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Former New Zealand batsman and captain

Watch, move, and play late

New Zealand's batsmen need to clear their minds and trust their footwork to avoid being rolled over by spin in the Caribbean

Martin Crowe

June 2, 2014

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Kane Williamson: the key to New Zealand's chances against West Indies' spinners © Getty Images

As New Zealand tour the West Indies in what will be a close fight, it is likely it will come down to who spins their wheels the best. Years back, when touring the Caribbean, there was a queue every second day to get an X-ray for a possible broken bone, but not now. These days it is slow spin that will determine the outcome, and cause the pain.

Mystery spin would normally be West Indies' trump, via Sunil Narine and Shane Shillingford, while rookies Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig carry the responsibility on the other side of the trenches. But shockingly, Narine has decided to turn his back on his country to play a domestic T20 game over a vitally important Test series. I will say no more, until the end of this piece, except to say : in my heart it doesn't wash.

Instead, let me speak of what the secrets are to playing quality spin, even the mysterious kind.

To assess the virtues of what it takes to play spin well, I will refer to two great specialist players of spin, rather than just go to the obvious list of greats who dominated the game against all bowling. The two specialists were Pakistan's finest, Javed Miandad, and John Reid, the left-hander for New Zealand during the '80s.

Both were different in method. Javed was the busier of the two, John the more poised and composed. What they both possessed was an open stance to see all possible lines, and an acutely watchful eye to fend off any last-second danger. In essence, they were attracted to the slow, spinning nature of the ball, far more than the split-second flurry of pace.

They also, as did the greats, did not ever fret over picking the mystery ball, or what approach to take. They simply saw the ball at its earliest release, and with a clear mind, zeroed in on the detail of the delivery. This gave them the information as to what was happening and what was the correct response, even at the very last moment.

These days many players feel a need to analyse, to delve into what the mystery is. This is the worst approach. To fill the head with theory and second-guessing will not only confuse the mind and create doubt, it will inevitably block the ability to see what is real, the ball spinning in mid-air and seeing it for what it is. The crux is in the over-analysing and subsequent confusion.

 
 
Most important of all is the need to not overthink the situation or challenge. Far better to just practise it, absorb it, find trust in what you have, to counter spin
 

Narine, for example, is unique with his finger-flicking technique. It's cool to watch. And it is challenging also, for he is deadly accurate and bowls a nagging length. That he spins it a bit both ways makes him a truly effective international bowler. But he is no Qadir, Warne or Murali. And so the approach should be respectful and simple.

The key is clearing the mind. To not think. A good routine will assist this. What is needed is to turn off from the last ball and to wait 30 seconds before turning on a fierce focus to the next ball. And then the focus becomes the ball, and watching it, gathering the information as you witness the delivery unfolding, curving and spinning through the air.

With the use of good, agile footwork and a steady blade, the ball should be countered and measured surely enough, given the time involved. If the mind is pre-empting what might happen, or trying to make a snap decision as to which way it will spin once arriving, then the chances of playing it correctly are limited.

Too often young players and coaches will believe they need a plan. They don't. As with Reid and Miandad, they just need simplicity and trust. Trusting what they see will be enough, in which their sure feet and hand-eye feel for the ball's twists and turns will be ready at the right time. Reid and Miandad grew up with a natural background of playing on surfaces that spun. This gave them their natural instinctive trust.

When you play in a foreign land on unfamiliar surfaces, it's vital you spend as much time as possible getting exposed to what will be served up come Test time.

Most important of all is the need to not overthink the situation or challenge. Far better to just practise it, absorb it, find trust in what you have, to counter it. Don't spend that practice time going over the various theories undoubtedly on offer. Avoid them at all costs. Simply clear the mind and watch, move and play late.

Kane Williamson will hold a key to his team's fortunes. He is a terrific player, reminding me of Reid himself. With his open stance, bat down, softly held, and fast, trustworthy feet at his disposal, he can anchor the innings. Why he still feels the need to double-pump his bat held high to the quicks is puzzling and self-defeating, especially when he provides a perfect set-up to the spinners. However, if he gets past the quicks and settles in as he can against spin, he will allow Taylor and McCullum to also get in and go big. These three hold the secret to keeping it simple for the rest.

It's a big series this one, for both teams. West Indies have a new captain in Denesh Ramdin, a rapidly slowing Chris Gayle, and many other factors to decipher, which means the local team has a few issues to sort. Yet they can't afford to let this series get away from them, especially after smashing the same opponents two years earlier in the same conditions. Back then Narine dominated majorly, but this time around he won't show. It's his decision, and he isn't the only one to have done this, but under Richard Pybus and a new "West Indies First" mandate, it's a crucial blow for a once-great team to climb the ladder again.

Narine's decision shows we have a problem running too deep for comfort, and I am not looking forward to the spin that will follow.

