Twist from the wrist

Twist from the wrist

Cricket : Leg-spinners and chinaman bowlers are making an impact in the IPL, breaking conventional wisdom

Twist from the wrist

If one were go by the conventional impression of wrist spinners, chances are they wouldn’t find much favour with captains in limited overs cricket. Wrist spin (generally associated with leg spin) is perhaps the hardest skill to perfect in cricket.

Unlike orthodox off-spinners or left-arm spinners, who use their fingers to impart spin on the ball and hence have a better control over the behaviour of the ball, wrist spinners use a full flick of their wrist and fingers to turn the ball away from the right-hander.

The method does allow a lot of spin on the ball but often comes at the expense of accuracy. And in limited overs cricket -- where shortened boundaries, bigger bats and docile pitches are the norm -- you can’t afford to err either in line or length. The margin for error is minimal and a leg-spinner, at times, can be considered a liability, especially by a less adventurous captain.

A leg-spinner needs to have a big heart but the captains handling them need a bigger heart. Fortunately, in this edition of the Indian Premier League there has been no dearth of captains who have backed wrist spinners, including a couple of left-arm chinaman bowlers, and have benefitted handsomely.

Delhi Daredevils’ Amit Mishra leads a sizeable pack of leg-spinners who have added colour to the proceedings with their bottomless guile and matching gumption. Of course the IPL is no platform to judge the quality of a player but if we can rave about Virat Kohli’s orthodox way of run-making and Rohit Sharma’s dazzling stroke-play in the same tournament why not appreciate a bowler that brings to fore the craft seen mostly in the longer format. It has been as much a joy to watch Kohli’s perfectly executed cover drive as it has been to see the 45-year-old Brad Hogg leave Pawan Negi clueless with his wrong one.

Long before Anil Kumble retired from international cricket, Mishra was considered his potential replacement. While the leg-spinner from Haryana hasn’t come anywhere near the Karnataka stalwart insofar as international cricket in concerned, he has kept himself relevant with impressive performances in the shorter version.

Mishra, who was India’s key bowler in the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh, has been one of the consistent performers in IPL. With seven wickets at an impressive economy rate of 6.60 runs per over this season, he has been the lynchpin of Daredevils’ bowling unit. With South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir bowling along with him in the last two matches, it has proved a double whammy for opponents.

IPL debutant, Murugan Ashwin who was paid Rs 4.5 crore by Rising Pune Supergiants, is showing why he was such a hot property at the players’ auction this February. With his ability to turn the ball (leg-spin) square and deliver a ripping googly, the Tamil Nadu bowler has grabbed a handful of wickets, attention and enjoyed the confidence of his skipper MS Dhoni. Piyush Chawla has been one of Gautam Gambhir’s trusted bowlers at Kolkata Knight Riders while Tabraiz Shamsi, the South African left-arm chinaman in the mould of Hogg, has quickly won the confidence of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s team management.

Barring RCB’s Yuzvendra Chahal (9.73) and Gujarat Lions’ Pravin Tambe (8.58), rest of the wrist spinners, who have appeared in a minimum of two matches, have gone under eight runs per over which is more than acceptable in IPL (figures quoted here are after the match between Pune Super Giants and Gujarat Lions on Friday).

Shamsi and Chahal, who was RCB’s second highest wicket-taker last season, may not have set the scene on fire but their bowling coach Allan Donald is quite excited about what the two can do when they operate in tandem.

“I think Chahal is not a great spinner of the ball but he is a very clever thinker about how he goes about his job,” he pointed out. “He has got some really good variations. He was effective in the past and he is almost back with his confidence. He had a good game against the Gujarat Lions and we know he is a quality bowler. He brings us that extra X Factor that we are searching for. With Shamsi in the side we also have a mystery factor. If you take him for granted and don’t pay him enough respect, he will run all over you. To have those two guys firing at the same time, complementing each other -- left-armer and a leggie -- it is a luxury,” Donald offered.

A wrist spinner also brings in more variety than a finger spinner without much scrutiny of the legality of his action by the match officials.

We have seen Mishra and M Ashwin deliver googlies with deadly effect with subtle or no change in action while someone like Harbhajan Singh or Sunil Narine, who have been hugely successful in IPL in the past, will now have to think twice before they attempt the doosra.

While leg-spinners can be a captain’s nightmare on flat pitches, at the same time they are an exciting option because they give variations, can change the game quickly and are not afraid of trying out different things despite the risk of being hit. The risk, however, here is a two-way traffic. Because of his ability to turn the ball more, a leg-spinner also stands to benefit more because the batsmen aren’t loath to taking risk in T20.

“We always have to remind ourselves that we cannot afford to be disheartened. We need to stay positive and continue doing what we do best,” Tahir had said in an interview after being carted around in an IPL match.

Also, the crackdown of ICC on off-spinners or the so called mystery spinners has meant that not many of that type are around and with that has come the opportunity for more leg-spinners. Though it’s debatable if Supergiants skipper Dhoni is right in trusting a rookie bowler like M Ashwin more than the proved R Ashwin, what is hard to miss is the prominence these leg-spinners are gaining across teams.



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