April 5, 2014

The hand of the leggie

Legspinners have blossomed in the World T20, which has otherwise been an odd, somewhat ugly affair

The only saving grace for the World T20 extravaganza in Bangladesh has been legspin. It shone out like a beacon, a bright light amid dim, dull, boring behaviour. The art of legspin, so often missing in a game of bent proceedings, became the hero that flagged what is, hopefully, a new, genuine future.

So hats off to Samuel Badree, Imran Tahir, Amit Mishra, with high recommendations for the youngsters Seekkuge Prasanna and James Muirhead. The first three, in particular, provided the best bowling in the tournament, and easily the best cricket. It was skilful, legal, daring, courageous, all bowling against big bats, small boundaries, and fellow spinners with plenty of elbow grease.

The big three dominated not only the scoresheets but captured the minds of those who believe in a lost art in a crazy sport. And those two new kids on the block, Prasanna and Muirhead, better get a chance to shine more too, soon, for they are natural match-winners in the making.

Badree opened the bowling for West Indies and bowled all his allotted overs straight through. This gave every batsman a chance to size up not only his honest work but the vast open fields in the Powerplay overs. Thankfully Badree was stoic and ballsy. He moved in aggressively and with an energetic snap sent the ball accurately on its way, with enough rotation and spit to actively scythe through the finest so-called specialist openers on show. Badree was easily the best opening bowler in town, in T20 garb. And at only 85kph. His was a gutsy and resilient display.

Tahir has had a tough road to hoe as a Test and one-day legspinner. However, he may well return and prosper in those forms following his heroic effort carrying South Africa through to the semi-finals. He didn't blink. Instead he strode in with purpose and belief that his fast, skidding leggies would suffice, and by jeepers they did. The cocked Asian wrist sent a message to the batsmen that a bit of spin would arrive off a tiring surface, only for them to be fooled by the kick-on, the squeeze and the fizz that he generated. His accuracy and length were exquisite. He fooled them all. He enjoyed his rightful moment in the sun. It was sweet music to a previous worried trier. And another victory for legspin.

Yet the most glorious of them all has been Mishra, the diminutive Indian who stole the show. So often neglected for fingerspinners, he finally got his chance, because in Bangladesh in a short format, a third spinner was welcome. He got his chance against Pakistan in the opening game and he took it with all ten fingers. In India's first match, his second ball to Ahmed Shehzad left his cocked wrist and straight arm, floated high, drifted in, spun and bounced in sync, then kept spinning and defeated his Pakistani opponent, and as the door opened and the bails were met by a delighted Dhoni, it became the ball of the tournament, sending shivers across the land. The legspin magic was back. Mishra was the magician and the batsmen watching didn't know what to do.

Meanwhile, the tournament showed its ugly side. The dew and poor floodlights broke fingers. Fieldsmen lost heart and mind in the dim, wet outfields of Chittagong. The 15-degree rule was constantly broken as certain fingerspinners pretended to be bowlers. Fair catches were denied via two-dimensional technological bollocks. Batsmen lost their heads, Marlon Samuels his marbles. Kamran Akmal was seen playing, but no one could understand why.

On the flip, Virat Kohli was majestic, as was Glenn Maxwell disdainful and dismissive. Dale Steyn impressed for the nth year in a row, and Darren Sammy cleared many a row. At the helm, some captains showed poise, some didn't. Mahela Jayawardene made an unofficial return at the behest of Lasith Malinga, and Dhoni was fresh and full of enterprise, while Faf du Plessis refused to acknowledge that his best role was as a specialist fielder, and George Bailey believed he was in Darwin.

There were some awful tactics. Stuart Broad was brilliantly dreadful, but no one more so than Mushfiqur Rahim, the home-town skipper, who simply couldn't cope with being the keeper and No. 4, the janitor and the chef. He had not one clue how to marshal a bunch of misfits, and who could blame him. His senior player, Shakib Al Hasan, insisted that they all rest at home for 24 months, and while unfair on the groundsmen, the nation breathed a sigh of relief that sense had been shared and might prevail. If only.

And so it was left to Netherlands, those quirky Dutchmen in the orange outfits, showing their European masters that life isn't about reputation but about the moment you are in. England in red were embarrassing and red-faced. The Dutch, led by the Kiwi Peter Borren, showed a fervent national spirit via Stephan Myburgh, Wesley Barresi and Logan van Beek, while Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik added a touch of spice to the proceedings.

Overall, the tournament was an extremely odd affair. It was like Lady Diana dating Dodi Al Fayed: colourful, worldly and staged, and highly unpredictable. It lacked much, apart from the domination of the numerous elephants in the room. Oh dear, there were many of those - a few families, in fact. But in a little corner, tucked away, were the small of band of legspinners. They sat discussing their art, gesturing with wrist and twirl, cheerful smiles and genuine endeavour, and acknowledging they had, for now, won the day.

