May 30, 2011

A tale of three legspinners

Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra and Rahul Sharma have the skills to be successful for India. But their actions still need some work

We may have well seen the last of Shane Warne in a competitive game, but we haven't seen the last of his art yet. He may no longer roll his arm and spin magic, but he continues to make a strong case for his clan. Warne's legacy will be an effective blueprint for generations of aspiring spinners, who will now have a look at videos of him to pick up a lesson or two. Legspin is one of the toughest crafts to perfect, but once you've mastered it, like Warne clearly had, you can aim to win matches in all formats.

Warne had an almost perfect legspinner's action: side-on, bowled with a slightly round arm but with the wrist cocked. He drifted the ball in the air and got spin off the surface - usually only enough to get the edge. He also varied the pace and trajectory with consummate ease. But above all he was shrewd enough to decipher the batsman, formulate the right plan and execute it with precision.

It might be interesting to take a look at three young Indian practitioners of the same art: Piyush Chawla, part of India's World Cup-winning campaign, Amit Mishra, who replaced Chawla in the team for the West Indies, and Rahul Sharma, arguably the most impressive bowler in this IPL.

Unlike Warne, Piyush Chawla has an open bowling action. With such an action, you see the batsman from inside the non-bowling arm, while with a side-on action, you see the batsman from over or through the leading arm. Most legspinners prefer a side-on action because it not only allows them to bowl with a slightly rounder arm, which is essential to impart side spin, but also allows them to rotate the hip by pivoting on the front toe, and thus putting the weight of the body behind the ball. When you look from inside the non-bowling arm, you bowl with a high-arm action and have an insignificant pivot. It's much like with fast bowlers, where outswing bowlers prefer the closed action and inswing bowlers an open action.

Since spinning the ball across the right-hand batsman isn't his forte, Chawla bowls from the corner of the crease to make his wrong 'un more effective. His open action allows him to bowl a googly a lot more efficiently than most legspinners. A traditional spinner will have to make significant change in his action (from round-arm to high-arm) and go to the corner of the crease, so the trajectory starts from outside off stump. These changes are often a giveaway but not with Chawla. However, his high-arm action and delivery from the corner of the crease impair his ability to bowl a more orthodox legspinner's line, i.e. on middle and leg stump. Unless he gets some serious drift in the air, he has to really push the ball towards leg to change the line. And that's when he ends up slipping it down the leg side - the lack of spin doesn't allow the ball to spin back towards the off stump.

Playing Chawla As a batsman you must keep a close eye on his googly. Since it turns a lot more and is a lot quicker in the air and off the surface - a rarity - don't go back or play a horizontal shot. Even though he isn't a big turner of the ball, his point of delivery dictates that his line is mostly outside off, so you must go close to the ball while stepping out, else you run the risk of not getting close enough. Since he bowls fairly quick, you can also use that pace to pinch singles.

Sharma is the tallest of the three, and so he gets the most bounce. His high-arm open action ensures he makes the most of his height, but it also means he compromises on spin off the surface

Amit Mishra has an ideal legspinner's action, being fairly side-on, and he also bowls with a slightly round arm. He tries to get close to the stumps and imparts a lot of side spin on the ball. But he has a long bowling stride, with the front leg bent at the point of delivery, which effectively reduces his height during delivery, and hence the bounce he could potentially extract. Mishra started out as a big turner of the ball, which worked fine at the domestic level, but after a year or so of international cricket, he realised he had to stop turning it too much, lest he miss the edge. He was bowling the right lines, turning the ball, but wickets eluded him. So he learnt to cock his wrist, not only to control the spin but to get a bit more bounce. While he's fairly accurate with his line and length and banks on beating the batsman in the air, the lack of pace off the surface works against him: even when the batsman makes an error he can often adjust because of the lack of pace.

