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Playing spin well is a state of mind

VVS Laxman works one off the pads AFP

I was bemused by Justin Langer's mystifying recent explanation of how Australian batsmen struggle with spin bowling on the subcontinent. "It's almost like Indians have chillies from a very early age, therefore if you eat chilli it doesn't really bother you," Langer said. "But if we eat chilli, it burns our mouth, which is the same while playing spin."

I acquired a taste for spicy food at 19 but learned to play spin bowling from about eight. I retain my enjoyment of spicy food to this day and those lessons I was taught as a youngster stood me in good stead as my career progressed, culminating in a few months at finishing school - a tour of India.

To me, it is at a young age that the real problem lies with modern Australian batsmen, and it is here that the roots of their disconnect with playing good spin bowling lie: the coaches overlook the correct footwork fundamentals.

The first things I was told about playing spin bowling were among the most important:

1) Don't worry about the wicketkeeper when you leave your crease, because if you do it means you are thinking about missing the ball.

2) You might as well be stumped by three yards rather than three inches.

To make a real difference to a spin bowler's length you have to advance a decent distance, and coming out of your crease only a little generally improves the delivery.

I remember asking Shane Warne after Australia's 2001 tour of India, where VVS Laxman tamed the legspinner: "How do you think you bowled?"

"I don't think I bowled that badly," was his response.

"You didn't," I assured him, "it's just that when Laxman advances three metres and hits you through mid-on and then the next delivery is a little higher and shorter and he's quickly on the back foot and pulls the ball, it's excellent footwork, not bad bowling."

"If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, then you can eat spicy food and also play spin bowling. The trick is to acquire a taste for the former and be taught the latter correctly at a young age"

During that series, Laxman used his feet better than anyone I have seen to hit the ball against the spin through wide mid-on; it was exhilarating stuff.

However, you don't have to leave the crease to be successful at playing good spin bowling. Two of the best batsmen I've seen, Garfield Sobers and Graeme Pollock, both played mostly from the crease, but importantly their footwork was decisive and they weren't fooled in judging length.

Australian batsmen haven't always struggled against good spin bowling. Neil Harvey was acknowledged as a twinkle-toed batsman who was never out stumped in his Test career, and the dashing Doug Walters is the best player of offspin bowling I have seen. There were many others in that period who were extremely efficient when it came to playing good spin.

Playing spin bowling well is a state of mind. To succeed, a batsman has to be decisive, look to dominate, have a plan and not fear the turning delivery. Once I learned on the 1969 tour of India that because of the slower nature of the pitches you had a fraction more time than you first thought, and that when the ball turned a long way it provided opportunities for the batsman as well as the bowler, I never again worried about prodigious spin. I was often dismissed but I never again feared the turning ball; I looked upon it as a challenge to be enjoyed.

If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, then you can eat spicy food and also play spin bowling. The trick is to acquire a taste for the former and be taught the latter correctly at a young age.