'Television is hurting young spinners'
In part two of his interview on the art of spin bowling, Terry Jenner looks at the damage caused to young spinners by the curbs placed on their attacking instincts. He also surveys the current slow-bowling landscape and appraises the leading practitioners around.
Bishan Bedi once said that a lot of bowling is done in the mind. Would you say that spin bowling requires the most mental energy of all the cricketing arts?
The thing about that is Bishan Bedi - who has, what, 260-odd Test wickets? - bowled against some of the very best players ever to go around the game. He had at his fingertips the control of spin and pace. Now, when you've got that, when you've developed that ability, then it's just about when to use them, how to use them, so therefore it becomes a matter of the brain. You can't have the brain dominating your game when you haven't got the capacity to bowl a legbreak or an offbreak where you want it to land. So that's why you have to practise those stock deliveries until it becomes just natural for you - almost like you can land them where you want them to land blindfolded, and then it just becomes mind over matter. Then the brain does take over.
There's nothing better than watching a quality spin bowler of any yolk - left-hand, right-hand - working on a quality batsman who knows he needs to break the bowler's rhythm or he might lose his wicket. That contest is a battle of minds then, because the quality batsman's got the technique and the quality bowler's got the capacity to bowl the balls where he wants to, within reason. So Bishan is exactly right.
What came naturally to someone like Bedi was flight. How important is flight in spin bowling?
When I was very young someone said to me, "You never beat a batsman off the pitch unless you first beat him in the air." Some people think that's an old-fashioned way of bowling. Once, at a conference in England, at Telford, Bishan said "Spin is in the air and break is off the pitch", which supported exactly what that guy told me 40 years ago. On top of that Bedi said stumping was his favourite dismissal because you had beaten the batsman in the air and then off the pitch. You wouldn't get too many coaches out there today who would endorse that remark because they don't necessarily understand what spin really is.
When you appraised the trainees in Chennai [at the MAC Spin Foundation], you said if they can separate the one-day cricket shown on TV and the one-day cricket played at school level, then there is a chance a good spinner will come along.
What I was telling them was: when you bowl a ball that's fairly flat and short of a length and the batsman goes back and pushes it to the off side, the whole team claps because no run was scored off it. Then you come in and toss the next one up and the batsman drives it to cover and it's still no run, but no one applauds it; they breathe a sigh of relief. That's the lack of understanding we have within teams about the role of the spin bowler. You should be applauding when he has invited the batsman to drive because that's what courage is, that's where the skill is, that's where the spin is, and that's where the wickets come. Bowling short of a length, that's the role of a medium pacer, part-timer. Most spin bowlers have enormous attacking instinct which gets suppressed by various captains, coaches and ideological thoughts in clubs and teams.
You talked at the beginning of the interview about the importance of being patient with a spinner. But isn't it true that the spinner gets another chance even if he gets hit, but the batsman never does?
I don't think you can compare them that way. If the spinner gets hit, he gets taken off. If he goes for 10 or 12 off an over, they take him off. Batsmen have got lots of things in their favour.
What I mean by patience is that to develop the craft takes a lot of overs, lots of balls in the nets, lots of target bowling. And you don't always get a bowl. Even if you are doing all this week-in, week-out, you don't always get to bowl, so you need to be patient. And then one day you walk into the ground and finally they toss you the ball. It is very easy to behave in a hungry, desperate manner because you think, "At last, I've got the ball." And you forget all the good things you do and suddenly try to get a wicket every ball because it's your only hope of getting into the game and staying on. The result is, you don't actually stay on and you don't get more games. So the patience, which is what you learn as you go along, can only come about if the spinner is allowed to develop at his pace instead of us pushing him up the rung because we think we've found one at last.
How much of a role does attitude play?
Attitude is an interesting thing. Depends on how you refer to it - whether it's attitude to bowling, attitude to being hit, attitude to the game itself.
