Ignoring the spinners

WHILE Test cricket has some wonderful spinners in Shane Warne, Harbhajan Singh, Daniel Vettori, Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan, the cupboards are pretty bare otherwise. These five are fine bowlers, two leg-spinners, two right hand off-spinners and one left hand finger spinner.

The miracle of course is that we have many quality spinners, for such bowlers have had so little encouragement over the last two decades or so.

It has appeared that along with swing bowlers they have almost been an after-thought to the fixation cricket has had with pace bowlers.

Somewhere along the line, those in charge of the game and those who should know better have innocently conspired to do great harm by rule changes or shifts in tactical thinking.

No one emphasised this better than my old opening mate, Bill Lawry.

Six months before Shane Warne came on the scene, Bill, then cricket manager for the Victorian Cricket Association went on record by claiming there was no place in modern cricket for leg spinners.

Bill as captain of Victoria had always more faith in fast bowlers and was always uncomfortable with spinners.

I found this difficult to understand for he was always a better player of the fast men than the spinners.

One-day cricket, or limited overs, whatever you prefer to call it was probably the main catalyst for the demise of the spinners and swing bowlers.

It was claimed they were too vulnerable to succeed and initially virtually ignored.

Unfortunately also, and particularly in Australia our administrators decided to make all club cricket a limited over game, some as high as 100 overs.

Immediately this ill advised decision changed the whole thinking and tactics of the game.

Whereas teams had to bowl the opposition out to obtain victory under the old rule, now they only had to restrict them to the lowest score.

As a result captains initially tried to bowl the opposition out with the new ball, but if this didn't succeed they quickly turned to negative medium pacers.

Spinners and swing bowlers were ignored and were simply not even considered for games.

This was very apparent in New South Wales, always, up to then, considered the home of swingers and spinners. Very soon there were a few leg spinners playing the game.

A far cry from the Fifties and Sixties when N.S.W had three Test players, Richie Benaud, Peter Philpott, and Johnny Martin, backed up by Norman O' Neill and myself, who all bowled over the wrist spinners.

But today they have one Stuart McGill and he learn't his art in West Australia before coming to N.S.W.

The other tragedy from the decision to make limited over matches compulsory throughout Australia was the effect it had on the captaincy.

Captains became negative and had no idea whatsoever how to use the spin bowlers.

That heritage is still apparent today when watching State and club cricket. There are very few spinners of quality and captains are clueless on how to use them.

Invariably when you try to work out how they are trying to get batsmen out, the only conclusion you can come to is bat and pad catches as bowlers send the ball towards middle and leg stump.

Sure these type of dismissals are legitimate tactics, but how often do they work.

Spin bowlers in my view are restricting their ability to get wickets by not using enough variety.

To do this however you must have great control of line and length plus variable flight.

Unfortunately few spin bowlers have the control to do so and in first class cricket spin bowlers consistently bowl at least one poor ball an over.

This also applies to other styles of bowlers and it is little wonder why the batsmen are scoring over four runs an over consistently in Test cricket.

And why shouldn't they with so many bad balls available to hit in almost any direction.

At one time, every county club in England had a medium pacer and a spin bowler who could bowl, on request consecutive maidens.

They may not have been the most exciting or talented bowlers, but they could keep it tight and put pressure on the batsman.

Now I can't nominate one bowler who could do this.

All countries are unfortunately the same and it is a long time since India had someone like Bapu Nadkarni who could consistently bowl four or five maidens in a row and if my memory serves me right, once bowled 10 or 11 on the trot to England. While Warne, Vettori, Muralitharan, Kumble, Harbhajan Singh all have different styles, so many of the lesser spinners are similar and by their sameness easy to handle.

What India wouldn't give for the times of Bedi, 266 wickets at 28.71, Prasanna 189 wickets at 30.38, Chandrasekhar 242 wickets at 29.74 and Venkatraghavan 156 wickets at 36.11.

Incredible they all played at the same time and all averaged less than three runs per over.

Bedi conceded 2.1 runs per over, Prasanna 2.4, Chandrasekhar 2.7 and Venkat 2.2. They all had different styles but beautiful economic action.

Bishan was the Rolls Royce, smooth, fluid, deceptive, with wonderful loop and a brilliant change of pace.

Prasanna was a loop bowler and no batsman ever got to him consistently to drive.

Chandra was a quick leg spinner with a great wrong one and lots of bounce.

Venkat was perhaps the last attacking and flatter of the finger spinners. He was very orthodox and won his wickets with his persistence.

Oh! What I wouldn't give for a day out in the sun with them again.