Winning with spin

Fast bowling is all about generating speed from a long run-up and unwinding at the top of the return crease. Speed merchants create a sense of awe in the minds of the spectators and induce uncertainty in the minds of the batsmen. If they are not tackled properly, the batsmen are in danger of suffering physical injury.

Spin bowling, on the other hand, is no less fascinating. It is in fact more intriguing. Spin bowlers deceive the batsmen in the air and off the track, thanks to their guile and ability to spin the ball and turn it at awkward angles. The batsmen are in no danger of physical injury against the spinners, but they get deceived and lose their wicket! It is all a question of mind over matter.

We have heard that a bowler is only as good as he is allowed to be by the batsmen. But the spinners outsmart and out-think the batsmen and induce them into playing false strokes. Spinners have to be clever and cunning to be able to deceive the batsmen.

The role of spinners can never be overlooked in any form of cricket, be it Test or one-day internationals. They, in my opinion, have a decisive role to play, especially in the middle overs of an innings, which is when a batting side tries to consolidate.

The playing conditions of the one-day international matches have changed over the years. In the olden days, when the first 15 overs had mandatory fielding restrictions of two in the close catching positions and only two in the deep, the pinch hitters or innovating batsmen could improvise and go over the top. But with the introduction of power play, the captains have the option of using the bowlers, especially the spinners, to their best advantage.

A quality spinner, capable of maintaining a good line and length and keeping the batsmen on a tight leash, would be the dream of any captain. I believe that for a spinner, length is of paramount importance than line, which can be altered at will. A spinner should have the ability to bowl consistently without giving any width outside the off stump. He should also not bowl full tosses or long hops. The question of bowling on or outside the leg stump doesn't arise at all since it will be called a wide.

A spinner also has an added advantage in the sense that the batsmen will have to play positive aggressive shots to score boundaries or sixes. In the case of fast bowlers, the batsmen could utilise the pace to score at will should they err in line or length.

Spinners of course depend a lot on the type of surfaces that are provided. While the subcontinent pitches are conducive to spin bowling, pitches in South Africa, England and Australia favour the speed merchants and the medium pacers.

The size of the ground plays a very important role too. In Australia and South Africa the grounds are so huge that the batsmen will have to play extremely good shots against a spinner to clear the field.

In the ODIs and World Cup, the spinners have played an important and dominating role. Shane Warne, the magician par excellence, has been outstanding and has won many matches for Australia with his quality bowling. One can never forget Warne's performance against South Africa in the 1999 World Cup semifinal and also his spell in the final against Pakistan. He has proved that he can bowl on any type of wicket, not necessarily worn out surfaces as in the case of fourth and fifth day Test pitches. He had a big heart and was mentally as aggressive as Glenn McGrath or Brett Lee.

When Sri Lanka won the World Cup in India/Pakistan it was the spinners who made all the difference. Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya excelled then. The remarkable aspect of Jayasuriya was his ability to bowl at the death.

Muralitharan is a class act in both one-day internationals and Tests. He has the uncanny ability to produce wicket-taking balls at will. The famous `doosra', as coined by my friend Tony Greig, is his potent weapon. He teases and torments the batsmen and invites them to their doom with his consistency of line and length and other subtle variations of width and loop.

One spinner from the land of Richard Hadlee who has not been given due credit for his ability is Daniel Vettori. He stands out as the best left-arm spinner in the world today. His consistency of line and length and flight has gone a long way in securing quite a few victories for New Zealand. In the 1992 World Cup, Martin Crowe used Deepak Patel as an opening bowler to great effect. The off-spinner responded admirably to his captain's call and had India's Srikkanth holing out in the deep.

In the 2007 World Cup, the Indian spinners let their team down miserably. Harbhajan Singh seems to have lost faith in himself, and Anil Kumble was a pale shadow of his former self. India, a country known for spin legends, should concentrate on this department to have any say in the future.