The history of mystery spinners
Cricket is fully filled with mystery, both solved and unsolved, both on the field and off it. The whole 22 yards is flooded with mystery. There is nothing more amazing in this world than the contest between bat and ball.
Of all the mysteries, the 5 buttery fingers and wristy hands of the so called ‘mystery spinners’ have been the toughest to solve. Flight, dip, drift, line and length have been the traditional weopons of spinners. All these still remain the key to success of slow spin bowling, but many have broken away from these basics and have reaped success, though that success has not lasted long. Mystery spinners have led to great inventions which are now an integral part of spin bowling, but once they ignore the basics and lose their control over their line and length, they have fallen prey to the most brutal and vicious disease in cricket – inconsistency – and the route back to the green lushy outfield and the dry uncovered pitch has been tough.
Mystery spinners were not found untill the early 1900s when the tall, lean Englishman Bernard Bosanquet from Middlesex invented the googly which is the stock ball of the present day leg spinners. He developed an exquisitive skill of turning the ball into the right hander which looked like an leg break. He first played for his county and shone in his first Test match versus the Aussies, but England failed to win. He troubled various greats with his slow wrong-un and helped England win 2 Test matches with his googlies. Soon his line became erratic and he lost his control and lost his place in the side. He played 7 Test matches and grabbed 25 wickets at a brilliant average of 24.16 . He is still known as the bowler who invented googly but didn’t come close to the best. He invented a great weapon but unfortunately he couldn’t use his invention with great effect.
Later came the world’s most highly regarded mystery spinner, Jack Iverson. He was an Australian criketer and was best known for his unique grip. He had a bent grip over the ball. The New South Wales leg break bowler played just 5 Tests and all against England and took 21 wickets.
He explained his action thus: I woke up to the fact that whichever direction I had my thumb pointing so would the ball break... If my thumb was pointed to the left or offside as I let the ball go, the result would be legbreak. If it pointed to the right or legside the result would be a wrong'un. If it pointed directly at the batsmen, it would be a topspinner.
Unfortunately he died in obscurity at his own hands during the 2nd world war. He had the potential to become the world’s best spin bowler.
Then during the 1990s there emerged 3 great spinners - The King of spin Shane Warne who was strong in both his mind and wrists was one bowler to whom ‘When you blink, your off stump goes for a walk’. He pitched the ball outside leg stump which ended up in the hands of 1st slip. No one could turn the ball more than him. His leg spin, flipper, wrong-un have been a treat to watch for the past 2 decades. He was the person who revived the dying art of legspin.
Then the smiling assassin Muttiah Muralitharan arrived on the scene. His arm movement was incomparable with any other person. 800 wickets in Tests and 500-odd in ODIs is something astounding, and he is still performing in T20s for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He was tough to pick as both the off-spinner and the doosra came out of the back of his hand.
Then there was Saqlain Mushtaq. He was at his peak during the late 1990s and was able to decieve batsmen with his slow off-spin bowling.
All these were not mystery spinners , they were spinners who had the capability to bowl mystery deliveries. They had enormous accuracy over their length, pace, line and therefore success came their way.
Saeed Ajmal is also regareded as a brilliant bowler whose magic never ends. When you see that smile, you see that you are going to get the taste of a doosra. He is been excellent at the death for Pakistan in limited overs cricket and has also been brilliant at the Test level. His action has however come under the scanner sometimes from some sections.
Ajantha Mendis came, threatened to be the world’s best bowler, kept threatening at a great pace, and bowled a lot of carrom balls on the shorter side, but was also sent packing to the fence at the same pace.
At present, with the childish innocence, the steppy mohawkes, the everchanging sunglasses, Sunil Narine has stolen the limelight as the top mystery spinner. He has been largely successful at the franchise level and also for his national side in the shortest format, but West Indies are hesistant to pick him in the Test side as his usual length is just short of good length and you are not going to pick up great batsmen bowling that length.
The knuckle deliveries, the flipper, the wrong un, the carrom ball have been great sights to watch, but no spinner must forget the basics flight, dip, drift, without which success is unattainable.
Mystery spinners have come, conquered and disappeared too soon to have an effect in this game which has a rich history and legacy.
The most incredible mystery in cricket is the mystery surrounding the mystery spinners; the mystery of how they arrive, the mystery of how they conquer, the mystery of how quickly they leave the field.
This is the mystery which has been unsolved till date.