April 14, 2011

Spin and the art of attack

Being an aggressive spinner is not about bowling flat and fast. Quite the opposite, and you only have to look at veteran bowlers operate in Twenty20 to see that
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Grounds are getting smaller, wickets flatter, bats thicker. And just to make it tougher for bowlers, the format of the game has got shorter. As if the rule book doesn't already favour batsmen, these "innovations" have stacked the odds against bowlers higher still. But while it has ostensibly become tougher for bowlers to succeed, good ones will always have their say.

Who are these "good bowlers", though? In the pre-Twenty20 era these were men who could simply bowl quick, for a batsman needed special skills to get on top of someone bowling at 145kph. It was widely believed that the shorter the format, the smaller the role of a spinner. In fact, the only way for a spinner to survive in Twenty20 was to bowl quick and flat, or so it was believed for the longest time.

But a look at the spinners in action in the current IPL is enough to tell you an entirely different story. Spinners who're bowling slower in the air are ruling the roost.

Is it only about bowling slow or it there more to it? Let's take a look at what's making these bowlers ever so successful.

A big heart
While fast bowlers are the stingy kind, who hate runs being scored off them, spinners are more often than not advised to be generous and to always be prepared to get hit. Bishan Bedi would tell his wards that a straight six is always hit off a good ball and one should never feel bad about it. Having a big heart doesn't mean that you should stop caring about getting hit; rather that you shouldn't chicken out and start bowling flatter.

Suraj Randiv could easily have bowled flatter when he was hit for two consecutive sixes by Manoj Tiwary in the first match, but he showed the heart to flight another delivery, and got the better of his opponent. You rarely see Daniel Vettori or Shane Warne take a step back whenever they come under the hammer. Instead of thinking of ways to restrict damage, they try to plot a dismissal.

Slow down the pace
Most young spinners don't realise that the quicker one bowls, the easier it gets for the batsman, who doesn't have to move his feet to get to the pitch of the ball and smother the spin. You can do fairly well while staying inside the crease, and small errors of judgement aren't fatal either, as long as you're playing straight.

The slower the delivery, the tougher it is to generate power to clear the fence, but there are no such issues if the bowler is sending down darts. In fact, even rotating the strike is a lot easier if the bowler is bowling quicker, for you need great hands to manoeuvre the slower delivery.

Yes, it is perhaps easier to find the blockhole if you're bowling quick, but you're not really going to get under the bat and bowl the batsman, since you don't have that sort of pace.

Also, if you bowl quick, the chances of getting turn off the surface (unless it is really abrasive) are minimal. You must flight the ball and bowl slow to allow the ball to grip the pitch and get purchase.

Attack the batsman
Mushtaq Ahmed tells young spinners that they need to have the attitude of fast bowlers to attack batsmen.

Attacking the batsman is often misinterpreted as bowling quick. That's what the fast men do; you hit them for a six and you're almost guaranteed a bouncer next ball. For a spinner, attacking has a different meaning - going slower and enticing the batsman.

Bowling slow must not be confused with giving the ball more air. The trajectory can still remain flat while bowling slow. Some batsmen are quick to put on their dancing shoes the moment the ball goes above eye level while standing in the stance, so it's important to keep the ball below their eye level and yet not bowl quick. Vettori does it with consummate ease and reaps rewards. He rarely bowls quick; he relies on changing the pace and length to deceive the batsman. And if the batsman is rooted to the crease and is reluctant to use his feet, you can flight the ball.

Add variety
The best way to not just survive but thrive as a spinner is to keep evolving.

Anil Kumble not only slowed down his pace but also added a googly to his armoury in the latter half of his career. Muttiah Muralitharan added another dimension to his bowling when he started bowling the doosra. Suraj Randiv stands tall at the crease and extracts a bit of extra bounce. Ravi Ashwin has mastered the carrom ball.

Instead of learning to undercut the ball (which is obviously a lot easier to develop), it's worth developing a doosra, a carrom ball or some other variety.

Young kids must understand that when you bowl flatter-faster deliveries, the ball behaves somewhat like a hard ball does on a concrete surface, skidding off the pitch. Slower balls, on the other hand, act like tennis balls, with far more bounce.

