April 19, 2013

Spinners alive and kicking in T20

Big bats, unorthodox strokes and short boundaries can't beat a canny spinner

For about 20 minutes in Mohali, that rather sleepy adjunct to Chandigarh where fast bowlers are allowed an existence in India, two spin bowlers deceived and tormented batsmen and reminded us that while the bat is a powerful weapon, the ball can hoodwink it.

They had travelled a long way and neither spoke the local language. One was a phlegmatic West Indian with a gelled mohawk that rather resembled a large centipede stuck on a head; and the other a slightly stern looking Sri Lankan, not quite as physically eye-catching as his new team-mate. They spoke in distinct accents, but between them they mesmerised batsmen.

Sunil Narine is from the Caribbean, a land of great joy, where spinners were, until recently, in danger of extinction from big, jolly fellows who bowled as fast as the tornadoes that often visit its shores. Some years ago I interviewed the giant Nixon McLean, who told me his father "hated dem speeners". But Narine comes from Trinidad, where the pitches sometimes support the twirlers. His coach must have let him be, because he could never have come through a modern coaching factory.

Sachithra Senanayake comes from a land that has always produced very genial, modest cricketers, where mystery in spin bowling is almost a tradition now. They follow in the footsteps of the great Muralitharan, who if he ever swore violently did it when no one was watching. Murali was a wristspinner really, but Senanayake uses his fingers and the ball seems to enjoy following their instructions. In Mohali, he and Narine were like two puppeteers. They told a story with their fingers.

Adam Gilchrist might be in his early forties but he can recognise what a cricket ball does. He sat on his back foot, waiting for the ball from Senanayake to spin away so he could cut it past point. It took some time getting to him but once it met the turf, it hissed at Gilchrist and went the wrong way. By the time the bat came down it was too late. It was a typical stealth operation. Slow, slow, slow, then pounce.

Young David Miller from South Africa, where they know everything about big seam bowlers who bang the ball onto a hard surface but not too much about guys with short run-ups who bowl whodunits, was similarly bamboozled. Senanayake bowled the offbreak - he is described as an offspinner - but he also bowled the carrom ball, deceptively, flicking the ring finger, and other assortments with the seam up or scrambled.

David Hussey was looking good until an offbreak from Narine sprang up at him and took his glove on the way to the wicketkeeper. Azhar Mahmood, originally of Pakistan and brought up in the same side as the inventor of the doosra, Saqlain Mushtaq, got one that he believed would turn into him. It took his leading edge. Then young Gurkeerat Singh came in and played inside the line. Or what he thought was inside the line. It pitched and seamed away like a legcutter does on a matting wicket and hit the top of off stump. The ball might have been waving at him as it passed by. Three balls, three deceptions, three wickets.

Senanayake and Narine, two cricketers revelling in unorthodoxy and playing for a team based in a city steeped in tradition. It was deliciously ironic.

But if we thought T20 was all about the unconventional and the deeply mysterious, Amit Mishra showed there can be room for an orthodox legspinner who bowls legspin exactly as it has been bowled for a hundred years.

Mishra is a little, rather round, man in no danger of being called athletic. He often wears a slightly pained expression and looks like he might have been bullied in a boys' school. But with ball in hand he comes into his own, expresses himself, displays the complete range. He took four wickets in an over with a classical legbreak, a googly, a skidder and a beautifully tossed-up ball, and it is fair to say that the batsmen looked more than a bit bemused; a bit stupid, actually. Those big clubs in their hands weren't doing too much for them since they were being outwitted.

When T20 first arrived, it was thought there would be no space there for spinners. But just as the beauty of words has withstood the Twitter era, the charm of spin bowling has stayed alive, even flowered, in T20 cricket. And that is so nice to see.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on April 20, 2013, 17:42 GMT

    A good spinner will always have a successful shot in the T20. In the past many left handers like Nadeem, Negi, Abdullah. Murali Karthick did very well. Off spinners like Harbhajan & Muralitharan, also had good tally of wkts. at economical rate. Amongst the right handed leg spinners Rahul Sharma was outstanding in his first full year of play. But Dhoni benched him so often that he seems to have lost his confidence totally. He is still good but not a great wkt. taker. Recently Mishra & K.Sharma of SRH team bowled their leg spinners effectively. Chandila of RR is another fine off spinner who sent Tendulkar & Ponting packing in an over. Other good spinners who need a shot are Rasool & V.Joshi. There are many rich IPL clubs like MI who have a host of talented spinners on the bench. On turning wkts. spinners will be a force to reckon with even in T20!. I hope IPL produces more bowler friendly wkts.I like to see India produce leg spinners Subash Gupte & LH spinners of Vinoo Mankad's calibre!

