Spinners pave the way

Slow bowlers have taken the pace off the ball, making it difficult for hard-hitting batsmen to score freely

Spinners pave the way

Amit Mishra head the list of wicket-takers in IPL III.  PTI/ DH PHOTO

They had a clutch of hurdles to overcome – largely benign pitches, meatier bats, smaller boundaries and a plethora of hard-hitting batsmen. They have not won the battles by dishing out a smorgasbord of baffling tricks, except Shane Warne’s magical four for 21 against Deccan Chargers, but by a simple, commonsense approach – bowling at the right areas.

That may appear to be a glaring statement of the obvious but accuracy is a prerequisite in the Twenty20 format, and precision along with variations can be a potent ally of a slower bowler. None has exemplified the theory better than Royal Challengers skipper Anil Kumble – owner of the best economy rate so far in IPL III at 6.2 and he also has bowled the most number of dot balls.

Seldom has the legendary leg-spinner shifted his aim from the stumps, offering the batsmen almost no space for his strokes on either side of the wicket while occasionally slipping in one those dreaded googlies.

Kumble is also one of the spinners along with R Ashwin (off-spin, Chennai Super Kings), Yusuf Pathan (off-spin, Rajasthan Royals) and Chris Gayle (off-spin, Kolkata Knight Riders) who have opened the attack, and that’s no mean feat considering they had to bowl against some power-hitters.

KKR’s left-arm spinner Murali Kartik explains the secret behind the success of spinners. “My own feeling is that spin is important because we take the pace off the ball. The batsmen cannot pre-empt what you're doing.  When a fast bowler is bowling you can set yourself up for a particular delivery based on the field set. The white ball does not swing or reverse after a while. With the bowlers being shuffled so much, sometimes the ball isn't shined at all, and the fast bowler doesn't know which is the shiny side.”

It’s not just spinners who have had all the time in the limelight. Slow-medium pace bowlers too have tasted success. Rewind your memory to the match between Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers at Nagpur a few days back. The Bangalore outfit had a chance to win till Robin Uthappa was at the crease, but Harmeet Singh produced a 112 kmph leg-cutter to beat the mighty pull of Uthappa to castle him, ending RCB’s hopes.

“I have been learning to take the pace off the ball at nets and it has been worked well for me as you need a lot of variations to survive in a format like T20,” Harmeet noted.
That six out of top 10 bowlers in the IPL III so far have been either spinners or slow medium-pacers reveals their worth. While Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra sit at first and second positions respectively, others in the list are Harbhajan Singh, Muttiah Muralitharan, Irfan Pathan and R Vinay Kumar, the last two relying more on subtle variations in pace and angles more than raw speed to hunt down their prey.

Adam Gilchrist offered a view from the batting camp, saying taking the pace off the ball often befuddles a batsman. “They (slower bowlers) have used the conditions well.
Bowling at 150 kmph will have an impact on the game like Dale Steyn had against us (in Nagpur). But it’s not just about the pace. Pitching the ball on correct spots matters a lot and you need a lot of accuracy for that.

“That’s why spinners and guys who take pace off the ball have been a success – they are able to pitch it in the right areas than pacers who have been erring on the full side or short side more often.”

But does shorter boundaries have prompted batsmen to consider slower bowlers cannon-fodders? Kartik believes so. “Batsmen think the spinners have to go the distance, so they take us on and get out.”

However, Gilchrist dismisses the notion, just like he swats the ball away from the sight, that batsmen have been considering slower bowlers as hapless lambs for slaughter. “The wickets have been responding more to that sort of bowling and that’s why the bowlers are going that way. See, bowlers like Jacques Kallis and Shane Bond can bowl at 145 kmph, but they are choosing to bowl at 120-125 kmph, and that’s just sensible cricket in these conditions.

I don’t think it is the case of batsmen are licking their lips and thinking of having a slog-fest.”

Still, smaller boundaries in the sub-continent, a must in T20 version where spectators are crying out for each ball to be hit for six, can provide a touch of imbalance to the contest between bat and ball and Gilchrist offers the solution. “I would like to see full length-boundaries. If the ball goes for a six here, then it adds another dimension to T20 cricket, bringing forth your cricketing skills. I would encourage all to have full size boundaries wherever possible.”

Just as in life, discrepancies may not be redressed quickly in sports too but a set of determined individuals have shown the way forward. Take a bow!

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