ART OF OFF-SPIN

VENKAT... role model to follow.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

More than physical effort and stamina, spinners require a BIG HEART and a strong mind, writes W.V. RAMAN

The first thought that occurs when one sees a spinner is that it is an easy job as there is no apparent physical effort involved. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The spinners do put in a lot of effort, but in a subtle manner. There have been instances when spinners have bowled with bleeding fingers. The seam cuts into the skin when spin is imparted and very few good finger spinners have escaped this ordeal. More than physical effort and stamina, spinners require a big heart and a strong mind. This is even more essential in today's context as the batsmen attack the spinners in both forms of the game. It is probably one of the reasons why one can't think of an off-spinner other than Muttiah Muralitharan. This category is slowly becoming extinct and though Muralitharan can inspire a lot of youngsters, I am afraid he can't be a role model for them.

The off-spinners are at a disadvantage in that batsmen generally find it easy playing an incoming delivery. But there have been extraordinary off-spinners, who have left an indelible mark on the game. Lance Gibbs, Erapalli Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataraghavan are some names that come to mind.

Of all the off-spinners I have seen Venkat would probably be the role model to follow because he had a classical action. He had an easy run-up, absolute side-on action, the right balance, ideal delivery stride and a good follow-through.

Essentially, aspiring spinners must realise that they will get the deviation off the pitch only if they work on the ball enough. In order to do this they have to get the basics right, starting from the way they grip the ball. The ball is gripped along the seam with the index and middle fingers spread wide in order to impart spin. The ball is gripped by the tips of the fingers as the index finger has to really work on the ball. The ball should not be pushed too much down the fingers as then it will be extremely difficult to impart spin.

The thumb has an important role to play and care must be taken that it is right over the seam and is supporting the fingers gripping the ball. As spinning the ball involves a motion similar to that of turning a door knob, the thumb has to play a critical role. If the thumb is not an integral part either in gripping the ball or in its release, one tends to impart side spin rather than over spin. Some of the English off-spinners grip the ball with the fingers spread across on either side of the seam. I personally feel that holding the ball along the seam gives a better chance for the ball to land on the seam and deviate or bounce after pitching.

Once the right grip is achieved, other elements like the run-up, the alignment at the time of delivery and the length of the delivery stride have to be good enough to deliver a good ball. The run-up cannot be too fast or too slow and the right speed is arrived at by the individual himself with experience.

The importance of staying side-on is over-emphasised and as a result young bowlers end up going past side-on and that's where a whole lot of problems begin. The alignment as the bowler gets into the delivery stride should be such that he is just about side-on and both the heels are in the same line.

A lot of youngsters have an exaggerated angle in their run-up and hence they tend to run more towards fine leg and then suddenly open out in order to bowl the ball at the stumps. A slight angle is fine, but young spinners must ensure they show their profile to the batsman and they bowl from the middle of the box. They can get closer to the stumps after they develop the habit of aligning themselves well enough. The delivery stride has to be just about right to enable the transfer of weight (hips coming into play), which is the crucial factor that produces the nip, bounce and the deviation off the pitch.

The budding youngster must understand the ball will deviate more only if enough over spin is imparted which produces more revolutions in the air. This makes the ball dip and fox the batsman. There are some who give the ball a real tweak with their fingers working on a horizontal plane. This release will work if the pitch is spinner friendly, but on a decent track this will hardly have any impact on the batsman.

Finally, developing the right skills and practising the craft with a big heart is what will provide success.