  • Prashan on April 20, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster, well regarding your comment on test cricket I agree. So it is upto the ICC to encourage all pitches worldwide to be either green tops or dust bowls and NOT highways. Draws are what simply kills test cricket. I honestly love all 3 formats of the game as that is what simply makes cricket so unique.

  • Prashan on April 20, 2013, 3:37 GMT

    It is pathetic that our selectors are not giving Senanayake adequate chances at national level. He should play as a second spinner to support Herath. For Lanka, spin has been and will forever be our strength. Angelo can be our 2nd fast bowler and we must play three spinners in our XI and Herath and Senanayake should be 2 out of the 3 spinners. Indians are so smart that way to use a spin heavy attack at home helping to ram 4-0 over Aussies.

  • Jay on April 19, 2013, 20:12 GMT

    @Andy Plowright: How about you get a job at the technical institute in God knows where ! instead of ranting here. Test cricket is not about patience, it's about boredom. T20 is energetic, every ball is an event as so eloquently put by Bumble Lloyd in commentary. Test cricket is only good when it's the last day of the game and a team is either chasing a total for winning or looking to get the remaining wickets to seal the deal. Otherwise, it's boredom extravaganza and something which I don't wish to be a part of ever.

  • shubham on April 19, 2013, 17:05 GMT

    One thing is sure, spinners have really proved that they can not only survive in shorter version of the game but also dominate it as the opposite was expected during the start of T20s. Sunil Naraine has definately proved himself in T20s but still he needs to prove that he can equally perform well in test cricket. As far as Amit Mishra is concerned, he has definately proved himself and seems a lot improved bowler than before.

  • rahul on April 19, 2013, 16:16 GMT

    It has been established very well by now that in T20 when batsmen are going hell for leather, spinners are more likely to pick up wickets and bowl economic spells.

  • Dummy4 on April 19, 2013, 14:03 GMT

    Harsha, i read your article and set out to watch my first match this year in the iPL on youtube. i saw the wickets - it did look like adam gilchrist, azhar mahmood and the guy who got bowled, played bad shots(across the line, not getting to the pitch) in a rush to get runs. It didnt look like great spin bowling got them out. Gautam Gambhir and Eoin Morgan played some good shots but overall, there just seemed to be so much noise and hype out there - players heaving and flailing at military medium pace bowling, commentary making good catches and balls sound like great ones, pan to Bollywood actresses every few seconds and some teenagers very glad to pay Rs.1500+ and be on TV....

  • Dummy4 on April 19, 2013, 13:57 GMT

    Love ur commentary Harsha. Think its time we increased the foreign content to 5 from 4. The domestic talent is not quite filling the gap and many teams look over reliant on the three foreign batsmen to get them the bulk of the runs. Its a shame that quality foreign players are left on the sideline in place of an under 19 indian player out of his depth. It will also make it more interesting for us foreigners to see more of our players in the game. I don't think it will undermine Indian cricket as the cream always rises to the top. Is the BCCI just as insular as the ECB?

  • Pulkit on April 19, 2013, 13:47 GMT

    And cue the comments about how these two spinners are just "average" when neither have really been tested yet. So, purely from that perspective, having an opinion on how they "really" are is foolish.

    I'm not surprised by this though - slower balls are more prone to attacks than faster ones and this only creates opportunities for the bowler and when you combine with this with the fast paced T20 action, it is easy to see why spinners and slower bowlers will blossom.

    Inversely though, I think fast bowling is getting a little plain in T20. The emphasis is really on the yorkers and the one off slower ball. Kind of kills the point of bowling fast if there are only 2 balls you should bowl. Steyn does it right by swinging the ball away at high speeds but that's the world's best and he is more of an exception than the norm.