Tweaking the tale

Cricket

Tweaking the tale

Have a glance at the ICC’s top-ranked T20 International bowlers, and you will find that the top three slots are occupied by spinners.

In fact, eight of the top 10 spots are taken up by slower bowlers. Tellingly, five of those bowlers belong to the sub-continental teams.

Even in the ongoing World T20, four of the top six places for most wickets go to spinners. Leg-spinners Imran Tahir (South Africa), Samuel Badree (West Indies) and Amit Mishra (India) and off-spinner R Ashwin (India) have a combined tally of 43 wickets, which is reflected in their team’s fortunes as well in the event.

Their economy rates range between 4.91 and 6.68 runs per over, an excellent show in this format where a bowler would be happy to go at just under eight.

When the T20s were introduced, spinners were expected to have little or a very limited role but as the years have rolled on, they have not only found ways to survive the test but have evolved into a potent force.

Look at the top teams that fared badly in the tournament – England, New Zealand and Australia -- and you will see that all of them lacked quality spinners.

All the semifinalists in the World T20 had spinners as integral part of their plans. A three-pronged spin attack has been India’s template for success in this tournament as were Badree and Sunil Narine for the West Indies.

Pakistan boasted a veritable mix in Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi and Zulfiqar Babar, just as Sri Lanka have relied on Sachitra Senanayake and Rangana Herath to do the job for them with Seekkuge Prasanna being added to their options.

Even South Africa made optimum use of leggie Tahir, who is the joint second highest wicket-taker in the tournament.

So, just how have spinners managed to assume such pre-eminence? Conditions in Dhaka, of course, have been kind to the spinners but you still need the skills to exploit them to your advantage.

Australian skipper George Bailey agrees spin has a crucial role in T20s and particularly so in the sub-continent. “I think spin plays a huge role in T20, wherever it’s played in the world. It tends to go one of two ways but certainly in these conditions, it tends to be a match-winning factor. It’s a challenge (for batsmen),” he points out.

Indian skipper MS Dhoni holds similar views. “In this tournament particularly, I think, there is a bit of purchase for the spinners,” he pointed out.

“We are playing with three spinners and even part-timer Suresh Raina has been bowling well... When the conditions favour us, I think our bowlers become very exciting and they make the most out of it. But they have struggled on wickets where there is no purchase for spinners.”

In over nine matches – Tests and ODIs -- in South Africa and New Zealand, Ashwin had bagged just two wickets and attracted plenty of criticism. Back in familiar environs, the off-spinner has turned things around to re-establish his position as the number one spinner in the side.

Dhoni, however, also points to the difference in the quality of spinners. “To some extent, you may say, the sub-continent teams generally have good spinners, so they can exploit the conditions better than some of the other countries.

It’s like saying when you get a green-top wicket here (in sub-continent), more often than not, it’s the teams from outside of the sub-continent that really exploit the conditions. It’s the same scenario over here (Dhaka). So far the wicket has been on the slower side but still you have to play good cricket to win,” he offers.

It’s also the reluctance of teams, Ashwin feels, to conquer the conditions that often works against them. While India couldn’t manage a win in South Africa and New Zealand, Australians had to settle for just one win (against Bangladesh) in World T20 after a summer of success.

“It’s not just about spin, it’s about conditions as well,” pointed out Ashwin. “It’s what’s going around in global cricket. Everybody is playing to their strengths and not really prepared to test the other waters.”

In the face of myriad new challenges -- pitches that generally are loaded in favour of the batsmen, boundary lines that are constantly shrinking and bats that are designed to send the ball sailing into the stands without putting too much strain on body – the spinners have discovered many variations.

From varying pace to bowling carrom balls, bowlers have striven hard to remain relevant. There is every chance of copping punishment but a spinner needs to have a big heart.

“In terms of variation of pace, you need a lot of guts,” said Ashwin, who has been India’s stand-out bowler in this World T20. “If you’re at the top of your game, you can land the ball exactly where you want it to land.

But apart from that, to actually slow the ball down when the batsman is going after you is a key component of this particular game, for which you need quite a lot of guts.

And if you’ve gone for a six, it requires even more guts to come back and bowl the next ball. Those are the key components of winning a game,” he reasoned.

Pakistan’s off-spinning legend Saqlain Mushtaq, who is credited with discovering the off-spinner’s googly, the doosra, puts spinners’ success in T20s to a changed mindset. “Earlier, spinners would come with a different mindset but now it’s different.

Tactics are changing and the sub-continent conditions help spinners. Batsmen do not have the same kind of courage against spinners which they earlier used to have. Off-spinners are ruling the roost and I enjoy watching that.”

And while conditions in Dhaka might be held partly responsible for the success of the spinners in this World T20, the fact that so many of them are in the list of top-10 T20I bowlers clearly shows that worldwide, the impact of spinners in the 20-over game is growing by the day.

The men who give the ball a fair rip without sacrificing control will continue to rule the roost till such time the batsmen are forced to come up with means of countering the turning ball. Which could mean a more conservative approach to batting, which will again mean a further shot in the arm for the spinning community.

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