Spin is the new mantra for Twenty20
The emergence of spin as a match-turner in this IPL has surprised some of the best spinners in world cricket today but South African experts have seen it coming and say that spin will play a major role in Twenty20 cricket, and not just the Indian league.
Consider this: 30 wickets have fallen to spin in 10 games so far, with Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Daniel Vettori all turning in impressive performances. Even a part-timer like Kevin Pietersen has taken three wickets with his offspin.
Harbhajan Singh and Murali have already revised their opinion about the role of spinners in the IPL, and Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, says their success has only strengthened his belief that slow bowlers will be influential in Twenty20 cricket. It is a view shared by Pat Symcox, the former South Africa offspinner, who says the weather conditions this time of the year will assist spinners.
"I think spin plays a major role in Twenty20 cricket, and not just the IPL," Arthur told Cricinfo. "Looking at the World Twenty20 in June, we have already decided to cover all our options in pace and spin in our blueprint. It's obvious to us now that it's a good bowling unit that wins you a Twenty20 game, and not just the batsmen. You need to have a bowling unit that has the ability to take wickets and that is what will finally determine the result of a Twenty20 game."
Symcox says the pitch and weather conditions in South Africa will be a deciding factor in the tournament. "It's basically got to do with this time of the year in South Africa with the winter setting in," Symcox told Cricinfo. "The pitches start to wear a bit and the grass becomes a lot drier. There is much better grip for the spinners. Besides, there is always a little bit of extra bounce in South Africa, when compared to India where the IPL was held last year. Add that bounce to a little bit of turn and spinners become a very useful option."
Kumble has grabbed six wickets so far, followed by Vettori with five, Warne with four, and Murali and Ojha with three each. In fact, Kumble, who retired from international cricket last year, turned in the most economical five-wicket haul in Twenty20s against Rajasthan Royals last weekend, claiming incredible figures of 3.1-1-5-5. All these spinners have played crucial roles for their IPL teams, claiming the scalps of some of the best in the business like Pietersen, Matthew Hayden, MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle and Adam Gilchrist.
"We realised this during the recent one-day series here against Australia, and that's why we worked our bowling strategy around Paul Harris and Roelof van der Merwe (both left-arm spinners)," Arthur said. "The result was there for all to see." South Africa won the one-dayers 3-2 at home earlier this month.
Harbhajan, who turned Mumbai Indians' opening game against Chennai Super Kings with a spell of 3-0-15-1 including the key wicket of Andrew Flintoff, says the role of spinners in Twenty20 has taken "a 360 degree turn". Harbhajan is sure that the spin will play a "pivotal role in this new 'avatar' of cricket". He points to Kumble's five-wicket spell on the opening day and writes in his blog: "The five-wicket haul, shelling out just five runs for exchange, is no joke in any format, forget about T20."
Murali, who watched Harbhajan bowl from the Chennai dugout, wrote in his blog that the Indian offspinner's spell "was the first sign that spin could be a factor in the tournament". "The fact that we are playing on tired squares at the end of the season may also be having an impact," Murali wrote. "Whatever the reason, as a spinner, I am obviously delighted."
Symcox says the trend is "fantastic" not just for this IPL but for the Twenty20 format. "Youngsters will now be encouraged to bowl the slower ones," he said. "They will realise that Twenty20 cricket is not just about running in hard. Now I feel sorry for the medium-pacer in Twenty20 cricket, guys who bowl around the 120-kmph mark. The faster guys always have a chance and now the spinners are also doing well, it's the medium-pacer who has to adapt now."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo