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Pop the Question

'The dot ball has become too important'

Bishan Bedi answers readers' questions about the decline in Indian spin bowling, the time he felt helpless, and whether a doosra can ever be legit

Bishan Bedi bowls, Surrey v Indians, Tour match, The Oval, 3rd day, August 2, 1971

"What I could do was invariably pitch it on the same spot with different variations and from different angles from the bowling crease"  •  Getty Images

Sunil Gavaskar once said that you could bowl six different balls in an over. Which Indian spinner would you pick (other than the famous quartet) who has similar variety? asked Sanjit from the UK
I don't think I could bowl six different balls in an over. What I could do was invariably pitch it on the same spot with different variations and from different angles from the bowling crease. Sometimes without my knowledge there was more spin in the air. So if I didn't know, how would the batsman know? At an early age I learnt that line is optional and length is mandatory. I was fortunate that I had a very smooth action, which helped me a lot. If I had to pick a present-day spinner it would be Anil Kumble. He was very versatile. He was not a big turner of the ball, but neither was I. I never saw Subhash Gupte bowl but I read about his genius and versatility and with him settling in the West Indies many young Indians were deprived of his greatness.
Is it possible to bowl a doosra with a legit action? asked Anup Singh from India
No, you can't. It cannot happen without flexing your elbow. It is a very ugly sight. I have never seen anyone bowl a doosra with a clean action. I can't understand why the ICC has allowed bowlers to get away.
Have you ever felt helpless when bowling? asked Kadishra Badeshamin from the UK
If you get into that situation then there is no contest. You have to control the situation. At times there are things beyond your control, like weather or a flat pitch. Otherwise you can't shy away from the situation. One instance where I was cursing myself was in Port-of-Spain in the fifth Test of the 1971 series. I only got one wicket but I was made to feel helpless though I bowled one of my best spells.
Should India reduce its number of Test centres to four or five to make sure that it can produce and maintain better cricket wickets and hence promote Test cricket? asked Divya Jain from India
That is a fantastic question. This is a person who cares for Indian cricket. Yes, I agree with your views. India has the maximum number of Test grounds but every venue can't expect to host a Test. You have to respect your Test centres, like in England - not every county ground hosts the five-day game. You can do whatever you want to with one-day cricket, but preserve the sanctity of Test cricket by limiting number of grounds.
What is the key to getting decent flight and dip while bowling finger spin? asked SJ from Australia
Practice, more practice. I see young kids of today don't practise for more than an hour. You don't need a batsman to bowl at. You can bowl at a single stump. Have at least a dozen balls with you, bowl, go and pick up the ball and come back to your mark and do it again and again and again. Flight and dip are two very outstanding characteristics of a quality spinner. It involves making use of the conditions like breeze to your advantage.
Please explain what is "loop" and how it differs from "flight" asked Naresh Bhandare from India
Flight is leaving the ball in the air: if you leave it slow in the air, it will come slow off the pitch, too. Loop is a trajectory. When it dips before reaching a batsman - it is bowled at a level slightly higher than the batsman's eye level. It is like a curve and will come to a spinner with loads of practice and patience. That is why I advise youngsters to bowl eight hours in the nets. You have got to be mad to achieve something. Junoon [passion] is very important for a bowler.
In the Twenty20-dominated era, what should be a spinner's approach to bowling? Can you still give the ball a bit of loop and invite the batsmen to play a false shot, or should you be content with darting the ball in? asked Sanjam Suri from Canada
I don't think it should be any different. As for the loop, of course you can. Darting the ball in is not the answer because if it is darted flat and quick, you are playing into the hands of the batsman. At that pace, slightly slower than medium pace, the quicker it goes on to the bat, the faster it will go off the bat. You have to make the batsman pause and think. That is the quality of a good spinner.
You have always said a straight six off a spinner can only be hit off a good ball! Can you explain that? asked Kunal Sharma from Canada
A straight six is normally off a good-length ball. If you are pulling, hooking, cutting for six you are using the width and length. But a straight six is a ball at the stumps against a batsman who is using his feet and taking risks. That is why I say it is difficult.
I grew up as a medium-pace bowler. I am currently trying to bowl legspin. Can someone not naturally inclined to spin in youth learn how to spin at an older age by simply practising and persisting? Or is spin a natural talent? asked Harinder Jadwani from Canada
Spin is a natural talent. But it also involves temperament. Take the example of Anil Kumble, who changed to spin from medium pace. He became a very aggressive legspinner. I don't know how young or old you are but if you are reasonably young then you can try bowling spin. But you have to be patient.
Who were the three best players of spin bowling in your time? asked Salman Ruiz from Canada
Garry Sobers, Ian Chappell, Ken Barrington, Viv Richards, Bev Congdon and Javed Miandad were outstanding players of spin. All these batsmen picked the flighted ball early and took the challenge to the spinners.
"You cannot bowl a doosra without flexing your elbow. It is a very ugly sight. I have never seen anyone bowl a doosra with a clean action"
Spin bowlers are usually more successful and dangerous when they have a side-on action, but in recent times a lot of bowlers who made debuts with side-on actions began bowling with high-arm actions. What is the philosophy behind this and is it a more potent approach? asked Sameer Arora from India
Cricket is basically a side-on game but that doesn't mean players with front-on actions haven't been successful. But the front-on action has limitations to the extent that the entire body doesn't go behind the follow-through. There is a tendency to stop. Also, there is the fatal tendency to have a suspect action with a front-on approach. As for high-arm, it is very essential to accompany it with a long-arm release. If you release an arrow from the bow you don't just snap, you take time to release.
How should I regain my stock delivery as a legspinner? I lost my spin on it while repeatedly trying to bowl the one that goes the other way asked Jay Prakash from India
You lost it because you were trying to do something different and you developed some other muscles. But you can still get it back. Ask yourself how you lost it and got the other one. This is a very personal matter. Many times kids don't know how they lost it, but if you are aware you've lost it, then you can get it back. Just talk to yourself and you will find the answers.
What do you think is the reason for the dearth of top-class spin bowling in India today? What can be done? asked Prabhat from India
The dearth is because of too much of an emphasis on ODI and Twenty20 cricket. The other important reason is that the dot ball has become the holy grail. You cannot be successful temperamentally if you are not willing to be hit. Unless the batsman is willing to take you on, how are you going to get him out? If you think in terms of a wicket, it becomes a dot ball automatically.
When you declared the innings in the West Indies in the face of a barrage of bouncers on the tailenders, was it your own decision or a collective decision by the entire team? And also after the "Vaseline affair" how were you treated in England on your return to the county circuit? asked TS Ravi Shankar from India
It was a collective decision. These decisions are taken in the dressing room, where you take into confidence the team management along with some of the senior boys. Ultimately the captain has to take the decision. As for the Vaseline incident, I wasn't treated very well during my county stint. But I expected that.
Soon in Pop the Question: Mohammad Kaif. Send in your questions for him here

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi