The challenging world of leg-spin

Amit Mishra says that a lot of thought goes into his bowling.-AP

“I want to do my best for the team with both bat and ball. I have a big appetite for wickets. Although, I don’t concentrate a lot on my batting, I make it a point to not give my wicket away cheaply. I am working harder on my fitness than ever before,” Amit Mishra tells Arun Venugopal.

Amit Mishra revels in displaying a combative approach to life. He is protective about his bowling — even defensive — when it comes to his tendency to bowling many no-balls. On the sidelines of the Duleep Trophy quarterfinal between North Zone and West Zone in Chennai, the 29-year-old Haryana leg-spinner spoke to Sportstar about his craft, the challenges that come with leg-spin bowling, grappling with criticism, and learning from the likes of Anil Kumble and Shane Warne.

Excerpts:

Question: You seem to have a persistent issue with no-balls…

Answer: I am playing a match after a while as I was recovering from shin and groin injuries. The wicket (for the Duleep Trophy quarterfinal) was quite slow and so I had to invest a greater effort. When I put in more effort I tend to overstep. I have never bowled many no-balls, so I am not sure where all the criticism comes from (laughs).

Despite a reasonably good performance in the Ranji Trophy last season, the five-wicket and ten-wicket hauls remained elusive…

Most of the pitches I played on last season were pace-friendly. But I still managed to pick up three-four wickets every game. I think I finished as one of the leading wicket-takers among spinners (23 wickets). So I haven’t been bowling badly.

What are the challenges that come with being a leg-spinner?

I have to work harder on good batting wickets. A lot of thought is given as to how I should bowl on a given wicket: ‘Should I flight the ball or bowl a bit faster? What are the variations I could employ?’ It’s a 50-50 situation for batsmen and spinners. But if you are a quality spinner and use your intelligence, you can get the better of the batsmen. Even in the IPL, I have always looked to take wickets because that puts pressure on the opposition.

For someone who initially flighted the ball considerably, you have started bowling much flatter. Is it a result of playing too much T20 cricket?

That isn’t the case. A lot depends on the pitch. Sometimes, when the wicket is very slow and if I flight the ball a lot, woh aata nahin hai ball padke (the ball doesn’t come on to the bat). It is important to vary one’s flight.

What inspired you to take up leg-spin bowling?

Leg-spin is a very difficult art. As a boy, when I started playing cricket, very few people bowled leg-spin. Everyone around me wanted to be either a fast bowler or a batsman. So I thought leg-spin presented plenty of opportunities and I also had some natural talent.

When it comes to bowling, who are the people you seek advice from?

Whenever I have a problem, I go up to Anil Kumble and talk to him. He’s always been very kind and supportive. Hiru bhai (Narendra Hirwani) gave me a lot of encouragement as well. I also speak to LS (L. Sivaramakrishnan) whenever I get the opportunity. He helped me out at the NCA (National Cricket Academy) last year. I still remain in touch with my childhood coach Sanjay Bharadwaj.

Some former cricketers have said you are too slow through the air. Are you working on that and developing new variations?

Well, they should also be talking about how pitches should be prepared (smiles). What can the poor bowlers do when most wickets are batting-centric? Anyway, I am working on two or three variations, including the side-arm googly, round-arm googly, and the side-arm leg spinner. I am also looking to vary my pace a lot more. Hopefully, they will come along alright.

How important is the googly for a leg-spinner?

Very important. If a batsman fails to read it, then it’s a wicket-taking delivery. Line and pace are the two most important aspects of a googly.

Learning from Shane Warne…

I have had a few interactions with him and have benefited a lot. I look forward to getting some more pointers from him in the future.

High and low points of your career…

Obviously, my Test debut is right at the top of the list. Picking up five wickets on debut (against Australia in 2008 at Mohali) was the stuff of dreams. Being dropped from the team is obviously not a nice feeling because you spend years toiling hard to reach where you are.

Then, you have to work extra hard to get back into the team. In the domestic circuit, batsmen start playing you carefully as you are an International bowler. They already have their plans in place so I have to strive hard to stay ahead of them.

How do you generally react when you are dropped from the team?

It’s naturally a depressing feeling. But if you allow that to take over, then you can’t fight back. If you are passionate about cricket, you got to keep playing on and performing well.

You have to think positively. It’s important to learn from past mistakes.

Plans for the coming season…

I want to do my best for the team with both bat and ball. I have a big appetite for wickets. Although, I don’t concentrate a lot on my batting, I make it a point to not give my wicket away cheaply. I am working harder on my fitness than ever before.