Deception, illusion and mystery are among traits common between magicians and spinners. For a while, there was a danger of spinners losing importance in the onslaught of T20 cricket. That’s what many thought. But like other breeds of sportsmen, when challenged to remain relevant, spinners have evolved. The least expected kind is the one which has done this the best — the leg-spinner. Not without reason, do we see so many of them prosper in the IPL. Let’s examine what makes them such a hit in this format.
Bowlers are only as good as their captains. That’s something I strongly believe in. The overriding bowling plan in the initial years was to contain the batsmen so that they would get frustrated and throw their wickets away.
Left-arm finger spinners were in demand because traditionally, they’ve been the most economical. The right-arm variety wasn’t too far behind either. Leggies didn’t fit in the scheme of things because they were regarded as expensive, even though they took wickets.
But the containing mindset began to change and if I had to put my finger on a particular event, it would be the 50-over World Cup in 2015, when teams realised it was not about containing but taking wickets, because the modern day batsman has enough in his armoury to make the bowlers pay. With wickets in hand, anything is achievable in the death overs.
I would to a great extent credit Brendon McCullum, for this change in the mindset of the captains. Irrespective of the situation, he would always have fielders in catching positions and urge bowlers to deliver attacking lines and lengths. Suddenly, the leggies started finding favourable captains, who didn’t mind trading a few runs for wickets .
By then the Doosra bowled by the off-spinner was almost out as well. In 2013 leg-spinners bowled 6.06% of the overs across all T20 matches, since 2016 it has gone up to 9.63% and the trend is only going north. That could well be one of the reasons the average runs scored in T-20 has not increased over the years, even with the shorter boundaries, thicker bats and flatter wickets. The average runs scored in the first innings in 2014 was 153/6 and in 2017 it is 156/7.
Keeping the use of the crease and the angle of release constant, which all types of bowlers can do, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that leggies possess more variations.
With the Doosra deemed illegal, the off-spinners are left with the one that goes with the arm and the usual off-break. Since 2016 they average 28, which is the highest amongst all variety of bowlers.
Left-arm orthodox spinners are almost in the same boat, but with more right-handed batsmen than left, the angle coming around the stumps works in their favour. Hence, they average a little better at 26.
Leggies are better off in this regard, considering that they can attack both the outer and inner edges, with the orthodox leg-spinner and the googly, not to mention the flipper and top-spin. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that during the same period the leg-spinners have outnumbered their counterparts with the best bowling average of 22.4.
As a captain, one tries to avoid having an off-spinner bowl to right-handers and a left-armer to left-handers, since they can be hit with the spin. But because of the leg-spinners’ ability to spin the ball both ways, captains are more open-minded about them, irrespective of what kind of batsman is at the crease. It is quite evident when you look at the numbers, against the right-handers they average 22.6 and against the left-handers it marginally goes up to 24, since 2016.
Offies are called ‘finger spinners’ because that’s what they predominantly depend on to impart spin. It’s the forefinger of the bowling hand. Leggies or ‘wrist spinners’ use the ring finger and wrist, hence have the ability to impart more revolutions, which results in more deviation.
Talking of deviation, that’s what batsmen hate. These days, a commonly used phrase in the cricketing world is ‘watch the ball, hit the ball.’ Well, that’s all good when the ball isn’t moving around too much. When that happens, it becomes a little more than just hitting through the line. While batting too has evolved, if there’s one aspect where it hasn’t, it’s the skills against nonlinear deliveries.
Now if you juxtapose that to the T-20 format, it gets even more tricky. Everything moves at the speed of light and if you miss the release point, you are a sitting duck. Bowlers like Rashid Khan make life more miserable for the batters because of their unorthodox action and release. Rashid’s release point is past perpendicular, around 11 O’clock, showing the back of his palm. A back of the palm release for a batsman translates to a googly or top-spin. Rashid also has this unique ability to turn the leg-spinner without changing the angle of his wrist or his arm too much, making it extremely difficult for the batsmen to pick his variations. His quick arm speed negates any chance for the batsmen to pick him off the pitch either. Phew…
While we were growing up, leggies were like gold dust. There were very few at the international level or even in the Indian domestic circuit. It’s all good to say they are effective, but you also need enough of good ones to play them.
Now, almost all international T20 and IPL sides have at least one leggie. So where did they come from? My theory is that the number of role models has increased.
We are often attracted to sport or a role in a sport based on icons. Pakistan, for example, traditionally produces good fast bowlers and India, spinners.
Most of the current generation of leggies had Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed to idolise. Hence, I’m not surprised to see the sudden influx of leggies across the cricket world.
Rashid in one of his interviews mentioned Anil Kumble as his role model and Shane Warne is Kuldeep’s. Not just right-armers, there is a rise in the number of the left-arm variety as well.
Challenge is the mother of all evolution. Batsmen in the shortest format might be a little behind in this duel with leggies at the moment, but trust them to find a way to counter this threat. Till then, ‘leg-spin it, to win it’.
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