Unconventional masters

Kumble has started to bowl slower through the air and bring his wrist into play to make the ball spin more.-V. V. KRISHNAN

While the classical Shane Warne enthrals with his flight, dip, guile and subtle variations, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Anil Kumble have made spectators SIT ON THE EDGE OF THEIR SEATS with their destructively unique styles that help them run through the opposition batting, writes W. V. RAMAN.

A lean leg-spinner, who has bowled many match-winning spells in his career, had the English batsmen in a tangle in 1971 at The Oval and the result was India's first Test series win in the Blighty. The man in question, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar or just Chandra to legions of his fans, bowled faster through the air and surprised the batsmen with vicious leggies, top-spinners and googlies. Chandra was considered a freak in the sense that he could make the ball turn sharply though he bowled too fast for a spinner. He had a reasonably long run-up and some of his deliveries were probably quicker than those of the medium-pacers that India had in the early 1970s. If at all there was one who could win a game for India when the chips were down, Chandra was the man and he rarely let his skipper down.

The spell at The Oval was on a firm pitch and against a strong England batting line up. However, when Chandra got into his rhythm, he ended as the conqueror. The remarkable feature of his bowling was the bounce and fizz he generated and if the pitch was helpful there was absolutely no hope for the batsmen. He was unorthodox in that he would not flight the ball like a classical leggie but deceived the batsmen off the pitch. His arm movement in his action was extremely quick but still he could use his wrist to get the ball to spin rapidly after pitching. Though Chandra was unorthodox, certain vital aspects of his action like the short delivery stride and the side-on position were as conventional as they could be.

Unfortunately, technology was not as advanced as it is today during Chandra's playing days and hence there are not enough slow motion pictures of his bowling. It would have made an interesting case study if there were more slow images of Chandra. But, having said that, one should add that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to emulate Chandra. Anil Kumble has come closest to emulating Chandra, though Kumble is in no way an exact replica. Like Chandra, Kumble also bowls faster through the air, but the similarity ends there. Kumble developed his own brand of leg spin as a result of being a medium pacer before he switched over to the art of spin. Kumble was, for a major part of his career, a finger spinner which is very unique, but his immaculate line and length combined with pace enabled him to succeed. Chandra used his wrist more than Kumble, but, of late, Kumble has started to bowl slower through the air and bring his wrist into play to make the ball spin more.

Kumble is resorting to a few orthodox measures after his shoulder injury, but he is still far from being an orthodox leg spinner. Kumble and Chandra have proved that there is always an exception to the rule. While the classical Warne enthrals with his flight, dip, guile and subtle variations, Chandra and Kumble have made spectators sit on the edge of their seats with their destructively unique styles which help them run through the opposition batting.

Kumble has proved that a spinner can succeed even if he does not turn the ball much, but at the same time he has also shown that a bowler can change his style of bowling at any given point in his career. Of course, the key factor to note about Kumble is that he is very patient, mentally very strong and is in total control of his aggression.

The big dilemma facing today's leg spinners is whether to follow the orthodox style of Warne or the unorthodox methods of Kumble.

But it must be understood that more than the style what matters are the key elements that make a good leg spinner. One has to remember that both Warne and Kumble have worked extremely hard to succeed with their own methods. Leggies need to have a big heart to suffer some stick from time to time and the determination to practice extra hard to master what is a very difficult art. The leggies might be the captain's preferred cricketers and the delight of spectators, but only if they master the art well enough do they become match-winners.