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Feature

Meet M Siddharth - an unusual spinner who swings the ball

His family moved back to Chennai after nearly a decade in Indonesia so that he could play professional cricket

Deivarayan Muthu
05-Apr-2024
Left-arm spinner M Siddharth on IPL debut, Lucknow Super Giants vs Punjab Kings, IPL 2024, Lucknow, March 30, 2024

M Siddharth: from Indonesia to Lucknow, with several stops in between  •  BCCI

After beating Royal Challengers Bengaluru at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Lucknow Super Giants coach Justin Langer revealed his first conversation with his little-known left-arm fingerspinner M Siddharth. It was about Virat Kohli.
"I saw him [Siddharth] bowl an arm ball and I said, 'Hey Sid, you reckon you can get Virat out for us?'" Langer said, before mimicking Siddharth responding "Yes, sir!" with a vigorous nod and a big smile.
Langer was speaking after Siddharth had indeed dismissed Kohli for his first wicket in the IPL. Playing only his second IPL game, against one of the best batters at an unforgiving venue for spinners, he silenced the partisan crowd at the Chinnaswamy. After darting in quick, hard-length inswingers, Siddharth slowed his pace down, found grip, and had Kohli skewing a leading edge to backward point for 22.
A left-arm fingerspinner bowling inswingers? So, Siddharth is not your regular left-arm spinner. He's an Imad Wasim-style bowler who swings his arm ball. Like Imad, and West Indies' Akeal Hosein, Siddharth uses his index finger, with the seam upright and canted towards fine leg, to swing the ball into the right-handers. Orthodox left-arm spinners usually bowl with the seam pointed towards first slip to turn it away from the right-handers.
R Ashwin and R Sai Kishore, Siddharth's seniors at Tamil Nadu, also swing the new ball but not at 115kph like Siddharth does. This is why Super Giants bid up to INR 2.4 crore for him at the auction and backed him to bowl with the new ball against Kohli and Faf du Plessis.
"I've been bowling that [swinging arm] ball since childhood," Siddharth, 25, said in Bengaluru. "I've been working on it as well, but I feel it's something that comes naturally to me.
"I've always dreamt of taking his [Kohli's] wicket. I mean you can ask anyone in this world, and he will tell the biggest wicket you can ever take. So, I'm really, really happy."
Siddharth's journey to the IPL has taken a long and winding road. When he was only a month old, his family moved from Chennai to Indonesia for nearly a decade because of his father's work. His dad Manimaran also played a bit of club cricket and even played in the Hong Kong Super Sixes tournament. When Siddharth decided to become a professional cricketer, his family moved back to Chennai to give him access to the best facilities.
Siddharth's dream was to become the next Irfan Pathan but his coaches felt he didn't have enough pace to become a left-arm quick. He was asked to switch to left-arm spin, but his ability to swing the ball remained.
Straight out of age-group cricket, Siddharth took the new ball on his T20 debut against a mighty Mumbai side in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2019 and bowled Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav with fizzing inswingers.
But he has played just six T20s for Tamil Nadu in five years since, with Sai Kishore, Washington Sundar, Varun Chakravarthy and Ashwin ahead of him in the pecking order. In the most recent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Siddharth didn't even make it to Tamil Nadu's squad of 15 despite the Impact Player rule being in use. The selection snub left him dejected.
Until this season, his opportunities in the IPL were also limited. He didn't get a game when he was part of Kolkata Knight Riders (2020) and Delhi Capitals (2021). In 2022 and 2023, when Siddharth was unsold at the auction, he went away and perfected his arm ball with AC Prathiban, the former Tamil Nadu and Puducherry offspinner who has also coached Varun and Washington.
"When Siddharth was a medium-pacer, it might have been easier to swing it with two fingers. With left-arm spin, it was slightly difficult to bowl the arm ball with one finger, but he found a way to bowl it," Prathiban told ESPNcricinfo. "We worked on the areas and the lengths he had to bowl. We used to throw him challenges at the nets. Some batters attack it while others are defensive against it.
"We also worked on creating different angles for the arm ball - whether coming closer to the stumps or moving away from the stumps. He used to do a lot of spot-bowling for that ball on different wickets, including astro-turf pitches and wickets that don't assist bowling. The more you practice, you get a feel of it. That's what he tells me: 'Anna (brother), I have a good feel for the ball now and I'm good with this'."
Siddharth became a super specialised new-ball swing bowler for Shahrukh Khan's Lyca Kovai Kings in the 2023 TNPL. His economy rate of 5.61 in that tournament was the best among bowlers who had bowled at least 100 balls. Talent scouts are often skeptical about selecting batters from the TNPL, given the extremely short boundaries at some venues, but it's been a good testing ground for bowlers. Just ask T Natarajan and Varun, who are now IPL stars.
Swingin' Siddharth grabbed the attention of Sridharan Sriram, the former Tamil Nadu allrounder and current LSG assistant coach who was doing commentary during the TNPL. Sriram and LSG have used him in that new-ball role in the IPL too. Siddharth has bowled five overs so far, all in the powerplay.
On his IPL debut, Siddharth started well against Shikhar Dhawan, but the Punjab Kings captain picked him off for two fours and a six in his next over.
In one of his YouTube videos, Ashwin, who has been Siddharth's team-mate at both TN and Capitals, said the feedback from scouts and coaches to Siddharth was to tighten up against left-hand batters. Siddharth has taken that advice on board and has been working behind the scenes to broaden his range. He might need the variations when he comes up against Gujarat Titans' Sai Sudharsan, his TNPL team-mate who is a spin disruptor, on Sunday.
"Yes, we have worked on that [away-going] ball," Prathiban says. "But first he has to settle in with his stock ball. If you take his domestic numbers in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he didn't find it difficult to bowl against left-handers. He bowled 11 balls in the powerplay to a left-hander on IPL debut and that's a positive sign. Among the three fours to Dhawan, one was edged, and Dhawan is extremely good against left-arm spinners. It's very important to identify that defensive one-run ball against a left-hander."
For now, Siddharth can enjoy his breakthrough in the IPL. It was worth the wait as Kohli's wicket led him to meeting his childhood hero Pathan in Bengaluru.
"He asked me how I started my cricket career and then he wished me luck and he said he even has the same hairstyle as me," Siddharth said with a smile. "So, we were just talking about it."
From Indonesia to Lucknow via Tamil Nadu, Kolkata and Delhi, Siddharth has already travelled a long road, and he's just getting started.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo