April 27, 2012

Where did all the offspinners go?

There are more than a dozen left-arm spinners in the IPL, but hardly any traditional offies

Having watched relentless, frenetic Twenty20 cricket for three weeks, I thought I would watch some Test cricket, to allow its beautiful, lazy rhythm to lull me to sleep. I needed to, the incessant T20 action was keeping me awake. Instead, I came upon Shane Shillingford bowling some really eye-catching offspin. He was getting the ball to kick off the surface and had Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke, two good players of spin, caught high off the bat. It helped, too, that two of my favourite broadcasters, Tony Cozier and Michael Holding, were on air. But it got me thinking about what the game is doing to offspinners.

Nathan Lyon bowled an impressive spell later in Dominica, and Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann, in their own styles, are bowling beautifully, but in the IPL the offspinner is going extinct, fenced in as he is by medium-pacers who are forsaking their seam-up bowling style for slow offbreaks, and by left-arm spinners who have cropped up from nowhere.

One obvious reason is that modern bats deposit anything that is tossed up into the stands. For long I have worried about short boundaries, but I barely see any small sixes these days. More sixes have hit the concrete than the boundary rope. It could be, of course, that free of the worry of being caught in the deep (courtesy the boundary distances) batsmen are actually hitting the ball better. But it doesn't dilute the argument that T20 is best played with long boundaries.

The other factor is the preponderance of right-handers. There are a lot of left-handers around the world but in the IPL only three of the top ten run-getters bat left-handed - Chris Gayle, Jesse Ryder and Shaun Marsh. It gets a little better if you expand the base but still it is only nine out of the top 30. (Now this works on the assumption that offspinners cannot bowl to attacking right-hand batsmen, and I hope there are some young bowlers out there who want to vigorously contest that.)

Also worrisome is the fact that there are few classical offspinners around. Among those in the IPL, Muttiah Muralitharan, R Ashwin, Marlon Samuels and Sunil Narine don't fit that bill. Go further and you find Johan Botha and Harbhajan Singh, and then the part-timers. It would seem that if you want to watch offbreak bowling, you need to look beyond T20s.

On the other hand every team has a left-arm spinner, and some are willing to play two. And while there are some whose actions suggest they studied angles in high-school geometry rather than straight lines, there are others who are looking very acceptable and impressive. Why can't more spinners possess the beauty of Murali Kartik's bowling action?

But quality of actions apart, the left-arm spinner has become, like rice in a south Indian thali, an integral part of the offering. Compared to the drought of offspinners, we have Ravindra Jadeja and Shadab Jakati (Chennai), KP Appanna and Daniel Vettori (Bangalore), Pragyan Ojha (Mumbai), Shakib Al Hasan and Iqbal Abdulla (Kolkata), Ankeet Chavan and Brad Hogg (Rajasthan), Kartik (Pune), Shahbaz Nadeem, Roelof van der Merwe and Pawan Negi (Delhi), Ankit Sharma (Deccan), Bhargav Bhatt and Bipul Sharma (Punjab). Bafflingly, out of these only Hogg bowls the chinaman variety (speaking of which, not a player in the league has picked his wrong'un yet). Maybe someone can explain to me one day why more young men don't bowl left-arm wrist spin.

It must worry Indian selectors too that only three of the top ten wicket-takers and four of the top ten run-getters (and eight of the top 20) are Indians. It would be easy to explain that away by saying that the overseas players are among the world's best, but if the IPL has to develop local talent we should start seeing some new names soon. In earlier editions Ambati Rayudu, Saurabh Tiwary and Paul Valthaty forced us to look at them, but none of them is likely to break into the Indian limited-overs team in the immediate future.

There is another month to go. I hope I can see much more of Appanna and Nadeem, Rahul Sharma and Ashok Dinda, but I have given up looking for an offspinner, unless Harbhajan goes back to his roots.

Harsha Bhogle is contracted to the IPL. He also commentates on other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 30, 2012, 16:26 GMT

    There is fabulous Left arm spinner Who Bowls with more than 100 kmps with huge turn.But its too late becuase his age 27 ..........He himself lost the change to play cricket.....

  • panduka on April 30, 2012, 13:05 GMT

    you need a brillient captain to gromm a spinner, offie or leggie. They need ime to mature. look at shane warne ot muralitharan. you'l see that their early figures are not good. They need to gain mental stength to toy with the batsmen.

  • Shruti on April 29, 2012, 10:38 GMT

    Adding to what Kiteflier has posted,even Tony Greig was good against spin .Ofcourse ,Asif iqbal,Majid Khan and Javed Miandad spelt doom for Prasanna and Venkat in Pakistan in 1978 but out came Kapil Dev.But as someone said,tendency of batsmen these days to hit across the line and pick the length early has killed the art of looping the ball and letting the pitch do the rest. Swann is good but runs the risk of bowling flatter to avoid being slaughtered ,especially on sub -continent pitches.But he is cut above the rest from the current crop.

  • Dummy4 on April 29, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    test cricket made off spinners and t20 ruined them..as simple as that.pick anyone bhajji,bhota,ashwin,swann due to this t20 trend each one of them have turned into flat slow cum fast paced bowlers from the turners of the cricket bal.disappointingl

  • Srinivas on April 28, 2012, 20:25 GMT

    Harbhajan is an off-spinner? I thought he is a slow right arm bowler who fires the ball flat in the air onto the batsmen's legs so that he can't get hit. Too bad he is not even able to do that now a days. Anyways, let him get a 3 for 45 and the experts will grab their pens to announce that Harbhajan has proved his critics wrong. Lollll what again?

  • Dummy4 on April 28, 2012, 18:47 GMT

    @Muhtasim, primary goal should be to win test matches @ home, with this kind of spin attack only Ashwin and to an extent Pragyan Ohja what can we think of winning games against perhaps New Zealand later this year, far shout against England after that??

  • Dummy4 on April 28, 2012, 14:29 GMT

    India has a bright future in the spin department. Pragyan Ojha, Rahul Sharma, and Ravichandran Ashwin should all be picked in the T20 WC

  • Satish on April 28, 2012, 13:02 GMT

    Harsha, here is my take on why there are no genuine off spinners in IPL. (a) There are more Righthand batsman than Left Handers, so a claasical off spinners line is middle & leg, which falls into the normal line of Right hand batsman's batspeed towards legside.(b). The IPL has shorter boundaries and even mishits go for 6s (c) the primary role of a bowler in IPL is containment, not taking wickets..Based on these theories, there is no genuine off spinner which is a luxury in IPL.

  • Kall on April 28, 2012, 9:04 GMT

    Harbhajan has finished yet another IPL T20 with an "economy" rate of over 10. And he has just one wicket (is that right?) to boot! He doesn't do anything with the bat either except throwing the bat around. So what is the value that the Ambani's see in him, I wonder...

  • P Subramani on April 28, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    It is nice that henchart has sought to explain what is classical off spin bowling and who the finest exponents of this skill were. He has also mentioned some names. the best were without doubt Prasanna, and before his time Ghulam Ahmed, Hugh Tayfield and Jim Laker. Despite their varying hieghts, all of them bowled what many people refer to as 'Classical Off spin bowling'.Those days there was no need for the doosras and the teesras because with just the big off spun ball, and the straight one were enough with the right kind of flight to be above the batsman's eye brow and the drift and angle of delivery.Prasanna was the ultimate master of flight, swerve and use of the crease that there ever was. It is not as someone suggested, that the batsmen then were not good enough. Far from it they played spin much better.Ian Chappell and Doug Walters played spin better than most of the present crop of Aussie batsmen.So like Shane Warne revived leg spin I hope a Prasanna comes along for off spin.

  • No featured comments at the moment.