On the classification of spinners

How would one pin down the bowling profile of Sachin Tendulkar without running the risk of absurd verbosity? In his bowling heyday, he would send down the off-break, the leg-break, and the googly, with equal authority, besides the occasional medium pace!

In another role: India’s Sachin Tendulkar bowling against West Indies in the Kolkata Test at the Eden Gardens, in November 2013.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

In my limited days of having played any measure of serious cricket, I considered myself a ‘freak’, a term that, during my initial years of acquaintance with the sport, was sparingly reserved in international cricket for the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Paul Adams. I would take my delivery run up with an action approximating that of any ‘right-arm leg-break bowler’ in any part of the world, right up to the point of release. It would be conventional assumption that the average ball delivered from such a release is something that aspires to turn towards the off side for the right handed batsman after pitching. You couldn’t be more mistaken.

I had a problem in bowling a genuine leg-break with any reasonable control, and settled on the ‘googly’ as my stock delivery. “Who ever heard of a wrist-spinner who bowled off-breaks?”

The current classification of spin bowlers in vogue indexes left-arm spin bowlers either as ‘slow left-arm orthodox spin’ bowlers or ‘slow left-arm unorthodox/wrist spin’ bowlers (the more politically incorrect “left-arm chinaman” is also in not-so-infrequent use), viewed generally as mirror-image counterparts of right-arm off-break bowlers and leg-break bowlers (where the former aspire to turn the ball towards the on side for the left-handed batsman and vice versa), respectively. There is no practical reason to disregard this cognitive equivalence unless one holds that the mechanics of spin bowling differ fundamentally between the arms that deliver the ball. Thus, Muralitharan, or Ajmal, for that matter, could then either be an off-spinner or a ‘wrist’ spinner, which seems to be a contradiction if a wrist spinner is someone who is supposed to turn the ball away from the batsman. Both Muralitharan and Ajmal are described in cricket databases as “right-arm off-break” bowlers. It was a significant departure, as off-spin is still largely considered synonymous with right-arm ‘finger’ spin in cricketing terminology.

The primary classification among spin bowlers may be more appropriately based on the direction of revolutions put on the stock ball, which could be decisively achieved by ditching the description ‘slow left-arm wrist spin’ in favour of ‘slow left-arm unorthodox spin’. However, determining the stock ball is increasingly becoming an enterprise of finding a needle in the haystack of variations in the repertoire of the contemporary spinner, specially in the shorter formats.

How would one pin down the bowling profile of Sachin Tendulkar without running the risk of absurd verbosity? In his bowling heyday, he would send down the off-break, the leg-break, and the googly, with equal authority, besides the occasional medium pace! Cricket’s empire is increasingly embracing the post-structuralist ethos, as batsmen switch grips and bowlers respond with ambidexterity, the resolution perhaps lies in brevity. Taking a leaf out of the classification of seamers, where neither the slant of seam nor the eventual direction of movement off the pitch is factored in, a humble label of the ‘slow bowler’ might just be the pragmatic fit.

The author is an Assistant Professor, Heritage Law College, Kolkata.