Pea-shooters too can hurt!

Imran Tahir... penetrative leg spin.-PTI

A wily spinner with a tough mind will always hold his own in the IPL. Some sky-scraping sixes will be hammered but the spinner’s spirit and chutzpah remain undiminished. By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The Indian Premier League has reached its business end with big hits, bluster, frenzied commentators and hyper-kinetic anchors creating a parallel universe of cricketainment.

It is not just about marauding batsmen or fast bowlers, either twisting their torso to see a six vanish into the stands or sending stumps cart-wheeling, as the Twenty20 jamboree is also about the slow art of spin, carving its own niche in an arena supposedly exhibiting an animosity to anyone who bowled off a few steps.

It may not necessarily be all roses and wine as the Sunil Narine episode revealed. The Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) mystery spinner was reported for chucking, then advised to refrain from bowling his off-spinners, and was subsequently cleared with a warning that another reference to chinks in his action will rule him out.

But delightfully for KKR, in the enforced absence of the Caribbean tweaker, solace was found through another spinner as veteran Brad Hogg, defied his 44 summers, and peddled his left-arm chinaman with alacrity and accuracy. Hogg’s nine wickets from six matches and a niggardly economy rate of 6.85 per over, helped Gautam Gambhir’s men stay relevant. Hogg’s success so far is symptomatic of fellow-members of his tribe and a glance at this season’s leading wicket-takers’ table, at the time of going to the press, is illuminating.

Yuzvendra Chahal... getting RCB vital breakthroughs.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Yes, the speed and swing merchants top the charts with Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) Dwayne Bravo and Ashish Nehra; and Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Bhuvneshwar Kumar having 17 wickets apiece. Next up is Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) Mitchell Starc (15) and then at the fifth place, the tide turns with Delhi Daredevils’ Imran Tahir (15).

The leg-spinner is not a lone representative of the slow men as at the eighth and tenth spots are RCB’s leggie Yuzvendra Chahal (13) and Mumbai Indians’ Harbhajan Singh (12).

A longer gaze at the overall records of the IPL further reiterates the ‘spin-stays-relevant’ theme. The top-ten has five spinners, starting with Amit Mishra (111), placed second, Piyush Chawla (109), Harbhajan Singh (104), Pragyan Ojha (89) and R. Ashwin (88). It just proves that between the massive sixes struck by Chris Gayle and the steam that a Dale Steyn or a Mitchell Starc whip up, there is time for the pause, the gentle tease and the final strangle that only a spinner can create.

In a predominantly batsmen’s game that any Twenty20 is, the Spinners Club has truly struck back with a vengeance. It all started with a fresh mindset — that spinners are not just restrictive in their realm but also strike bowlers, who can prise out wickets. It is an idea that finds a vociferous votary in Sunil Joshi.

The former India left-arm spinner (615 first-class wickets), played close to two decades with the Karnataka team and also had his IPL initiation through RCB. “I just cannot agree with this whole idea of a spinner being purely restrictive. Spinners are wicket-takers, whatever be the format, be it Tests, ODIs or Twenty20s. It is still a clash between the craft of a batsman and a spinner. The key has been that captains and team-managements have more trust in spinners now. The point is everyone gets hit, be it a fast bowler or a spinner as T20 is still a batsman’s game, but a spinner has to back his strengths. See the game between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils (SRH won by six runs), the complexion of the game changed once Karn Sharma dismissed Quinton de Kock. Karn and Parvez Rasool bowled well, so spinners have a definite role to play,” Joshi said.

Brad Hogg... a revelation at the age of 44.-K. R. DEEPAK

Joshi highlighted that the winds of change start inside the spinner’s head. “We should give credit to Anil Kumble, who had no hesitation to bowl upfront when he was playing the IPL. Now when a spinner opens the bowling, it is a challenge to the batsmen too, what does he do? He has to switch his mindset from that of facing a fast bowler to facing a spinner,” Joshi said. He does have a point as we are familiar with the travails of Gayle when he squares up against Ashwin in the very first over of a knockout game in the IPL.

Speaking about a spinner’s attitude, Joshi cited his own example. “As a spinner I stuck to my strengths, I relied on flight, I gave the ball a good tweak and a spinner has to thrive by deception. I remember dismissing Rajasthan Royals’ Graeme Smith, he spooned a catch off a leading edge. You just cannot step in with a defensive mindset. When credit is given to a batsman for scoring a 30 or 40 off say two to three overs, a spinner, who gets two to three wickets in his spell, is in no way inferior to the batsman,” Joshi said.

That spinners, with their sense of mystique, remain a top-draw at the IPL auctions, was driven home when K. C. Cariappa was pocketed by KKR for Rs. 2.4 crore. He may not have got adequate opportunities so far but there is no mistaking the importance of a spinner and even the indomitable CSK looked a tad undercooked when Ashwin missed out with an injury.

Even when Gayle roared against Kings XI Punjab and smote Mitchell Johnson at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, it took Axar Patel’s guile and sharp reflexes to stop the burly opener immediately after his sensational ton. And none can forget Shane Warne’s mastery in the initial phase of the IPL and hence the bottom-line remains that the wily spinner with a tough mind will always hold his own in the annual summer bash.

Some sky-scraping sixes will be hammered but the spinner’s spirit and chutzpah remain undiminished.