Up and coming spinners need to set their priorities right. They can either bend the front knee to reduce height while taking the arm away from the ear to bowl darts, or learn from the likes of Warne, Vettori, Murali and the like to succeed in all formats, provided the basics are right.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Biggus on April 16, 2011, 3:41 GMT

    I find it a little odd that this is seen as an insight. In all formats the spinner should be trying to dismiss the batsman, it's very hard to score from the pavilion. If you can't beat the batsman in flight all the turn in the world won't save you, conversely if you can get the ball to drop, kick and deviate a couple of inches you're in business. In my experience it's all about getting a lot of overspin on the ball. Then you can throw it up in a tempting manner and the overspin will pull it down sharply, with luck the batsman will find themselves short, the sharp angle of descent of the ball will tend to make it bounce and all forms of dismissal come into play. A fiery paceman can make a batsman look afraid, but a class spinner can make him look stupid and I always sit up and take notice when a class tweaker comes on, no matter what game I'm watching.

  • on April 15, 2011, 19:18 GMT

    For all those mentioning that Ajmal or Afridi should be mentioned, kindly direct your attention to where the author of this article said "But a look at the spinners in action in the current IPL is enough to tell you an entirely different story. Spinners who're bowling slower in the air are ruling the roost." If that doesn't make it clear that he is talking about IPL players and not all international ones, then I don't know how else to make it clear.

  • on April 15, 2011, 18:08 GMT

    Saeed Ajmal deserves a mention as a modern attacking spinner with his probing lines and a lethal doosra. In my book, Ajmal is a better offie than Swann right now.

  • irfans1 on April 15, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    thanks god, u did not mention Yuvraj as spin bowler(lol)... i think u missed quite a great names in spin world for the last decade or so, Saqlain(founder of doosra), Harbhajan(an attacking spin bolwer), Ajmal(you could take the example how he troubled sachin in that WC quaterfinal), Afridi should be there with his lots of varieties and wicket taking abilities(T20's and 50 over format), also don't forget Swann(he has improved a lot in the last few years)

  • KhuMir on April 15, 2011, 12:54 GMT

    @cric_fanatics 'Afridi is pretty much useless against india/sri lanka' Tru dat. He took, what, four wickets against Sri Lanka in the World Cup and had Sachin out three times, except for drop catches. You're not much of a fanatic are you?

  • on April 15, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Afridi's the current best spinner as far as the shorter formats is concerned, Ajmal too has great potential, making the likes of Tendulkar and company who're reputably known for best handling spin look like fools is the pretty obvious proof. As for all time, never enjoyed watching any spinner operate more than Saqlain, Murli and Warne are obviously champions as well.

  • Ozcricketwriter on April 15, 2011, 5:17 GMT

    A good article. It is funny that many people see spinners as being test only but Shane Warne especially showed that spinners in ODIs can do well. Warne was probably the first really great ODI spinners, though he was followed by Murali and many others. Now we see that not only are spinners doing well in T20s but they are actually generally doing better than pacemen!

  • kapilesh23 on April 15, 2011, 4:04 GMT

    Afridi is not mentioned in this article because he is a combination of a medium pacer and a spin bowler .Afridi top speeds are close to 130km/h now when we are talking about bowling you would definitely not mention Afridi .

  • on April 15, 2011, 3:23 GMT

    @Pak Spin: Afridi is such a great T20 bowler that Pak has never won a T20 against India. Even in T20 WC that Pak won, India crushed Pak by 9 wickets in warm-up game. LOL

  • cric_fanatics on April 15, 2011, 0:57 GMT

    @pakspin...afridi is pretty much useless against india/sri lanka...as these teams play spin well...against the minnows hes done well though...

  • Biggus on April 16, 2011, 3:41 GMT

    I find it a little odd that this is seen as an insight. In all formats the spinner should be trying to dismiss the batsman, it's very hard to score from the pavilion. If you can't beat the batsman in flight all the turn in the world won't save you, conversely if you can get the ball to drop, kick and deviate a couple of inches you're in business. In my experience it's all about getting a lot of overspin on the ball. Then you can throw it up in a tempting manner and the overspin will pull it down sharply, with luck the batsman will find themselves short, the sharp angle of descent of the ball will tend to make it bounce and all forms of dismissal come into play. A fiery paceman can make a batsman look afraid, but a class spinner can make him look stupid and I always sit up and take notice when a class tweaker comes on, no matter what game I'm watching.