Playing Mishra You should always be wary of his spin and completely sure before going down the track; if you stay slightly away from the ball, it might mean you miss it entirely. Also it's necessary to play in the second line and cover the spin. Play with the spin and not against it, otherwise there's a good chance of edging the ball. For instance, unless you get to the pitch of the ball, don't hit straight; instead, target the gap over extra cover. Since his deliveries don't hurry on to you, it's best to stay on the back foot.

Rahul Sharma is the tallest of the three and so he gets the most bounce. He is possibly the most accurate legspinner on the Indian circuit, and his height has something to do with it. The taller the bowler, the better his chances of hitting the same spot more often and with accuracy. Sharma's high-arm open action ensures he makes the most of his height, but it also means he compromises on spin off the surface. He does not get too close to the stumps, nor does he go to the corner of the crease; he mostly stays in the middle of the box. He tries to bowl as straight as possible, with the length slightly on the shorter side to make the most of the steep bounce he generates. But while the bounce works in his favour, the lack of side spin works against him. He does impart a lot of overspin on the ball, which complements the bounce, but the position of his feet and the direction his toes are pointing in at the crease don't allow him to get much spin. His leading toes point towards third man instead of fine leg, which means he doesn't pivot a lot while delivering the ball. He must develop a googly to go with his topspinners or he runs the risk of becoming a one-trick pony.

Playing Sharma Back yourself to play him through the line and on the up, but keep your hands slightly higher up the handle than with other spinners. If you don't take the bounce into account while putting bat to ball, you'll find the ball eluding the sweet spot and hitting higher on the bat. Since he bowls quicker and flatter, avoid going down the track, for you won't have enough time for a successful advance. But that also means you can use the bounce to get under the ball while staying inside the crease.

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

  • Arun on June 3, 2011, 18:18 GMT

    Terrific article!!! Could visualise and understand absolutely everything Aakash tried to explain. Also goes on to show the amount of knowledge the professionals have, that some of these bonzos commenting on websites cannot even begin to comprehend. And I did not get this bit about 'batsmen should not comment about leg-spin'. As a professional who has played cricket most of his lifetime, he would definitely get exposed to all the skills and would be in a better position to comment on, than the arm-chair website scribblers.

  • Vijayendra on June 2, 2011, 6:24 GMT

    @Sidharth Acharya: I don't care where Saqi is, all i know is here's the spin camp I was talking about where Saqi Mustaq is giving away his gyaan at this moment: In Shane Warne's own words, "The spin bowling summits in Brisbane I've helped out the last few years, I've only just got back from India and I've got my kids for a couple of weeks. I haven't been able to get up there this time but I'm always available....". So there.

    And as far as my opnion about Mr. Chopra goes, i think he's taking things too far. I've never seen or read an article where a batsman of his pedigree or great bastman or allrounder like Ian/Greg Chappell, Gary Sobers, Viv Richards or anybody else write these kinda articles. Mr. Chopra, try and tell things like these to someone who idolizes Virendra Sehwag. He will certainly laugh at your suggestion. Or someone from the 'see the ball, hit the the ball' technique.

  • P Subramani on June 1, 2011, 22:08 GMT

    Quite apart from all that Akash Chopra has mentioned, a spin bowler needs to have a big heart or DIL as they say in Hindustani.Simply put,it means the stomach to take a clobbering.That is what distinguishes a great bowler from a craftsman who has all his body parts pointing in very much the Textbook way at the point of delivery.I have seen Subhash Gupte bowl at the Brabourne in 1954. I can say for sure that Gupte was perhaps as close to the textbook leg spinner that ever that I have seen.I have also seen Kumar,Benaud and of course Kumble as well.I believe that for all his skills and perfection of delivery, Subhash Gupte did not achive the level expected because of the Dil factor.He was not the same bowler after Neil Harvey went after him in 1956,I think it was. Though Gupte did have some nice figures after that as well like 9 wickets in an innings against West Indies in Kanpur, he was never the great he was expected to be after the mauling by Harvey.Kumble's attitude is the dream one.

