Off-spin, you graceful subtle piece of beauty
What does it mean if one says that he/she is an off-spinner? The basic idea is that off-spin is a type of finger spin bowling where a right-handed bowler uses his/her fingers to spin the ball from a right-handed batsman's off side to the leg side i.e. towards the right-handed batsman (or away from a left-handed batsman).
The misunderstood Finger-spin
Before moving forward, we must see the point when someone mentions finger spin. The modern-day cricket has made this term famous but often it is misunderstood. When you say finger spinner, many a time people restrict this terminology to an off-spinner only, which is not necessarily the case.
Simply put, a finger spinner is someone who uses his/her fingers to spin the bowl. The bowler can either be a right arm off-spinner or a slow left-arm orthodox spinner. There are certain similarities between these two for sure but there are a number of dissimilarities as well.
It can be said that a left arm orthodox spinner is basically the mirror image of a right arm off spinner. However, a left arm orthodox spinner and a right arm off spinner differ in their wicket-taking approach. The former will turn it away from a right-handed batsman while the latter will turn it in. Take for example the respective bowling approaches of the legendary off-spinner Muttiah Muralidharan and the legendary left-arm orthodox spinner Daniel Vettori.
Understanding the art
Ah yes, the off-spinners. The ones who spin the ball with their fingers, trying to land the ball in a rough patch outside the off stump, and attempting to spin it back to bypass the batsman’s defence so as to effectively either rattle the stumps, LBW the batsman or dismiss the batsman out at the short-leg region.
As time progressed, a lot of things changed, or should I say evolved, about the art of off-spin bowling. The likes of Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh, Saqlain Mushtaq and many others revived the off-spin as a bowling style that came to be feared and well-respected in all formats of cricket.
Often times, off-spin is considered to be less glorified than leg spin because bowling leg spin is more difficult but becoming a top-quality off-spinner is no easy feat to achieve either. Becoming the same of top quality takes skill, patience, precision and the ability to out-smart a batsman's skills and strategies with your fingers, weaving magic with your mental strength.
So, what does it takes to be a good offie?
#1 The right bowling action
In order to be rhythmical so as to pitch the ball consistently at the desired length on any surface, a high-arm action is needed. The higher the hands go, the easier for the bowler to control the line and balance so as to deliver a nicely flighted off-break, the one that can challenge the judgement of the batsman in front.
The run-up should be in small steps. A fast walk or light jog would suffice. It will create the required momentum needed to bowl well. Slouching upon release should be avoided generally so as to avoid bowling short.
The bowler's shoulder and front-foot must be in perfect coordination. Observe Harbhajan Singh. He mastered it incredibly well so that he could generate a well-in-line momentum by utilizing his front-foot to twist his body upon release. His unorthodox round-arm action worked quite well for him to spin the ball.
#2 Breaking down the science of spinning the ball
A spinner is expected to spin the ball irrespective of the nature of the wicket. For this, the fundamental requirement is to impart the ball as many rotations as possible. Landing the ball right on the seam is very crucial so that the rotations you applied using your fingers will get the ball to drift and achieve the desired turn and bounce. If the ball doesn't properly land on the seam, there are chances that the ball will either skid or go straight. It may be a good recipe for a stock ball which may or may not be different for different bowlers but not sufficient for all times.
Observe Muralidharan. He imparted so many rotations to the ball and landed it so perfectly that his bowling arm would continue to move fast even after the release of the ball. Same goes for Harbhajan who, with his incredible rotating-arm action, could be seen with rapid hand motions or kind of a recoil of the hand after release.
#3 Variations to take care of
The angle of trajectory is something that even with a slight variation, could put a batsman in hot water. An off-spinner is required to have great control over his/her off breaks and the angle plays an immense role to perfect it.
Watch Graeme Swann. He took 255 Test wickets in 60 matches because he knew how to mix his off-breaks and stock delivery. Not only did he bowl with great precision, he understood the importance of the angle of trajectory and implemented it better than most of the off-spinners till date.
Modern times have seen the innovations like the carrom ball by Ajantha Mendis and Ravichandran Ashwin, doosra by Muralidharan, teesra by Saeed Ajmal and the Jeff ball by Nathan Lyon. Behind all these unique names is the art of sending the ball straight with the desired bounce after landing when the batsman expects the ball to turn in or away. Trajectory again, is the key here, behind these mysterious variations.
#4 Ability to deceive a batsman
None of the above traits could do any better for you if don't learn how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the player in front of you. Not only do you have to implement your studies but at the same time, in order to out-smart a batsman, you need to be one step ahead of him.
Trying to deceive a batsman with flight, trajectory, drift, variations, an arm ball, or whatever skills you possess won't do you any good unless you are mentally strong. Erapalli Prasanna was a master of this art because apart from all the above-mentioned skills, he was patient enough not to be frustrated easily. Throughout his career, he gave batsmen some hard times as they couldn't get under his skin.
A disciplined mindset combined with the aforementioned traits can create a doubt in the mind of the batsman. If he/she is unsure about where the ball will turn, you have the reigns. Even a simple off-break in rotation with an arm ball will do the trick.
Optimum utilization of the depth of the crease is something you would find in common among the successful off-spinners. Sure, variations like a top-spinner or a Jeff ball require a lot of time to perfect and only specialist bowlers do that. But often times, you may have seen a part-timer like Virender Sehwag take the cake. Why so? Because of a simple but disciplined off-spin routine to confuse the batsman with accurate spin, precise length and simple variations between off-breaks, an arm ball and a stock ball. Nothing fancy but even basics, when bowled with discipline and focus, could reap you some fruitful rewards.
An off-spinner's ability is something you should not be taking lightly. Even great batsmen like Ricky Ponting have struggled against it at some point in their careers. Donald Bradman, the all-time greatest batsman, dedicated an entire chapter on how to handle off-spin in his book "The Art of Cricket" because he knew very well how lethal a disciplined off-spinner can truly be.
If you are either looking forward in growing as an off-spinner or as a batsman, understanding this art is something you must pay attention to.