When you bowl a ball that's fairly flat and short of a length and the batsman goes back and pushes it to the off side, the whole team claps because no run was scored off it. Then you come in and toss the next one up and the batsman drives it to cover and it's still no run, but no one applauds it; they breathe a sigh of relief
When Warne was asked what a legspin bowler needs more than anything else, he said, "Love". What he meant was love and understanding. They need someone to put their arm around them and say, "Mate, its okay, tomorrow is another day." Because you get thumped, mate. When you are trying to spin the ball from the back of your hand and land it in an area that's a very small target, that takes a lot of skill, and it also requires the patience to develop that skill. That's what I mean by patience, and the patience also needs to be with the coach, the captain, and whoever else is working with this young person, and the parents, who need to understand that he is not going to develop overnight.
And pushing him up the grade before he is ready isn't necessarily a great reward for him because that puts pressure on him all the time. Any person who plays under pressure all the time, ultimately the majority of them break. That's not what you want, you want them to come through feeling sure, scoring lots of wins, feeling good about themselves, recognising their role in the team, and having their team-mates recognise their role.
I don't think people - coaches, selectors - let the spin bowler know what his role actually is. He gets in the team and suddenly he gets to bowl and is told, "Here's the field, bowl to this", and in his mind he can't bowl.
Could you talk about contemporary spinners - Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Daniel Vettori, Monty Panesar, and Muttiah Muralitharan of course?
Of all the spinners today, the one I admire most of all is Vettori. He has come to Australia on two or three occasions and on each occasion he has troubled the Australian batsmen. He is a man who doesn't spin it a lot but he has an amazing ability to change the pace, to force the batsman into thinking he can drive it, but suddenly they have to check their stroke. And that's skill. If you haven't got lots of spin, then you've got to have the subtlety of change of pace.
And, of course, there is Kumble. I always marvel at the fact that he has worked his career around mainly containment and at the same time bowled enough wicket-taking balls to get to 566 wickets. That's a skill in itself. He is such a humble person as well and I admire him.
I marvel a little bit at Murali's wrist because it is very clever what he does with that, but to the naked eye I can't tell what is 15 degrees and what's not. I've just got to accept the word above us. All I know is that it would be very difficult to coach someone else to bowl like Murali. So we've got to put him in a significant list of one-offs - I hate to use the word "freak" - that probably won't be repeated.
I don't see enough of Harbhajan Singh - he is in and out of the Indian side. What I will say is that when I do see him bowl, I love the position of the seam. He has a beautiful seam position.
I love the way Stuart MacGill spins the ball. He is quite fearless in his capacity to spin the ball.
I love the energy that young [Piyush] Chawla displays in his bowling. The enthusiasm and the rawness, if you like. This is what I mean when I talk about pushing the boundaries. He is 18, playing limited-overs cricket, and at the moment he is bowling leggies and wrong'uns and I think that's terrific. But I hope the time doesn't come when he no longer has to spin the ball. When he tries to hold his place against Harbhajan Singh, for example. To do that he has to fire them in much quicker. He is already around the 80kph mark, which is quite healthy for a 18-year-old boy, but he still spins it at that pace, so it's fine. But ultimately if he is encouraged to bowl at a speed at which he doesn't spin the ball, that would be the sad part.
That's why I say this, there are lots of spinners around but it's the young, developing spinners who are probably suffering from all the stuff from television that encourages defence as a means to being successful as a spinner.
Monty is an outstanding prospect. You've got to look at how a guy can improve. He has done very, very well but how can he improve? He has got to have a change-up, a change of pace. At the moment, if you look at the speed gun in any given over from Monty, it's 56.2mph on average every ball. So he bowls the same ball; his line, his length, everything is impeccable, but then when it's time to knock over a tail, a couple of times he has been caught short because he has not been able to vary his pace. I think Monty is such an intelligent bowler and person that he will be in the nets working on that to try and make sure he can invite the lower order to have a go at him and not just try and bowl them out. That probably is his area of concern; the rest of it is outstanding.
What would you say are the attributes of a good spinner?
Courage, skill, patience, unpredictability, and spin. You get bits and pieces of all those, but if you have got spin then there is always a chance you can develop the other areas. For all the brilliant things that people saw Warne do, his greatest strength was the size of the heart, and that you couldn't see.
Nagraj Gollapudi is assistant editor of Cricinfo Magazine