Analysing Shane Warne's style of bowling

A young Shane Warne into his delivery stride
A young Shane Warne into his delivery stride

Shane Warne was undoubtedly one of the greatest spin bowlers of all time. His bowling, his personality, his charisma, everything about him was special. His bowling style also won him many admirers, many of whom praised Warne for reviving the art of leg-spin bowling in the 1990s. Let us try to analyse what made Warne such a phenomenon.

Warne’s style of leg spin vis-à-vis other leg spinners

Leg-spin is considered one of the most difficult of arts to master. It requires great discipline, practice and sacrifice. Richie Benaud, one of the most celebrated Aussie leg-spinners, once commented: “a bleeding ring finger at the end of every training session was not only normal but essential for my development as a wrist spinner.”

“Four times a week I would turn up at exactly quarter to three with Billy Watson (who coincidentally would go on to play for Australia himself) and practice in the same net.”

Benaud would keep practising till the Sydney sunset while numerous others would come and leave the sessions. “It (leg-spin bowling) is perhaps the hardest and most complex facet of cricket”, Benaud said and “ the easiest thing starting out would be to keep it simple and true to your ability.”

Most leg-spinners like Richie Benaud, Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, etc. had side-on actions and put a lot of work into their actions. Their actions often involved shifts in momentum to generate the fast spin. That often led to funny looking actions for leg spinners.

Richie Benaud, one of the pioneers of the art of leg spin
Richie Benaud, one of the pioneers of the art of leg spin

Also, most leg-spinners have to make slight changes in action to bowl the different variations. For bowling the leg-spin, you need to have a slightly more round arm action, with arm stretched to the side, and also, the action needs to generate enough momentum to impart sharp spin to the ball.

However, if one looks at Warne, his action looks surprisingly easy, even bordering towards being lethargic. He takes a leisurely walk, and two or three small steps before moving into delivery action. His bowling action, unlike most other leg-spinners, is very front-on. Also, his arm isn’t stretched too wide when bowling his typical leg spin deliveries.

Apart from this, most leg spinners need to make slight changes in their action to bowl the different variations. The top spinner and the googly, the most common leg-spinning variations, both require the ball to be released with a very different wrist position compared to the stock ball, needing the back of the hand to end up facing the batsman (top spinner) or the ground (googly) after release.

This is an extreme change that normal bowlers cannot achieve by a simple adjustment of the wrist. A change in the point of delivery is essential to bowling these variations. While, for bowling leg-spin, the shoulder sticks out to the side, the arm is closer to the head for bowling the different variations.

Here again, Warne is a peculiar case. If one observes his release positions for bowling different deliveries, it is almost the same. This is what made it very difficult for a lot of international batsmen to pick his variations. There was no perceptible change in action to help them find out what variation Warne bowled.

Warne bowling his different variations (Notice the similar release point) (Image courtesy: Dawn.com)
Warne bowling his different variations (Notice the similar release point) (Image courtesy: Dawn.com)

So, what made Shane Warne so different?

Warne had freakishly strong shoulders, arm and wrist, which enabled him to impart great spin to the ball, even off a simple, smooth looking run-up. His unique physical gifts helped him to do stuff with the cricket ball, which most other classical leg-spinners could not do.

His “Ball of the Century” to Mike Gatting is still talked about as the greatest cricket ball ever bowled. Even many other times in his career, he spun the ball huge distances and made even the best of international batsmen look like fools at times.

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Warne along with McGrath led Australia to the top of world cricket and helped them dominate cricket for almost a decade. Warne was a unique and very special bowler, and we make not see the likes of him again for a very long time now. Truly, one of a kind genius.

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