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

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Posted by   on (June 3, 2014, 14:15 GMT)

IPl on turning pitches proved that the most effective shots vs spin are back knee on ground cross batted straight hit & slog sweep

Posted by py0alb on (June 3, 2014, 12:17 GMT)

Of course you need a plan. If batting is anything, it is planning. To bat without a plan is not to bat at all, it is to simply swing a bit of wood.

What you mean is that you cannot come into an innings with a rigid, preconceived plan. You must wait until you get to the crease, see where the gaps are, what areas the bowler is putting the ball in, and a plan should begin to form in your head about what shots will be required to put the two together.

Posted by ilovetests on (June 3, 2014, 9:22 GMT)

It is a shame that after reading an excellent article about technical requirements for playing spin that 95% of the posters are writing about the Narine's situation and the merits of club vs country/T20 vs test.

While not a technical thing, I hope that the batsmen are able to look for singles to turn over strike and keep the score ticking over. I don't want it to be block, block, bash, block, slog as our batting against spin often tends to be. It is going to be a real battle of attrition and 250 runs in a day could be match-winning, but singles need to be scored. Besides, the likes of McCullum, Taylor, Anderson etc can easily accelerate later on when the bowlers and fielders are tired (or even the likes of Watling, Sodhi, Southee etc down the order). I just hope the openers repay the faith put in them and we get a decent foundation.

Posted by baghels.a on (June 3, 2014, 8:39 GMT)

I am in mid 30's and i was brought up on a diet of international cricket, Summer Olympics and Football World Cups, so it was a shock to my system when my much younger cousin introduced me to the world of European football leagues 14 years back.Any national team is elitist in nature because not more than 15-16 players can represent there countries while in all these leagues 300-400 odd players get a chance to shine.

One has to keep remembering that IPL final was only clashing with preparatory camp and not the actual test match and Narine would just have missed 2 days of the camp .I am an proud Indian and always love and prefer watching Indian cricket team but i also watch IPL,Ranji,U 19 matches with equal relish, cmmon let common sense prevail and please give IPL a two month window so we can avoid these club vs country debates.

Posted by baghels.a on (June 3, 2014, 8:24 GMT)

Well Narine feels valued and loved by KKR which he doesn't by WICB , and it not just WICB , look at various other boards where various players associations are locked in a battle with there respective boards, in every other sports like Football,American sports ,Tennis we have made peace with the fact that club comes first so why Cricket should be any different ?? don't we see the likes of Nadal,Federer,Djokovic put there career first aheadof playing Davis Cup matches.We all love our Man Uniteds,Liverpools,Barcas,Madrids of the world and before the start of WC in Brazil about 100 odd players won't be there because of various injuries they picked up over the course of a grueling 9 month long season , you don't see football fans and football media raise a hue and cry about it. @ Josiah M Philips, you are a Chelsea fan how would you feel if your star players like Hazard,Ramires,Cahill,Willian etc pick up an injury while playing for there countries .contd

Posted by choppa13 on (June 3, 2014, 1:41 GMT)

I think that it is because of players playing for there country is how they are noticed in the first place so they owe it to there country and should be 100% committed to there country first and foremost without playing for their country how else are they exposed to the rest of the world. W.I.c.b laid down the criteria and narine chose the ipl a choice that he will have to live with besides its only the first match he is missing but as a new Zealander I'm happy with his decision :)

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 22:33 GMT)

Ipl is still DOMESTIC cricket. in no way shape or form is it as big as an international game, with international standard players.

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 22:20 GMT)

West Indies is not even a country, so country vs club debate is meaningless. I remember Dwayne Bravo making some interesting comments a few years ago about how his priorities lay first with Trinidad and Tobago, then his IPL side and then the West Indies, as T&T was his nation.

And regarding Test(boring circus) vs IPL/T20(exciting circus), most of the people are turning to T20, even the South Africans are not able to fill stadiums even after being world No.1 and the series being Kallis retirement series.

The test lovers should note that by pouring vitroil and abuse on IPL and T20 they are just pushing away the young fans from watching tests, that is the reason i smile whenever a test series is cancelled for ODI's/T20 and when the Test match world cup was cancelled.

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 18:23 GMT)

@shane-oh. I'm not comparing anything my friend. I was trying to point out that every team wants to win ('country first') yet somehow accommodates the needs of a player if the need is real. Family emergency is one such real need. Equally real can be (depends on who you ask) commitment to see one's team through. However, in Narine's case, the reality, will always smell of money to some. Did Narine do it for money or was he was truly committed to KKR's campaign? The truth in this case, unlike a family emergency, is gray, isn't it? Could the WICB have given him 48 more hours to join the camp? Now, that is an answer which may be less gray. Don't you think Shane-oh?

Posted by cricket-india on (June 2, 2014, 15:27 GMT)

Narine's decision was forced on him by WICB who wanted him to give up the biggest match of the year, just to prove a point...agree 100% with thinkingcricket. and it's not like narine doesn't care, right? he appealed to the board, and even the KKR mgmt offered to fly him back on the earliest and fastest flights hom after the final, but it wasn't good enough for the bosses at the board. a fiasco that a format struggling for survival could rreally do without.