  • on April 15, 2011, 19:18 GMT

    For all those mentioning that Ajmal or Afridi should be mentioned, kindly direct your attention to where the author of this article said "But a look at the spinners in action in the current IPL is enough to tell you an entirely different story. Spinners who're bowling slower in the air are ruling the roost." If that doesn't make it clear that he is talking about IPL players and not all international ones, then I don't know how else to make it clear.

  • on April 15, 2011, 18:08 GMT

    Saeed Ajmal deserves a mention as a modern attacking spinner with his probing lines and a lethal doosra. In my book, Ajmal is a better offie than Swann right now.

  • irfans1 on April 15, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    thanks god, u did not mention Yuvraj as spin bowler(lol)... i think u missed quite a great names in spin world for the last decade or so, Saqlain(founder of doosra), Harbhajan(an attacking spin bolwer), Ajmal(you could take the example how he troubled sachin in that WC quaterfinal), Afridi should be there with his lots of varieties and wicket taking abilities(T20's and 50 over format), also don't forget Swann(he has improved a lot in the last few years)

  • KhuMir on April 15, 2011, 12:54 GMT

    @cric_fanatics 'Afridi is pretty much useless against india/sri lanka' Tru dat. He took, what, four wickets against Sri Lanka in the World Cup and had Sachin out three times, except for drop catches. You're not much of a fanatic are you?

  • on April 15, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Afridi's the current best spinner as far as the shorter formats is concerned, Ajmal too has great potential, making the likes of Tendulkar and company who're reputably known for best handling spin look like fools is the pretty obvious proof. As for all time, never enjoyed watching any spinner operate more than Saqlain, Murli and Warne are obviously champions as well.

  • Ozcricketwriter on April 15, 2011, 5:17 GMT

    A good article. It is funny that many people see spinners as being test only but Shane Warne especially showed that spinners in ODIs can do well. Warne was probably the first really great ODI spinners, though he was followed by Murali and many others. Now we see that not only are spinners doing well in T20s but they are actually generally doing better than pacemen!

  • kapilesh23 on April 15, 2011, 4:04 GMT

    Afridi is not mentioned in this article because he is a combination of a medium pacer and a spin bowler .Afridi top speeds are close to 130km/h now when we are talking about bowling you would definitely not mention Afridi .

  • on April 15, 2011, 3:23 GMT

    @Pak Spin: Afridi is such a great T20 bowler that Pak has never won a T20 against India. Even in T20 WC that Pak won, India crushed Pak by 9 wickets in warm-up game. LOL

  • cric_fanatics on April 15, 2011, 0:57 GMT

    @pakspin...afridi is pretty much useless against india/sri lanka...as these teams play spin well...against the minnows hes done well though...

  • Ashique129 on April 14, 2011, 18:05 GMT

    Thanks a lot Akash! As a "gully" player (and later, tape-tennis), I hardly faced spinners, let alone quality spinners. I believe, a decent spinner can truly test a batsman's footwork - unless you belong to the 'less or no footwork company' that Sehwag owns and incredibly successful with, you are doomed against spinners who really spins. I wish our Shakib, Razzak, and Shuvo et al. read into the message in this article, and thinks about slowing down further. Its time now to think that the art is the same, regardless of the length of the game. I always found it fascinating to see Warne bowl at 42-44 mph and make a fool out of the batsmen. Being an ignorant idiot, I would say to myself (only in my mind though :) - "hey I can play those balls if they are that slow". More than 700 test victims would disagree though.

  • Stark62 on April 14, 2011, 17:55 GMT

    Surely there must be a mention of Afridi and Ajmal!

    Ajmal bamboozled the master himself Sachin Tendulkar with his Doosra's and Afridi's record in the last 3-4 years speaks for itself in both ODI's and T20 cricket.

  • manish053 on April 14, 2011, 17:51 GMT

    In sum up this article, variety is needed for spinners although same things are applied on fast bowlers as well. In t-20 era pace bowlers is not stingy and u see vlathy was brutal to fast bowlers . Ostensibly the sppiners are more reliable relatively in the short format of this game and it is parochial thing to mark fast bowlers are stingy. It is accepted inevitably that veteran sppiners had their own skills and they discovered it is not a vintage skill which is got in inheritance. They are impetus for young bowlers and youngstar should not rely on conventional bowling. They have to add in their inbox however it is daunting but will bring thrive for them.

