BALANCING ACT

BISHAN SINGH BEDI... easy appraoch and fantastic control.-

The biggest challenge for a left-arm spinner is in getting his alignment right as he gets into his delivery stride, writes W. V. Raman.

"Floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee" was a line coined to describe the great boxer Muhammad Ali's style in the ring. The same would be appropriate for the former Indian left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi. He had an easy approach to the wicket, fantastic control, and most importantly was very well balanced in his delivery stride. He had the ability to make the ball curve into the batsman and then spin across after pitching. And quite surprisingly, he never advocated the traditional grip, as he preferred to grip the ball like an orange with the index finger spread out a trifle wide.

A left-arm spinner is always preferred by any captain as he has a very crucial role to perform. He is expected to restrict the batsmen and also pick up wickets. This is due to the fact that unlike an off-spinner he has an advantage as his stock ball leaves the batsmen. Secondly, a left-arm spinner, being a finger spinner, is expected to have more control over length. However, the biggest challenge for a left-arm spinner is in getting his alignment right as he gets into his delivery stride.

Manindar Singh had a unique style of bowling, but got his alignment right.-PIC. V.V. KRISHNAN

Most left-arm spinners have a diagonal run-up and run between the umpire and the stumps to get into their delivery stride. This approach creates a problem as the bowler has to run in at an angle and then get side-on at the time of delivery, without getting past side-on. It is a tricky balance to strike, and the timing and the place at which a left-arm spinner gets side-on is crucial. At the time of getting side-on it is important that you don't get your right leg too far across. Raghuram Bhat and Venkatapathy Raju managed the balancing act well and they aligned themselves properly at the point of delivery. Their strides were short, which enabled them to retain good balance right through. A lot of left-arm spinners get into a tangle by starting to run fast and going past side-on. From that position they open out completely to bowl, as the right arm, right hip and right leg are pointing towards cover if the batsman is left hander. After getting past side-on, some tend to generally toss the ball, while others tend to open out in order to bowl the right line. I have seen very few left-arm spinners bowl well despite having their right leg far too across at the point of delivery. The one exception was probably Ravi Shastri, who had his leg too far across but generated bounce due to his height. He could get his alignment reasonably right as he shifted his weight and his leading arm was straight enough.

Venkatapathy Raju retained good balance right through, thanks to his short strides.-PIC. V.V. KRISHNAN

Maninder Singh was another left-arm spinner who had a unique style of bowling. His approach to the stumps was good and he got into a side-on position with a peculiar twist. However, his delivery stride was not too long which enabled him to get his act right. There have been some exceptions though, as in the case of Daniel Vettori and Derek Underwood, who ran in to bowl with a straight run-up. Both bowled round the wicket normally and from close to the return crease. The problem with running in straight is that you might end up getting far too across as you are forced to get side-on at the last minute.

One has to run absolutely straight-on, pass the umpire and then alter the direction before getting into the delivery stride. How does one approach the stumps in order to get into the right position? This would be the question from youngsters. The suggestion is that you have to start running in the direction of fine third man, which will then make it easier to get into the right position at the time of delivery. When you attempt to run in towards third man your feet are not parallel to the crease unlike when you start running in the direction of say point or cover. It is very similar to a batsman getting his front foot straight down the pitch in order to play deliveries in line with the stumps.

Ravi Shastri generated a lot of bounce due to his height.-

Similarly, the left-arm spinner has to get his right toe pointing down the pitch or at the most towards first slip. Anything beyond that will get you into a past side-on position. It would then be like getting into a quicksand — the harder you try to improve your efficacy, the more you would deteriorate.