For a game dominated mostly by humans of varying capacity, from greats to the legends, cricket over the years has also seen a few wizards leave many a mortal batsmen spell-bound with their magic. The cricket ball, as if under a spell cast by the twirl of their wrists or a snap of their fingers, revolves viciously as it traverses through the air, landing exactly where it is meant to, obliging their very thoughts and then breaking away from its expected course to confound the helpless batsmen. Spin bowling is a craft meant to deceive the most vigilant of players as often as it accounts for those who undermine its threats. It is not so much about exposing the technical frailties of a batsman, as much as it is about creating an illusion in his mind as to what the ball is meant to do and what it actually does. Contrary to fast bowling, it is threatening without being belligerent, a rare combination of attack and aesthetics, guile and discipline. Spinners are artists who are supposed to enthrall spectators by the different acts in their repertoire. A well disguised googly or an enigmatic ‘doosra’ should draw applause in the same way a flawless pirouette by a ballet dancer would.
However, in this era of ubiquitous T20 leagues and the game being tweaked to favour high scoring bouts, the skillful art of spin bowling is fast taking its place among the archives of cricketing history. No longer do you see a spinner, as the commentators loved to say, beating a batsman in flight for flighting the ball, getting it to drift, making it dip, turn and bounce are merely reduced to archaic adjectives associated with the great spinners of yesteryears. With shorter boundaries and meatier willows ensuring that even an edge soars over the boundary, trying times have ensued for the modern-day spinner. He is forced to bowl a flatter trajectory and a tad quicker through the air, accounting for wickets only when a batsman errs in his bid to score quickly rather than bowling the more classical, slow, loopy deliveries, ripping out of the rough, that so intimidate batsmen.
Like a refreshing flashback that reinstates our slackening interest amidst the dull proceedings of the present portrayed on celluloid, two young Indian spinners gave us a glimpse of some high quality, orthodox spin bowling; a rare spectacle in an era which has transformed a naturally flamboyant art into a more defensive and mechanical shadow of its previous self. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha accounted for eighteen hapless Kiwi batsmen ensuring a facile victory for team India over New Zealand in the recently concluded first test match.
Both of them bowled well in tandem, exhibiting great control, not afraid to give the ball some air, causing it to drift and giving all the redundant jargon much more significance in the present times, making life very difficult for the visitors. What put their effort into perspective was the docile nature of the pitch, far from the dust bowls that are synonymous with the subcontinent and are usually the undoing of most batsmen rather than the brilliance of the bowlers – as a result the duo had to persevere relentlessly to end up with the rich hauls against their names. The upcoming English and Australian series may prove to be a bit more demanding than the current series, but if they do manage to bowl with the same discipline and skill, it would be an interesting battle between two amateurs still learning their trade and a group of batsmen with a history of being poor players of quality spin bowling.
Along with the Indian duo of Ashwin and Ojha, Swann, Ajmal, Vettori, the unconventional Narine and lately the batsman-turned-bowler Hafeez, who is currently enjoying the top spot in the ICC bowlers rankings, only a handful of quality spinners remain in world cricket today and thus, they must ensure that they do not fall prey to the ongoing trend of committing sacrilegious errors while adapting to the dynamics of modern day cricket. Instead, they must carry forward the legacy of their illustrious forerunners and pave a way for the upcoming young talent to follow their foot-steps so that the future generations are not robbed of an opportunity to sit up and applaud a maestro in the midst of a scintillating performance.