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

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

  • Richard 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Irfan 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)

  • Khusro 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?

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Adrian 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!

  • kapilesh 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 .

  • Dummy4 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

  • avinash 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...

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