Posted by baghels.a on (June 2, 2014, 10:35 GMT)

I find it really amusing when these New Zealanders and Australians pontificate on what constitutes real cricket, is Rugby and Aussie Rules real Football ?? just like some of you call IPL a playground circus, i find Rugby union/league/sevens and Aussie rules just silly kick and rush affairs with no iota of skill involved .As far Martin Crowe is concerned IPL is just a domestic game but when it comes to Super Rugby,NRL,AFL,European football leagues it is perfectly valid and acceptable...what convenient double standards just as in Test cricket leaving balls outside off stump and surviving a session is a test of patience and application similarly trying to score 12-15 runs from a Sunil Narine over on a wearing pitch in a t20/ODI when trying to chase a stiff target is equally a challenge.

Posted by EdStainsby on (June 2, 2014, 10:19 GMT)

Excellent piece. Hope the Black Caps batsmen read it.

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 9:16 GMT)

@Thinking Cricket I am not opposing the importance (or the enjoyment) of shorter formats. I misinterpreted your comments to those masses of people who just come alive during T20 leagues and then complaint how boring test cricket is. So I apologise on that part. But I'll still go with Test cricket as pinnacle of the game. It may depend on our choices and may vary but I think it provides us a balance between bat and ball better than any of shorter forms.

Posted by shane-oh on (June 2, 2014, 8:41 GMT)

@ThinkingCricket - oh, sweet irony.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (June 2, 2014, 8:12 GMT)

@Shane-oh- It's preposterous to think that you get to determine who a 'real cricket fan' is, and that only your preferences count or matter. Calling the IPL 'play-ground circus cricket' is not only far from the truth, but highly perjorative, is it any wonder that Test Cricket is diminishing in popularity, when it's supporters resort to such vitriol.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (June 2, 2014, 8:10 GMT)

@ShaneBond: I'm not representing anyone, just pointing out the reality that there are a ridiculously large number of fans who love T20 fans. Additionally, you're wrong, I love Test Cricket, but I also love ODI, T20 and franchise cricket. I love all forms of the game, which is why I am opposed to equating a massive final with world-class players and top upcoming talent in it, to a Test Match where the players of lower quality (though as you rightly point out, hardly journeymen).

I'm not opposed to Test Cricket, I'm opposed to the idea of it's primacy, especially with the undertones that limited overs cricket and those who support/prefer to play it are lesser and deserve to be demeaned.

Posted by shane-oh on (June 2, 2014, 7:57 GMT)

Comments on here so far are rather biased and uninformed. @Ramen Saha - really, you are comparing Narine's situation to that of someone visiting family during an emergency? There is no comparison there and that is simply a silly thing to say.

@thenoostar - we hear this "argument" time and time again from the IPL apologists, that somehow the number of spectators is relevant to the question. It isn't.

You're all free to enjoy your playground circus cricket, but the reality is there are many real cricket fans in the world, and they will always value the primacy of test cricket, and international cricket in general, over some meaningless domestic T20 charade.

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 7:49 GMT)

@Thenoostar Journeyman opposition? Ross Taylor is one of world's top 10 batsman. Boult and Southee are in top ten bowler's ranking. And it's a young team if you leave Mccullum (who isn't a journeyman himself). Would you then please explain what journeyman means? @Thinking Cricket I don't think I need you to represent all the fans on how you don't like Test Cricket. No one's asking you to follow and please, don't speak on other's behalf.

Posted by thenoostar on (June 2, 2014, 6:46 GMT)

Why would a player choose to play against in a competition filled with quality players in a packed out stadium when they could play a test against journeyman opposition that will draw very few spectators.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (June 2, 2014, 6:03 GMT)

Narine's decision was forced on him by WICB who wanted him to give up the biggest match of the year, just to prove a point.

In your heart, every Test matters more than every T20, but that's no longer the case for the players or the fans, and one needs to question, to what extent we can keep paying lip or actual service to the preferences of a dwindling minority who have questionable stake in the process.

Posted by   on (June 2, 2014, 5:21 GMT)

Regarding Narine, "in my heart it doesn't wash", you say Marty. Why? Would you pray expand? At what point in a professional cricketer's life does the country fade away for a 'club', 'cash', or any other 'commitment'? What is the secret honor code of playing for the country? Or is it the administrators administering their whims under the cloak of the 'country' first? Are international players not allowed to visit family during emergencies smack in the middle of an important foreign tour? Or, is Narine's case different because he is committed to a T20 circus that brings no cents to the Pybus bus? There are many layers of this conundrum and I am really eager to read all your thoughts about it. Perhaps you could reveal what goes through a professional player's mind when caught between the pan and the fire. I will wait anxiously Marty. Please do write more about Narine and his situation.

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