July 4, 2014

What spinners should know about bowling in England

Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind

If the pitch is not spinning, tell yourself to stick to your lengths © Getty Images

It was my first match for Middlesex and the team's first of the 2007 Championship. We were playing in Taunton against Justin Langer's Somerset. Ed Smith and Richard Pybus, the Middlesex captain and coach, had told me that I would be only filling in for our four seamers with the odd few overs before lunch, tea, and towards the end of the day.

Middlesex had scored 600 for 4 in their first innings. Left-arm spinner Ian Blackwell had taken one wicket. When it was our turn to bowl, Marcus Trescothick smashed our fast bowlers and Somerset racked up 100 for 1 in about ten overs.

Off my first ball I had Trescothick caught bat-pad at short leg. The guy who was told he would bowl only ten overs in the day ended up bowling 50 and finishing with 4 for 168. The seamers picked up six wickets in the drawn match in which more than 1600 runs had been scored.

You need to be big-hearted to bowl in England. It always boils down to your skill and your heart. That is the lesson I learned in my eight years of county cricket, where I played for four different teams.

India will know that since England don't have a specialist spinner anymore - after Graeme Swann's retirement and the disciplinary issues Monty Panesar is struggling with - it's highly unlikely that they will prepare pitches that will spin big even on the fourth day.

So apart from your batsmen putting up enough runs on the board to let you go out and bowl with confidence, the key to succeeding and remaining consistent as a spinner is to not be attacking all the time. I read that R Ashwin said he would like to be a more attacking spinner. That's easier said than done, especially in England, and given the way Alastair Cook and his men played spin in India in the 2012-13 Test series.

One of my ploys was to push a fielder deep into areas where I expected the batsman to hit. I was telling the batsman: I'm attacking you, so try and take me on

In first-class cricket in England you need to understand your role on the first few days. If the pitch is not doing much, you become the stock bowler, play with your flight, set in-out fields, depending on the batsman, and give control to the captain and the team.

The conditions also dictate how you bowl. In England it's important to pitch on the right length; for a spinner that is good length. It is a good defensive and attacking length to stick to, particularly on pitches that can be slow. In overseas series, I have seen Ashwin being cut and pulled a lot. You can't lose your lengths in England; you can, at times, play with your lines.

Another important element to bowling well in England is to put a lot of body behind the ball. As Sanjay Manjrekar has repeatedly pointed out, many Indian spinners use their shoulders and fingers to impart turn, which is why they don't get enough out of unresponsive pitches, unlike Australia's Nathan Lyon, who can generate bounce even on pitches that do not take turn because he uses his body a lot more.

During India's first tour match of the 2011 tour to England, against Somerset, Amit Mishra went for some runs despite having bowled well on the second day. When he asked me how I bowled on such pitches, I told him that he had to realise that spinners will be hit. So you need to play around with the batsman's mind and the field placements.

One of my ploys was to push a fielder deep into areas where I expected the batsman to hit. I would place a deep midwicket to Trescothick, who played the lap shot really well and frequently. People might say it is a defensive mindset but they should understand that I am trying to block the batsman's big shot.

You should not be reacting after a shot has been hit. Instead I was telling the batsman: I'm attacking you. I have close-in fielders but I am also placing a fielder here for the big shot, so try and take me on. Sometimes it plays with his ego but it also brings me comfort and gives me freedom to experiment.

In England it is also a question of mind over matter. It is about sticking to your strengths and doing your job. You know the weather can be cold. You know that sometimes the pitches are going to be really slow and might not take spin. When nothing is going well for you, and this happens to every bowler, you must stay positive and bowl well.

It is not always about thinking of wickets. It is about biding your time. You have to adopt a role: if it is cold, keep lots of hand warmers with you; if the pitch is not taking spin, tell yourself you are going to stick to your lengths; play around with the fields; play with the batsman's mind; stick to your strengths.

Indian seamers won't find it hard to get used to the Dukes ball in England since it's similar to the SG ball they bowl with at home © Getty Images

John Emburey, the former Middlesex and England offspinner, told me that it was always good to try things. He said that at Lord's, spinners, especially left-arm ones, usually bowl from the Nursery End to take advantage of the slope. Emburey, who was accustomed to bowling from the Pavilion End, would switch sides with former England left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds to bowl from the Nursery End and bowl tighter lines on the off stump to force the outside edge. So it is important to be aware and open to doing things that you will not generally do.

One advantage the Indian spinners have is, they will not find it hard to get used to the Dukes ball, because it is similar to the one they use at home, the SG Test ball, which has a pronounced seam. The Dukes ball stays hard throughout, which is a good thing for a spinner, especially on a dry surface.

At times, more than the pitches, it is the success of the seamers up front that plays a vital role in the spinner being effective. Some of the surfaces in England can be really slow, especially at Lord's and The Oval. There is nothing for spinners at Trent Bridge. The Old Trafford pitch can break up, but at the Rose Bowl it won't.

Overall, the pitches are not going to be conducive to spin, especially in the wake of England's series defeat against Sri Lanka.

Former India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik played for four county teams between 2005 and 2013