Ah leg spin, you mesmerising beauty down the ages
When Francis Bacon said, “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”, he could have well watched leg spinners waddling in, flighting the ball, getting them to drift, loop, and dip and then break away from the befuddled batsmen!
For when the batsmen grew stronger, the boundaries grew shorter, the rules marched towards the willow, the ball was reduced to one corner of stadium, when the might of the winter encompassed every trait, leg spinners dawdled out like the invincible summer, laughed at the façade created and drove home their dominance, again, all over again!
Yes, the winter was mighty, but the summer was invincible. Yes, the rules were laughing along with the batsmen, but the leg spinners created their own niche. The bowlers are still cornered, the fields have been further shortened, the bats have widened, the overs have reduced, and yet this breed has shrugged them all off and continue to be the artists who keep excavating the mystery!
And as Rashid Khan, the 18-year old sensation from the war-ravaged Afghanistan occupies the number one slot in ODI bowlers, and as Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have scarred the South Africans over the past one month, we have to pause, admire, analyse, dissect the artistry!
For starters, they snap their wrists, they use their body, and then release the ball. It ain't no rocket science, but ask the batsmen who seem all mighty one moment, and then they are reduced to their knees the very next: it is art, perhaps the toughest skillset to master, and hence the showstopper in every cricket match!
The mysteries of Abdul Qadir back in the 1980s were adorning jewels on the very crescendo of cricket. Shane Warne, perhaps in the most theatrical ways took over, took over the art, applied his own vagaries, his own aura and laughed in the face of the batsmen; he could have simply walked upto them, cursed them, winked at their inadequacies and then strolled back; make no mistake, he did all the aforementioned traits, but he did it with the ball, he did it with leg spin, he not only carved a niche, he became the very niche, he became leg spin!
Why do cricketing parleys get all emotional and fascinated with this particular breed, it is not rare, it is not even something entirely unique, but, by all accounts, it is enchanting, like the fabled tales of yore, you close your eyes and you feel the drama played out in front of you; except in this case, those tales are cricketing feats, the drama is picking up wickets, plotting the downfall and getting the ball to be your accomplice, your mate, you alter ego!
Since 2015, Rashid Khan has spiced up galleries, the jovial youth has masqueraded the lost childhood almost perfectly, the leg-spinner has not only spun past his own miserable state back in his land but has spun past record books, spun past several franchises across the world, he has now spun past the rest of the world to be the number one bowler.
From 2015-2017, Rashid has picked up 63 wickets in 27 innings, and he is followed closely by Imran Tahir who has picked up 55 wickets in 33 innings. Two leg spinners, two people with almost identical stories, two leading lights!
The marauding batsmen have every thorin their favour, and yet when the ball is launched from these wrists, they pray!
The primary tactic of playing leg spin, or for that matter surviving any facet of life is to know and comprehend which way the tide is turning, and this is where the problem starts; the basics of surviving are eroded as these very batsmen do not know which way the ball is turning.
Ask a certain Aiden Markram, and we shout out from terraces that his team could not read Chahal and Kuldeep, his team, despite all the planning, couldn't afford to decipher the basics. His team, the number one side in the world, were plucked out and strewn all over the place by a mere snap of the wrists.
And then, the nature of the beast, also known as ODI cricket is such that you cannot afford to suss your opponents according to your whims and fancies. The batsmen have to force the issue, and in this false sense of bravado, they are hoodwinked, they are plucked out again!
Going back to Rashid and Tahir, what also helps them is their action, fast hands, snappy wrists and a slightly flatter trajectory; these combine to embarrass the batsmen even more, what appears to be a half-tracker, a filthy short ball, ends up taking the bottom of the bat. Yes, that very arm action aides in lower bounce, which in order collects the bottom of the bat!
And yet when Warne was in his pomp, a diminutive Indian kept eroding it all, he danced down the track to meet the ball on the full, he rocked back to carve the ball if it was short, Sachin had Warne in his pocket!
Why is it then so difficult for the modern crop to decipher them?
The mind has all the plans moulded, the batsmen have the talent too, but the ability to execute what the mind believes is genius. Talent might be the spark, but genius patterns it into fire.
Tendulkar was a genius, he read the ball from the hand, and did not rely on the pitch, the modern crop are struggling to do this basic homework, they are more reliant on picking the variations from the pitch, and as soon as they blink, they are winked out.
In a day and age when music is played between two balls, when entertainment has gained precedence over quality, when players are shunning first-class cricket to focus on white ball, when hitting through the line with heavy chunks of willow is the norm, the ability to read the length, drift, line and flight are somewhat lost. Mishits are landing in the second tier, who cares about being beaten once?
Perhaps this is the reason why batsmen are reluctant to use their feet and get close to the pitch of the ball, they are uncertain of the direction of turn, they stay back and rely on mere muscle. Aesthetics, the ingrained quotient in leg spin is met with power, brute force and when a top edge lands in the crowd, when the rapturous claps encompass the stadium, few care about the ‘moral victory’ that the leg-spinner has attained.
And hence, after two mishits when the third one spins past the massive gap between bat and pad, some parity is restored!
Perhaps, the law of diminishing marginal utility will kick in and batsmen will start playing leg spinners better, perhaps these leg spinners are immune to all theories, perhaps this is how things will continue to pan out, we never know, will we ever know, depends on if we are watching the trends carefully, depends on if we are willing to adapt accordingly.
Ah, and by the way, Adil Rashid, the English leg-spinner, who was fourth on the list of the leading wicket-takers since 2015 has quit red ball cricket to focus on limited overs. The game might well keep marching on, but if we pick up the delivery from the hand, and extrapolate it, we might be able to read the scenario better.
Qadir, Warne, Kumble… Rashid.
Test giants, who forced batsmen into submission, then came a lull and then came Rashid, an ODI maverick who teases the batsmen into submission, almost challenging his ego and then with a laugh zips one past him.
The canvas is changing, the painters will be bound to change, the picture might be more jittery, yet, the batsmen will either be forced or teased into submission…. For leg spin is an art, it is pure, it loves colour the most, the shades might be jazzier, the end picture will always be mesmerizing…