The charge of the spin brigade

As a bowler I accept that a good ball can be hit. To tell you the truth, it motivates me to bowl with greater hope. It provides me a ray of hope. I keep telling myself to bowl in the right areas and adapt according to the situation -- Pragyan Ojha-K.R. DEEPAK

Though Twenty20 is a batsman's game, the bowlers, spinners in particular, have made a huge impact in the ongoing Indian Premier League. One of the main reasons for this is that they have stuck to the basics, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Twenty20 cricket is all about fours and sixes… the ball flying high into the crowd and making the bowlers look ordinary and leaving them embarrassed. “It is only about batsmen. Fans come to watch them,” insists Harbhajan Singh of Mumbai Indians.

How then can a bowler motivate himself in Twenty20 cricket? Or in the Indian Premier League?

“By performing,” says leg-spinner Amit Mishra of Delhi Daredevils.

“You play for your pride,” avers left-arm spinner Murali Kartik of Kolkata Knight Riders. And left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha (Deccan Chargers) and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla (Kings XI Punjab) concur.

The most popular among the slow brigade is the artistic leg-spinner Shane Warne, who has led Rajasthan Royals with a rare flourish. “It feels nice to inspire the youngsters. I have enjoyed it immensely. It is not that I bowled well right away. I too struggled initially. The pitches and the small boundary can be very challenging, but you have to back yourself. I don't know if I am bowling at my best, but it is nice to see so many slow bowlers in the Top-10 list,” says the Australian.

Shane Warne... inspiring young spinners.-K.R. DEEPAK

Slow bowlers have made a big impact in IPL-3. “It was no different in IPL-2 (in South Africa), but then the performances are getting noticed now. In my case, I have not bowled any differently in the last three years but now that I am getting wickets people think I am bowling better,” says Kartik, who has been the best performer with the ball for Kolkata Knight Riders.

Bowlers have been adapting and innovating in IPL-3. The fast bowlers have started using the slow bouncer. “And spinners have started bowling faster,” jokes Harbhajan. “The trick is in keeping the batsmen guessing, and that can happen only if you have the mindset to attack. You have to innovate because you only have 24 balls to bowl in T20. Not every ball can be different but every fourth ball you can look to deceive the batsman. It is challenging but then a bowler has to accept the fact that cricket is a batsman's game. I don't mind that at all,” he says.

Another glowing example of a slow bowler enjoying T20 is Anil Kumble. The veteran from Royal Challengers Bangalore commands respect from the best of stroke-players. “I have been my natural self. It is better to stick to the basics than worry about good balls being hit. The batsmen come with a prepared script — to hit. Bowlers have to study the situation and adapt quickly.”

Sri Lankan legend and Chennai Super Kings off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan loves tossing the ball even in T20. He has often said, “You can't change the basics of the game and they help a lot in bowling in T20.” Many young batsmen have come to grief trying to whack the wily Murali.

Playing for pride... Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra (below).-S. SUBRAMANIUM

PTI

The challenge of containing the batsmen has created a new breed of bowlers. They look to possibly bowl six types of deliveries in an over. “Not really possible to have such variety, but the idea is to make the batsmen believe that we are working on that line,” says Ojha, who has not shed his natural style.

The other night he bowled M. S. Dhoni with a superb ball that spun from the middle stump to clip the off bail. A typical left-arm spinner! “Yes, that's what it was. I have not allowed the batsmen to dominate. See, you can get hit in T20. The bowlers work in the backstage but a lot of matches are being won by them in the IPL. So, we have a job to perform,” says Ojha.

How does a bowler react to a good delivery being hit?

“As a bowler I accept that a good ball can be hit. To tell you the truth, it motivates me to bowl with greater hope. It provides me a ray of hope. I keep telling myself to bowl in the right areas and adapt according to the situation,” explains Ojha, a frontline performer for his team in the IPL.

Ojha bowls his orthodox stuff without worrying about the batsmen's reputation. “He has a job to do. I have a job to do too. The margin for error is small. I know what my strength is and that is what I concentrate on. I know a simple thing. If a batsman has to hit me, he will take risk. I have to cramp the batsman for space. I must compel him to take more risks and that can come if I back myself,” says Ojha.

Chawla too does not mind being hit. “Sometimes you feel helpless. You bowl a great ball and the batsman just slams it into the stands. It hurts. But it also sends a strong message that there is a chance. And my strength is that I don't bowl to contain. I bowl to take wickets. Being hit is part of the game,” he says.

Kings XI Punjab has put up a miserable show in IPL-3 but not Chawla. He has bowled with amazing confidence. “I spoke to Warne on this and I learnt a vital lesson. To take wickets one has to be prepared to get hit. Warne told me that a spinner has to have a large heart and patience. If you want wickets, be prepared to get hit,” says Chawla, who will be part of the Indian team at the World T20 Championship in the West Indies.

Former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi does not enjoy the T20 stuff but has a word of caution for the slow bowlers. “Don't compromise your natural style,” he says. Which means a bowler can flight the ball even in T20. “Why not?” Bedi asks. “You have to beat the batsman. That's what the game is about.”

So what would Bedi tell a young spinner in a T20 match?

“A high-arm action with a long-arm delivery can be very effective. It means the batsman would have to wait for the ball because it stays in the air for a while. How can a spinner be a spinner without giving the ball air? It can be achieved in T20 by using the crease well. Release the ball from 20 yards and not 18. It needs hard work,” says Bedi.

Statisticians highlight the dot ball in IPL. Bedi calls it “dart ball.” After all, the bowler, whether slow or fast, fires it in. Warne is not surprised that the slow bowlers have performed well in IPL-3. “Pitches have worked in their favour. At least, there is something for the bowlers now,” he says.

According to Mishra, who has been Delhi Daredevils' leading bowler, the challenge in IPL-3 has forced the slow bowlers to innovate and give their best. “You have to vary your pace. You look to bowl six different balls because in this form of the game one can't really set up a batsman.”

Chawla agrees. “The faster you come, the faster you go. So, if you slow down the pace of the ball the onus would be on the batsman to hit harder; which means you have created a situation where the batsman has to take the initiative. As it is things are loaded in a batsman's favour in all forms of cricket. So why make things easy for him? Let him take the risk. Let him try and hit harder. The slower the ball, the tougher it is for the batsmen to slam it,” he says. This explains the trend of captains introducing spinners at the start of the innings, something that we first saw during the 1992 World Cup when off-spinner Dipak Patel opened the bowling for New Zealand.

Kumble, Harbhajan, Kartik, Mishra, Ojha and Chawla have enjoyed IPL-3, keeping the family of spinners in the forefront with their exploits. As Chennai Super Kings bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad observed, “They are all good with their stock ball. I just tell the bowler to back himself with his stock ball. If a good ball is hit you can't do anything about it.”

The IPL rules, pitch conditions, the mindset of the batsmen to just swing at everything — they all make the bowlers' job far more arduous. But the spinners have been an exception in the ongoing IPL, thanks to the fact that they have stuck to the basics. T20 is, after all, just another form of cricket, and the basics hold good here too.