  • P Subramani on June 1, 2011, 21:49 GMT

    The tussle between Sidharth Acharya and Vijeyndra is most amusing. What Akash Chopra has done is to break up the entire bowling action sequence of three promising leg spinners currently playing for India,individually, to enable them to make the necessary corrections where necessary.It cannot be taken to mean that one part of the body alone can make a difference if corrected as advised by Akash.Eventually it has to be the cumulative impact of the whole body of each bowler trying to bowl leg spin. It is like Mona Lisa's smile. If viewed by itself it may look horrible to most art lovers.But the impact of this magical smile comes out only when the whole portrait is viewed in its entireity.That apart, on the aspect of "drift",those that have seen Prasanna will know how effevtive it can be. In more recent times, Indian bowlers with impressive drift have been Romesh Powar and even Virender Sehwag who is a very good spin bowler in my opinion without needing to resort to the doosras and tisras.

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 11:26 GMT

    Akash Great stuff as usual. I wish the budding leg spinners read your input and take a relook at their own bowling for minor adjustments In the fitness of things I wish you had a word or two about three great Indian leg spinners--V.V. Kumar ,B.S.Chandrasekar and Anil Kumble As regards the positives of the three you have taken for discussion Rahul Sharma has a nagging length and consistence bounce Mishra has a very good googly and flight that makes up for lack of bounce Piyush has a nonchalant approach--he never gets upset if he is hit and sticks to his plan We wish at least two of them should develop into international class as India is badly in need of a leg spinner after Kumble's retirement Kudos again for precise evaluation and insight

  • Dummy4 on June 1, 2011, 7:44 GMT

    AAKASH is spot on in this article.His expert opinion is absolutely correct,as far as i am concerned.AND JUST ONE THING.I was just going through the comments posted by the people.VIJAYENDRA,is absolutely ridiculous GUY.CAN HE JUST SHARE A BIT ABOUT LEG SPIN BOWLING.HE IS A FOOLISH GUY.Aakash is a proffesional and atleast he knows much more than YOU .AND JUST BRUSH UP YOUR KNOWLEDGE.SAQLAIN is currently with KENT

  • Vijayendra on June 1, 2011, 5:47 GMT

    Aakash Chopra you are NOT Terry Jenner. So quit writing these kinda articles. You are a opener, so I am not too sure if you are qualified enough to write about the technicalities of leg spin bowling. I hope you next article doesn't talk about fast bowling technicalities of all the things in the world! Btw, there's a spin-camp happening in Brisbane with Saqi Mustaq and Warne (soon to be joining) that event. How about you flying there and giving your gyaan? Just becoz you have played International cricket doesn't not mean you can write on leg spin technicalities.

    @Cricinfo: Lately there has been a surge in all kinds of mediocre articles throughout the website. It's time to pull up your socks.

  • Saraschandra on May 31, 2011, 23:32 GMT

    @ Prabhu Krishna - Dude he clearly is talking about LEG spinners... Ravichandran Ashwin to the best of any sensible person's knowledge is an OFF spinner... get your facts right before you shoot off random comments. @ Anshuman Ganguly - I'm sure all coaches and captains of other teams read Cricinfo to plan their strategy against Indian bowlers!! Grow up man! How ridiculous can you get?

  • Prashant on May 31, 2011, 19:03 GMT

    I hate when people start saying "no one can be warne" or "no one is better than sachin". I agree. No one IS. But that doesn't mean no one will ever be. Surely people from the early 20th century thought no one can be like Bradman. Probably still true. But it's a fact that Bradman himself thought that Sachin was like him. That is not a comparison in its true sense. The only thing to note is Bradman was great. Sachin is great too in his own terms. Warne was super awesome. But who knows, one day Amit Mishra might become great too. Time will produce great sport-stars every now and then. Don't rubbish anyone. To paraphrase Chef Gusteau, 'anyone can become a cricketer': meaning not all can become great cricketers, but a great cricketer can come from anywhere.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2011, 18:38 GMT

    why are you telling other teams how to play our bowlers? Do you want us to lose?

  • No featured comments at the moment.