The essence of off-spin

E. A. S. PRASANNA ... a master of flight, loop and all the subtleties involved in bowling off-spin.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

There is a lot of room for DEBATE on theories, but what is important above everything else is mastering the stock delivery, writes W. V. RAMAN.

The biggest challenge the off-spinners face today is the aggression that the batsmen unleash against them in both forms of the game. The slog-sweep and the sweep are employed against the off-spinners and the odds are heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen as they play with the turn. Hence it is essential for aspiring off-spinners to develop a lot of subtleties to counter the challenges posed by the batsmen. Not only is it important to develop variations, but the stock ball also has to be perfected to gain the respect of the batsmen.

The youngsters are told to develop variations and a lot of key words like flight, loop, nip etc. are used. Unfortunately, none of these aspects are explained at length and the youngsters are left to grope in the dark. Before a youngster is advised to develop variations, he has to be given a list of don'ts that will help him to master his stock delivery.

The one big mistake an off-spinner can make is by getting his front leg right across his body in an attempt to get as side-on as possible. Once the front leg goes far too across, the bowler is aligned anywhere between fine leg and square leg. This forces the bowler to open out and become chest-on in order to get his line right. When this happens there is every chance of the bowling arm bending, which creates a different set of problems.

Prasanna, the great off-spinner, maintains that the right alignment at the point of delivery can be achieved if both the heels are in one line. Of course, the front toe will be pointing towards the batsman or a shade towards fine leg and the back foot will be parallel to the crease.

Prasanna was a master of flight, loop and all the subtleties involved in bowling off-spin. He considered bowling as the most enjoyable exercise.

It is imperative that a spinner really gives the ball a tweak if he intends to flight it. The ball will dip only if there is enough spin imparted. Otherwise it becomes a free hit for the batsman, as there is no danger at all of getting deceived.

ARSHAD AYUB and Rajesh Chauhan(below) bowled flatter through the air and they were extremely difficult customers on helpful tracks.-PICS: N. SRIDHARAN

It is difficult to prescribe how much a bowler should flight the ball as it depends on several factors. However, a spinner has to develop the ability to spin the ball, which will help on flat tracks. Of course, the ball will deviate very little, but its revolutions in the air will make it grip the surface a little bit, which will make things slightly difficult for the batsmen. Prasanna imparted a lot of spin and some swear that they heard a humming sound when his deliveries were in the air! He had the advantage of not being very tall, which meant that he could flight the ball unlike the taller spinners. Besides, he varied the angle from which he delivered the ball by using both the length and the width of the crease. The variations were subtle but the effect they had on the batsmen was tremendous.

There are some bowlers who prefer to bowl flatter and faster through the air. There is nothing wrong with it as long as they can work enough on the ball. By and large, bowlers who were tall adopted this style as it would have been difficult for them to flight. However, bowling really quick through the air should be avoided as this gives the batsmen pace to work the ball around and play through the line aggressively.

Arshad Ayub and Rajesh Chauhan bowled flatter through the air and they were extremely difficult customers on helpful tracks. Chauhan, who put his front foot too far across, had the habit of getting square-on, which landed him in trouble at times.

Another factor that the youngsters have to work on is bowling the right line. The ideal line would be to bowl on the off stump or slightly outside which makes the batsmen play against the turn or straight down the ground. Anything on the middle and leg will make the batsmen employ the sweep shot without any problem. Some off-spinners bowl a middle and leg line even on a turning track, which defies logic.

Of late, off-spinners tend to bowl from around the wicket to the left-handers more due to comfort rather than any strategic reasons. This is a ploy that can be used as a variation or to change the angle. There is a lot of talk of cramping the batsmen for room etc., but the off-spinner has more to gain by bowling from over the wicket to a left-hander.

There is a lot of room for debate on theories, but what is important above everything else is mastering the stock delivery. As the members of the spin quartet are wont to say, "master your stock delivery, then try everything else."