  • on April 14, 2011, 17:34 GMT

    For India, Ramesh Powar is/was?...the most pleasing, technically-correct & attacking off-spinner... with most attributes rightly mentioned in the article, he just needed easier variations like "faster ones & under cuts"...he SHOULD/have play/ed test matches...not the current so called off-spinner who keeps mindlessly firing it into middle'n'leg...and of course bats better ;-)

  • on April 14, 2011, 17:25 GMT

    Not every batsman is a Tendulkar, and even the Indian and Mumbai teams have only one of him. Most batsmen, esp. openers, are flummoxed when someone bowls REALLY slow, I mean, so slow that there is no danger of more than 1 bye if the keeper misses. Such balls have to be really HIT to go for runs, which means a backlift, good judgement of bounce, and timing. Few have the combination below the first-class cricket class, and even there we see spinners taking wickets bowling the first over in a match. Ahem, my best bowling figures by far have come from this PSB( Painfully slow bowling) where I generally mow them down in 3 overs. Works even better with a tennis ball :) Try this yourself: Bounce a tennis ball in front of yourself, and try hitting it for a six or four: see how many runs you "score" in each "innings" b4 you edge it, lob it up, miss it completely, or have it trap you LBW.

  • on April 14, 2011, 16:16 GMT

    Right, let's ignore the fact that spinners are being chosen to attack in the IPL which happens to be played in spinner friendly India. Let's also ignore the fact fact that, with a few rare (Zaheer) and boring (Patel) exceptions, local class bowlers, who are the most popular and so also lucrative to field, are spinners. I think the basic problem with this article is performances are disproportionately considered on the subcontinent.

  • pakspin on April 14, 2011, 15:37 GMT

    You have managed to write an article about t20 spin bowling without mentioning the best t20 spinner in the world-afridi..that's probably the only impressive thing about this article...he he were Indian, you would have called him the GOD of spin bowling by now

  • on April 14, 2011, 14:47 GMT

    A very good article in general. However, I feel that going above the eye level and varying the flight should also be in a spinner's armoury. Murali at the latter stages of his career lost his flight and was less effective. When you flight the ball and give it a good tweak the ball dips on the batsman, making it difficult to judge the length. You also have to adjust your bowling depending on the batsman's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Bala74 on April 14, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    Akash is 100% correct. However, there is nothing in his article that you read and think - 'Ah, thats a fresh/new perspective. I haven't thought about it in that sense'. For example, it is common logic that aggressive spinners toss the ball up, give it more air, slow down the pace etc. A few years ago, Harbhajan rattled through overs bowling at a flat trajectory, thus cutting dry the runs scored and he was criticised for that, rightly so!

  • on April 14, 2011, 13:07 GMT

    Shane Warne has said that he believes that T20 is a game invented for slow bowlers; presumably because batsmen don't have the ability to wait and see what the bowler is attempting and instead must go after every ball, making it easier to draw them into traps.

  • on April 14, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    too biased from akash as he didnt mention afridi and ajamal . both are the leading wicket takers in the shortist format of the game. there is no swann either

  • evenflow_1990 on April 14, 2011, 12:33 GMT

    what!? how come tendulkar didn't get mentioned!

  • KarthikPadmanabhan on April 14, 2011, 11:57 GMT

    One bowler conspicuous by his absence in this article - Harbhajan Singh. Clearly, this is one article that Bajji needs to read.

  • Mark00 on April 14, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    t20 is now the only format of cricket in which a fast bowler can go all out and attack. After the bouncer restrictions were introduced in the early 90s, the number of test batsmen averaging 50+ and odi batsmen averaging 40+ has exploded since mediocre batsmen who can't play the bouncer now had the option of simply not playing a shot. In t20, however, the batsmen are under pressure to play the bouncer. It's really the only version of a game in which you can see a fast bowler be a fast bowler.

  • on April 14, 2011, 10:38 GMT

    A good article by Chopra. I would have liked to see Swann and Mendis mentioned. Swann was England's 2nd best bowler for the Ashes and deserved a mention on the fact that he is always looking to take wickets and spins the ball immensely. Also a mention for Afridi would have been credible as he has been a regular wicket taker for Pakistan both on spinning tracks and wickets that favour batsmen. He has a lot of variety and has led the wickets tally in the last 2 years.

  • Storm-Runners on April 14, 2011, 9:16 GMT

    The way Saeed Ajmal bowled to Sachin Tendulkar in the WorldCUp Semi final is a greate lesson foe all the kids out there. His flight, line and length was superb to make Great Sachin look like an ordinary batsmen.

