Mitchell Santner’s World Cup dominance highlights revival of finger spinners in ODIs

World Cup 2023: Mitchell Santner leads the wicket charts with 11 scalps from the first four matches and has also had a five-wicket haul.

Published : Oct 19, 2023 19:41 IST , Chennai - 4 MINS READ

New Zealand‘s Mitchell Santner in action against Afghanistan.
New Zealand‘s Mitchell Santner in action against Afghanistan. | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M/The Hindu

New Zealand‘s Mitchell Santner in action against Afghanistan. | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M/The Hindu

Ever since the rule mandating at least five fielders inside the ring till the 40th over was introduced in one-day internationals to spice up the middle overs, finger spinners were perceived as less effective in taking wickets during the second PowerPlay.  As batting sides started to get aggressive, shunning the period of consolidation during the middle phase, captains preferred wrist spinners for their ability to get more purchase off the pitch and give breakthroughs to keep a lid on scoring.

But the ongoing World Cup has seen a small revival of the orthodox spinners, and one person who has been flying the flag high is Mitchell Santner. The New Zealand left-arm spinner leads the wicket charts with 11 scalps from the first four matches and has also had a five-wicket haul.

“It has been a good start for us, and it was nice to get some rewards the other day. We looked to bowl in partnerships, and I think our seamers have done extremely well to take wickets upfront, and that makes my job a little bit easier,” said Santner about his dream start to the tournament in an exclusive chat with  Sportstar.

When asked about the finger spinner vs wrist spinner debate, the all-rounder said, “I guess the thing in the middle of one-dayers now is you have to try to take wickets. Even in this competition, we have seen that if you can’t take wickets, that’s when they set up a good base to get a good score. For me, it is trying to be aggressive in my own way. If the pitch is helping, it is a little bit easier to be more aggressive, and then I guess if it is flat and skidding on, it might be taking more of a defensive role in trying to get wickets through pressure.”

ALSO READ | Matt Henry ahead of NZ vs AFG: Great start so far but World Cup is a long tournament

“Coming from New Zealand, where it’s probably more of the letter, that holding role is where I have played a lot of one-day cricket. So coming over here, if there is a bit of spin, it can be quite nice to change the role and be more aggressive trying to take wickets.”

“I have always been economical, and that’s worked out well with the seamers taking wickets at the other end. And then, in this tournament, it might change slightly with the spinner taking wickets in the middle,” he added.

Santner’s strength relies on the clever change of pace with incredible control over length, making it incredibly difficult to hit him for boundaries. He also uses the pause in his delivery stride.

“That’s my way of being effective in New Zealand. If there isn’t a lot of spin on the wicket, then (I) try to do the batsman through a change of pace, holding the length, building pressure and creating that false shot. I have always been able to watch the batter and see what he is trying to do. I like to keep the batter guessing. Changing pace and holding my length is pretty key. At times, the best ball is to bowl fast with side spin, but on a flatter wicket, you are trying to build pressure with the change of pace and stuff,” Santner explained.

In the first match against England, he did not concede a single boundary, while Bangladesh managed only two. While The Netherlands and Afghanistan managed to clear the ropes more successfully, they also gifted him a five and three-wicket haul, respectively, showing the dilemma teams face against him.

“In the first game, I tried to be a bit shorter, making them punch off the backfoot, and if it is going to be up, it is slower but something that drops a bit more.” 

Explaining how he plays with the dip, Santner added, “For me, it’s about ensuring it comes down as overspin. Coming from New Zealand, where you try to extract more bounce, the over-the-top seam works a lot. When subcontinental players come over there with sidespin, it skids on. So, for me, it is to develop those skills in NZ and then adjust them to the wicket. If the wicket is helping, then more side spin, but if it is like the other day (against Bangladesh), where you had more bounce, it might be more over-the-top stuff.” 

Even as he leads the way with the ball, the bowling all-rounder has also made an impact with the bat with an unbeaten 36 (17b) against The Netherlands. It is an aspect of the game he says he enjoys and sees as vital to give him an edge. Being a finger spinner, it’s also handy to be a batter. I enjoy my batting and bat higher domestically. In this team, my role is at eight and on the occasion where I bat, like the other night, it is to try the ball over the rope.”

On Wednesday, Santner finished the innings with a four down the ground before fittingly taking the final Afghan wicket to help his side win its fourth straight match as the New Zealand juggernaut continued to march on.

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