the same time understanding from outside the fence - as coach, captain etc. We need to understand them and allow them to be scored off, allow them to learn how to defend themselves, allow them to understand that there are times when you do need to defend. But most of the time the art of the spin bowler is to get the batsman to look to drive you. That's where your wickets come, that's where you spin it most.
Warne said you never imposed yourself as a coach.
With Warne, when I first met him he bowled me a legbreak which spun nearly two feet-plus, and I was just in awe. All I wanted to do was try and help that young man become the best he could be, just to help him understand his gift, understand what he had, and to that end I never tried to change him. That's what he meant by me never imposing myself. We established a good relationship based on the basics of bowling and his basics were always pretty good. Over the years whenever he wandered away from them, we worked it back to them. There were lot of times over his career where, having a bowled a lot of overs, some bad habits had come in. It was not a case of standing over him. I was just making him aware of where he was at the moment and how he could be back to where he was when he was spinning them and curving them. His trust was the most important gift that he gave me, and it's an important thing for a coach to understand not to breach that trust. That trust isn't about secrets, it's about the trust of the information you give him, that it won't harm him, and that was our relationship.
I don't think of myself as an authority on spin bowling. I see myself as a coach who's developed a solid learning by watching and working with the best that's been, and a lot of other developing spinners. So I'm in a terrific business-class seat because I get to see a lot of this stuff and learn from it, and of course I've spoken to Richie Benaud quite a lot over the years.
Shane would speak to Abdul Qadir and he would feed back to me what Abdul Qadir said. Most people relate your knowledge to how many wickets you took and I don't think that's relevant. I think it's your capacity to learn and deliver, to communicate that what you've learned back to people.
From the outside it seems like there is a problem of over-coaching these days.
There are so many coaches now. We have specialist coaches, general coaches, we've got sports science and psychology. Coaching has changed.
Shane, in his retirement speech, referred to me as his technical coach (by which he meant technique), as Dr Phil [the psychologist on the Oprah Winfrey Show]. That means when he wanted someone to talk to, I was the bouncing board. He said the most uplifting thing ever said about me: that whenever he rang me, when he hung the phone up he always felt better for having made the call.
"Think high, spin up" was the first mantra you shared with Warne. What does it mean?
When I first met Shane his arm was quite low, and back then, given I had no genuine experience of coaching spin, I asked Richie Benaud and made him aware of this young Shane Warne fellow and asked him about the shoulder being low. Richie said, "As long as he spins it up from the hand, it'll be fine." But later, when we tried to introduce variations, we talked about the topspinner and I said to Shane, "You're gonna have to get your shoulder up to get that topspinner to spin over the top, otherwise it spins down low and it won't produce any shape." So when he got back to his mark the trigger in his mind was "think high, spin up", and when he did that he spun up over the ball and developed the topspinner. Quite often even in the case of the legbreak it was "think high, spin up" because his arm tended to get low, especially after his shoulder operation.
Can you explain the risk-for-reward theory that you teach youngsters about?
This is part of learning the art and craft. It's impossible for you to try and take a wicket every ball, but when you're really young that's what you do - you just try and spin it as hard as you can and take the consequences, and that usually means you don't get to bowl many overs. The art of improving is when you learn how to get into your overs, get out of your overs, and use the middle deliveries in an over to attack. I called them the risk and reward balls in an over. In other words, you do risk runs off those deliveries but you can also gain rewards.
There's been no one in the time that I've been around who could theoretically bowl six wicket-taking balls an over other than SK Warne. The likes of [Anil] Kumble ... he's trying to keep the lines tight and keep you at home, keep you at home while he works on you, but he's not trying to get you out every ball, he's working a plan.
The thing about excellent or great bowlers is that they rarely go for a four or a six off the last delivery. That is the point I make to kids, explaining how a mug like me used to continually go for a four or six off the last ball of the over while trying to get a wicket so I could stay on. And when you do that, that's the last thing your captain remembers, that's the last thing your team-mates remember, it's the last thing the selectors remember. So to that end you are better off bowling a quicker ball in line with the stumps which limits the batsman's opportunities to attack. So what I'm saying is, there's always a time when you need to defend, but you've got to know how to attack and that's why you need such a long apprenticeship.
Warne said the most uplifting thing ever said about me: that whenever he rang me, when he hung the phone up he always felt better for having made the call
Richie Benaud writes in his book that his dad told him to keep it simple and concentrate on perfecting the stock ball. Benaud says that you shouldn't even think about learning the flipper before you have mastered the legbreak, top spinner and wrong'un. Do you agree?
I totally agree with what Richie said. If you don't have a stock ball, what is the variation? You know what I'm saying? There are five different deliveries a legbreak bowler can bowl, but Warne said on more than one occasion that because of natural variation you can bowl six different legbreaks in an over; what's important is the line and length that you are bowling that encourages the batsman to get out of his comfort zone or intimidates him, and that's the key to it all. Richie spun his legbreak a small amount by comparison with Warne but because of that his use of the slider and the flipper were mostly effective because he bowled middle- and middle-and-off lines, whereas Warne was leg stump, outside leg stump.
Richie's a wise man and in the days he played there were eight-ball overs here in Australia. If you went for four an over, you were considered to be a pretty handy bowler. If you go for four an over now, it's expensive - that's because it's six-ball overs. But Richie was a great example of somebody who knew his strengths and worked on whatever weaknesses he might've had. He knew he wasn't a massive spinner of the ball, therefore his line and length had to be impeccable, and he worked around that.
In fact, in his autobiography Warne writes, "What matters is not always how many deliveries you possess, but how many the batsmen thinks you have."
That's the mystery of spin, isn't it? I remember, every Test series Warnie would come out with a mystery ball or something like that, but the truth is there are only so many balls that you can really bowl - you can't look like you're bowling a legbreak and bowl an offbreak.
Sonny Ramdhin was very difficult to read as he bowled with his sleeves down back in the 1950s; he had an unique grip and unique way of releasing the ball, as does Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan]. What they do with their wrists, it's very difficult to pick between the offbreak and the legbreak. Generally a legbreak bowler has to locate his wrist in a position to enhance the spin in the direction he wants the ball to go, which means the batsman should be able to see the relocation of the wrist.
In part two Jenner talks about the mental aspect of spin bowling, the importance of flight, and looks at some of the leading spinners on the circuit today.
Nagraj Gollapudi is assistant editor of Cricinfo Magazine