`Batsmen are not using their feet these days'

"KUMBLE DOES BRING about subtle variations in his bowling," says Mallett.-V. GANESAN

"If Bill O' Reilly had played about 125 Tests, he would have taken more than 1000 wickets. I don't think wickets are a yardstick to judge greatness," says Ashley Mallett. S. DINAKAR caught up with the 61-year-old former Aussie off-spinner in Sri Lanka.

A quality off-spinner in the 1960s, 70s, and the early 80s,the lanky Ashley Mallett continues to offer much to the game — now as a coach. The 61-year-old Aussie with 132 wickets in 38 Tests is the Spin Bowling Consultant with Sri Lanka Cricket. Sportstar caught up with him on a typically rainy day in Colombo.

Question: You have put in plenty of work here with the young Lankan spinners.

Answer: We have selected four squads of not more than 12 spinners in four categories from seniors downwards — the seniors, colts, juniors and the cubs. There is plenty of potential here. The boys are enthusiastic. I have also worked with the MAC Spin Foundation in Chennai and there is plenty of talent there as well.

You have an opportunity to watch Muttiah Muralitharan from close quarters.

He is a bit of a freak, but he is terrific. I think he is an exceptional bowler. Does amazing things with his wrists. He also has enormous mental capacity.

Are you convinced about his action when he sends down the doosra?

At first I though he was throwing. But when I saw him bowl the same delivery with braces on, I realised that he was bowling the delivery. He uses his wrists.

What do you think of the 15 degree flexion rule?

I don't understand it.

How would you assess Harbhajan Singh's off-spin?

I don't think he has not realised his full potential.

What does he need to do?

You, see when he was so successful against Australia in India in 2001, the Aussies were not able to pick his length. He had them in a `no man's land.' They were going forward to deliveries they should have played back and vice-versa. He was mixing up his length very well. He does not seem to be doing that as well now.

Mixing the length and variations in speed are connected, isn't it?

Of course, if the batsman is able to read your pace, then he settles into a rhythm. As a bowler you should not allow that to happen. You use the crease, create different angles, vary your length which also means the speeds will differ.

There are three spinners with more than 500 Test wickets in contemporary cricket.

If Bill O' Reilly had played about 125 Tests, he would have taken more than 1000 wickets. I don't think wickets are a yardstick to judge greatness. Batsmen used their feet far better in the days gone by. You see, even now, somebody like Shane Warne is less successful against the Indians because they have good footwork.

There is a feeling too that the quality of batting has dropped against quality spin bowling.

Without a doubt. The batsmen, especially from England, New Zealand and South Africa, are not using their feet. They are not judging the length properly. It has become easier for the spinners now.

This brings us to an essential question. Are many of the present day batsmen not playing the spinning ball under the eye level?

Exactly. You have to play it under the eye level to be in control. Once the bowler gets you to play above the eye level, then he has a better chance of getting you. This again takes us to the use of the feet. If the batsman is able to use his feet then he can even play the flighted deliveries under the eye level. Now the bowlers are getting the batsmen to look up at the flighted ball.

The spin imparted on the ball is the critical element.

How the ball arrives in the air is more important than where it lands. If the ball does not have spin then it becomes easier for the batsman to judge where it would land.

If you take away the top three or four, the spinners are increasingly dependent on pitches. They are not able to dismiss batsmen on good wickets.

I think this has to do with their mental make-up. They don't believe that they can get batsmen out on batsman friendly tracks. You see, every wicket, even the flattest of them, will offer some turn. We again get back to the changes in pace and landing it on the right spot. You only have to spin the ball a little to beat the batsman, find the outside edge.

Would you rate Shane Warne among the all-time greats even if he does not possess a googly?

Why do you need the googly if you can bowl leg-spin to perfection. He has absolute mastery over leg-spin. He can spin it to varying degrees. He also has the flipper, although he does not use it much these days, the top-spinner and the zooter, which skids through straight. He is a great bowler.

And Anil Kumble?

He is a fine competitor. But you have to classify bowlers like him and Derek Underwood differently. They are quicker through the air, they are different. Underwood was more like a slow medium pacer. Kumble does bring about subtle variations in his bowling.

Any other spinner who deserves to be mentioned.

I think New Zealand's Daniel Vettori. He is a very intelligent left-armer. Got a lot of guts. Bowls better to better players.

Who were the fine players of spin during your playing days?

I think Doug Walters was a tremendous player. In terms of temperament and some of the genius innings he played, he was the closest to Bradman. I am not saying he was the next best after Bradman, but he was the closest in terms of style. Ian Chappell was brilliant too.

You played under the Chappell brothers.

Greg batted with a lot more style, he was majestic at the crease. But in a tight situation, and on a pitch doing something, you would tend to back Ian more. Ian was also a better leader of men.

This brings us to the subject of Australian captains.

Mark Taylor was the next great Australian captain after Ian Chappell. Mark could make things happen, he created situations. Steve Waugh was stereotyped. He once had nine men on the fence when Shane Warne was operating. He did not show enough confidence in his main bowler. Dennis Lillee would have shot Ian had he set a similar field for him.