Actually, they won hands down.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chandima on April 6, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    @Waqas Hafiz on (April 6, 2014, 11:22 GMT: Afridi is not the highest wicket taker in ODI. He's 8th on the list. But he's the highest wicket taker 'leggie' in ODIs. I too do find it puzzling why he's not even mentioned here.

  • Android on April 6, 2014, 11:22 GMT

    Am I missing something or is Shaid Afridi not the highest wicket take in one day cricket ever? He revived the art of leg spin. You can't say he is not a leg spinner because can bowl quicker than most Indian pace bowlers can. He is still the best according to the stats and cricinfo loves stats. He has over 200 more wickets than Shane Warne.

  • Storm on April 6, 2014, 6:26 GMT

    Major requirement for any leg-spinner is the confidence of the captain to let them bowl, not take them off immediately runs are taken.

  • sam on April 5, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    Muirhead,best leggie after days of 1 only Warne showing why he's best young spinner in world by far.Even great bowler like Lyon would have it tough getting into Aus 11. Great for Aussies though!-:)

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2014, 18:13 GMT

    I think some of the seam bowling all tornument has been woeful....England relied on their least experienced player, Starc and co got smashed, the West Indies didn't have any and Steyn apart, South Africa got slammed. The spinners in general did well. I love legspin but in the world of fast scorers and taking the attack to the bowlers, more bad deliveries get punished and legspinners out of form bowl a lot of them. They need perservering with. Good luck to them all and may you deliver your sides lots of wickets

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2014, 11:57 GMT

    It is unfair to blame Bangladesh for the playing conditions, since you have such issues almost everywhere. West Indies has a problem with rain, while in England it is perennially wet - Teams winning toss prefer batting first in ODIs in England due to rain and changing conditions. In New Zealand the grounds are oddly sized and cruel on bowlers. May be South Africa and Australia are the exceptions. The 15 degree rule issue is not caused by Bangladeshi conditions, I reckon. It is solely ICCs creation. I agree with the light issue. Apart from that the tournament did not excite much because non-asian team like New Zealand, Australia, SA and Australia were playing below par cricket and looked patchy through. That is not to be blamed on the tournament, I reckon. Same happens if the tournament is held in white nation - asian teams struggle and non-asian teams dominate.

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    Couldnt agree more with your views on legspinners in this tournament. In fact it is such a contradiction that the most difficult yet beautiful art of cricket - leg spin is surviving and thriving in the most unexpected format of cricket - t20. It is a treat to watch the leggies fox the batsmen when the batsmen seem to be have lost their minds in the rush of runs and small boundaries in the shortest form of intl cricket. Equal credit should go to the other spinners; the likes of Herath, Ajmal, Ashwin, Narine who continued to fox the bowlers; except for one exceptional performance of Dale Steyn, the quickies didnt create good impact; it could have been a different story if that man MITCH Johnson was around. One interesting commonality in the 3 leg spinners that you have named are that they are all of India-Pakistan origin; these 2 countries have given the world some of the best leggies ever - chandra, kumble, mushy, qadir etc; yet warne, benaud and macgill were better - True Aussies!!!!

  • ESPN on April 5, 2014, 9:21 GMT

    Whoops, i mean Sodhi is the superior spin bowler whose legbreaks are better than whatever Hira bowls. Ronchi is not up to it I am afraid and munro should be discarded. Has Latham been overlooked ?? Sodhi does not need to do a lot more to be selected so i dunno what the selectors think. He will take wickets, N Mac wont and who will replace him if he gets injured during the world cup next year cos vettori probably wont play

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2014, 8:28 GMT

    All the spinners in the listapart from Muirhead who hasnt gone thru rigours of FC cricket yet, have pathetic international test records.Badree isnt even worthy of getting selected of playing in ODI team ,test matches a bridge too far.The reason being none of them have a decent stock ball nor they put enough body through the action to get the rip you look for.Mishra does have side spin but is flat ,Tahir still cannot pitch a ball, Adelaide has made him damadged goods,Prasanna , nothing special , just up and down bowler with variations without stock deliveries.The mediocrity wins too in this age and that is the sad part for all the half decent bowlers of days gone by, who faded without a name.

  • ESPN on April 5, 2014, 8:18 GMT

    Another smart article by Crowe, just a shame Ish Sodhi wasnt there for new Zealand. He is a spinner than hira and would have been better than Southee who is a bit useless at the moment and is getting too many breaks considering he is fit and has not earned any. The selectors are to blame for our campaign as Sodhi should have been there, they were slow to include neesham and guptill is not up to it at the moment in any form of the game. Hopefully ryder returns soon for guptill and williamson looks a better t20 player then Guptill.

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