  • on April 14, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    Surprised that Swann was not mentioned in the article. He is the best spinner today and I hardly see him bowling flatter & faster some thing Bhajji should learn from him. Sometimes Bhajji will not feel that he is a spinner. In the WC match against Bangla, Swann was very upset because of the dew factor and he couldnot grip the ball properly. If Bhajji was in his place, he wouldnot be upset since he can happily bowl faster balls and complete his 10 overs with less economy rate.

  • alexczarn on April 14, 2011, 6:10 GMT

    Fantastic article and a great help for me, being a young spinner.

  • iamHari51 on April 14, 2011, 5:37 GMT

    Luckily he didnt mention about harbhajan singh!!!!!!!!

  • enigma77543 on April 14, 2011, 4:29 GMT

    Very good article as usual by Chopra. I'm glad that the "old-style" spin-bowling is so effective, no matter what the format is, I think young spinners might want to take note of this, rather than getting into a habit bowling quick & flat.

  • saadbajwa on April 14, 2011, 3:10 GMT

    As usual Aakash is spot on! He always makes sense with what he says and has a great knowledge of fine points within the sport. I always enjoy reading his columns.

    However, not a mention of the best T20 spinner and wicket-taker - Shahid Afridi. His T20 bowling record is awesome. His economy rate and strike rate is fantastic. May be the list of world cricketers includes only the names who play in IPL. Glad that Pakistan made to the last four to remind the world that there is much more to cricket than just IPL.

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  • saadbajwa on April 14, 2011, 3:10 GMT

    As usual Aakash is spot on! He always makes sense with what he says and has a great knowledge of fine points within the sport. I always enjoy reading his columns.

    However, not a mention of the best T20 spinner and wicket-taker - Shahid Afridi. His T20 bowling record is awesome. His economy rate and strike rate is fantastic. May be the list of world cricketers includes only the names who play in IPL. Glad that Pakistan made to the last four to remind the world that there is much more to cricket than just IPL.

  • enigma77543 on April 14, 2011, 4:29 GMT

    Very good article as usual by Chopra. I'm glad that the "old-style" spin-bowling is so effective, no matter what the format is, I think young spinners might want to take note of this, rather than getting into a habit bowling quick & flat.

  • iamHari51 on April 14, 2011, 5:37 GMT

    Luckily he didnt mention about harbhajan singh!!!!!!!!

  • alexczarn on April 14, 2011, 6:10 GMT

    Fantastic article and a great help for me, being a young spinner.

  • on April 14, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    Surprised that Swann was not mentioned in the article. He is the best spinner today and I hardly see him bowling flatter & faster some thing Bhajji should learn from him. Sometimes Bhajji will not feel that he is a spinner. In the WC match against Bangla, Swann was very upset because of the dew factor and he couldnot grip the ball properly. If Bhajji was in his place, he wouldnot be upset since he can happily bowl faster balls and complete his 10 overs with less economy rate.

  • Storm-Runners on April 14, 2011, 9:16 GMT

    The way Saeed Ajmal bowled to Sachin Tendulkar in the WorldCUp Semi final is a greate lesson foe all the kids out there. His flight, line and length was superb to make Great Sachin look like an ordinary batsmen.

  • on April 14, 2011, 10:38 GMT

    A good article by Chopra. I would have liked to see Swann and Mendis mentioned. Swann was England's 2nd best bowler for the Ashes and deserved a mention on the fact that he is always looking to take wickets and spins the ball immensely. Also a mention for Afridi would have been credible as he has been a regular wicket taker for Pakistan both on spinning tracks and wickets that favour batsmen. He has a lot of variety and has led the wickets tally in the last 2 years.

  • Mark00 on April 14, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    t20 is now the only format of cricket in which a fast bowler can go all out and attack. After the bouncer restrictions were introduced in the early 90s, the number of test batsmen averaging 50+ and odi batsmen averaging 40+ has exploded since mediocre batsmen who can't play the bouncer now had the option of simply not playing a shot. In t20, however, the batsmen are under pressure to play the bouncer. It's really the only version of a game in which you can see a fast bowler be a fast bowler.

  • KarthikPadmanabhan on April 14, 2011, 11:57 GMT

    One bowler conspicuous by his absence in this article - Harbhajan Singh. Clearly, this is one article that Bajji needs to read.

  • evenflow_1990 on April 14, 2011, 12:33 GMT

    what!? how come tendulkar didn't get mentioned!