Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A spinner's lot

In my youth I ran in and trundled away at the finest military medium pace, pitching the ball up with a hint of outswing. I hardly ever got collared, and I usually picked up wickets - mostly through frustration. But I never felt like a medium pacer - I was mainly a batsman who could bowl a bit. When I went to Zambia in 2003 I started playing for a team (Lusaka South) awash with right arm medium pacers but without a regular spinner. Add to that a pitch showing the signs of a three month dry spell and I was sold on the idea of filling the gap. The first time I bowled a ball that turned appreciably off the straight, I was hooked. I love spin bowling.

There are a lot more pitfalls for the spinner than for the trundler. Batsmen's eyes light up like slot machines. Meaty bats and chunky forearms conspire to send good balls into the stratosphere. I was once hit over a spotlight. But there is nothing to match the satisfaction of out-thinking a batsman - holding one back for the caught and bowled; bowling a drifter to the batsman looking for turn; really putting a rip on one for the batsman looking to leave: it's much more strategic than pace bowling.

Since the level of physical exertion involved in bowling slow is significantly less than when bowling quick, more subtelty can be introduced into the action. Look at three examples of Robert Croft bowling to a left handed batsman.

By varying how wide on the crease he bowls, Croft alters the angle of the delivery and thereby the amount of turn he'll get. The idea might be to bowl tight to the stumps, with the spin taking it past the stumps, trying to encourage the batsman to leave the ball, and then go wide on the crease hoping the angle will take it onto the stumps. This sort of tactical bowling doesn't require the fancy doosras or top-spinners that most offies won't have in the locker.

To be honest, the spinner is now so rare in English cricket that simply coming in off a short run will have a lot of batsman fidgeting in the crease uncertain whether to stick or twist. because there isn't the pace on the ball, the safe deflection shots aren't available - to get runs the batsman has to put the pace on himself. Bowl full and just outside off stump and the only safe attacking shot is the straight drive - easily defended. To get runs the batsman has to take risks - and that's always a good time to be bowling.

But it's not as if spin bowling is easy - have a look at the three best English left arm spinners of the last 20 years, Phil Edmonds, Phil Tufnell and Monty Panesar:

Not exactly effortless...



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