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Spin in cricket

June 5, 2014

Where are the spinners?

Kaushik Bhattacharya

Will we get to see spinners of such quality again? © Associated Press

Graeme Swann's retirement was a sad development for world cricket. Cricketers like Swann add a lot to the game, through their talent, attitude and their excellence at the Test format. Jon Hotten was right in saying that Swann is the player the rebuilding England side would miss the most, but it can be argued that the world game would miss him almost as much. With Swann gone, and with Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori having completely faded away, and with Saeed Ajmal and Rangana Herath not likely to last much longer, the next great - or even really good - Test match spinners are nowhere in sight.

Most fans of the five-day game would probably rate great fast bowling as the thing they like the most along with fine batsmanship. And it's no wonder that in most 'greatest cricketer' or 'my favourite player' lists, these breeds dominate. In my view though, spin bowling is what imparts a unique rhythm to Test match cricket and makes it so different from other sports. No other role in a team sport requires that mix of patience, focus, and determination combined with the ability to suddenly seize the jugular. My view is likely rose-tinted (and therefore biased) having spent my formative years watching the likes of Warne, Kumble, Murali, Saqlain and Mushtaq.

On the other hand, the top spinners since Swann's debut in 2008 - outside of those already mentioned - aren't names that command respect or awe - Ojha, Lyon, Ashwin, Shakib, and Rehman. All good, honest toilers, but none that you'd back to run through a side on a good batting wicket with not too many runs in the bank. Not one there to thrill or even inspire hope for the future.

The attitude of captains around the world has not helped much either. Nathan Lyon has been ignored in favour of names like Xavier Doherty and Ashton Agar who wouldn't make a second XI for an IPL team. India have recently resorted to picking Ravindra Jadeja as their specialist overseas spinner and England have picked Moeen Ali as Swann's replacement. South Africa, who've never had much faith in spinners since readmission, keep dropping Imran Tahir every time he goes for runs.

The recent World T20 tournament offered a glimmer of hope with spinners ending up as six of the top ten wicket takers (considering only Test sides). But it's hard to see the likes of Tahir, Samuel Badree, and Amit Mishra forging much of a Test career. The IPL as well has had spinners, legspinners in particular, doing really well but bowlers like Pravin Tambe, Karn Sharma and Yuzvendra Chahal will struggle to get into their domestic teams for four-day games, let alone the national team. It's ironic that the emergence of the shortest format led to fears of spinners becoming extinct but while they're thriving in T20, their future in the five-day format looks bleak.

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Posted by Shahzaib on (July 30, 2014, 20:58 GMT)

I would say West Indies and India missed out Badree and Mishra, much South Africa might miss out on Tahir... They were certainly not in the category of the greats, but with a little confidence and guidance could have turned out to be very good Test match bowlers. Also remember the glamour effect that unique flashy players like Narine have on us as spectators... We tend to remember characters like him more than, say, a Herath or Lyon. And for those saying that modern spinners don't 'spin' the ball enough like their predecessors used to, might I remind you of a certain spinner called Kumble? He did pretty well for himself despite not being a big turner of the ball. Its their ability to outfox the batsman more than their ability to spin that makes them great. I do believe that the next great spinner is around the corner, with Sri Lanka looking like the most likely team to provide an opportunity to one.

Posted by Kaushik on (June 9, 2014, 13:22 GMT)

@Suman Reza: Sunil Narine has played a grand total of 6 Tests so far with a strike rate that's nearly 80. Still very early days before he can be called one to watch I would think.

Posted by Dummy4 on (June 7, 2014, 8:22 GMT)

Sole reason is poor field placements in tests.

Absence of deep point in tests cause spinners to prevent from bowling attacking off stump line bcz every off stumpish ball literally gets square driven or cut towards & cut is the easiest attacking shot vs spin..While on the leg side spinners get milked due to unnecessarily defensive fields on leg side.

Spinners should encourage the batsmen to play lofted shots straight & on leg side

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

The word 'spinner' is being misused here. The bowlers who do well in the IPL and in T20 cricket generally tend not to spin the ball very much. Narine, Mendis, Tredwell, Doherty, Badree, Ashwin- they all bowl good lengths, vary pace and flight and get a little bit of turn. That's enough to keep the runs down to 6-7 an over in T20 and to get a few wickets when batsmen try to hit boundaries off them. In test cricket, where there isn't nearly as much pressure to score quickly, bowlers like that are just milked for 2/3 runs an over without much risk. They're economical, but not threatening in the way Swann, Warne, Harbhajan etc. were. Ashwin is perhaps the saddest case, because he was a real threat before cutting his spin for the sake of accuracy and economy in the short formats and as a result going for over 50 runs per wicket against England in India in 2012.

Short-format bowlers and test bowlers are beginning to be two different species.

Posted by Android on (June 6, 2014, 9:09 GMT)

Lyon is test regular sir

Posted by Dummy4 on (June 6, 2014, 8:37 GMT)

The main job of the spinner is to spin the ball. With the advent of T20 cricket, most of the spinners are trying to keep the runs down instead of going out there, flighting the ball and deceiving the batsmen. In such a situation where will the next Warne/Murail/Swann come from?

Posted by Dummy4 on (June 6, 2014, 5:59 GMT)

Hopefully Ish Sodhi can be as good as his potential says

Posted by Android on (June 6, 2014, 3:49 GMT)

Watch out akshar patel

Posted by kent on (June 5, 2014, 20:11 GMT)

We bemoan the absence of the genuine spinner today. It is a phenomenon that is fast becoming a reality.The limited overs game, in particular the T20 has had the following circumstantial impact on the spinner:1.The need to restrict scoring is greater than to take wickets,the spinner develops a mindset as a limiter.Giving the ball more air, is a risk few spinners take, and opt forcrisp and tight lines to avoid being hoisted over the boundary.In the shorter formats the spinner is limited His reduced opportunities to strategize are reduced, along with the luxury of overs to work and psyche out the batsman.Also the ball is not on the field long enough to wear and give grip and turn of the older ball. Also the brevity of the game does not factor in a wearing 5 day pitch with bounce and turn. He curbs the aggressive shot with flat trajectories and swift ball turnover that unsettles the batsmen, rather than taking him out.The classic spinner mayfade into oblivion, only to be seen on youtube!

Posted by Android on (June 5, 2014, 19:51 GMT)

Excellent article Kaushik.Would like to read more of your articles...

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