How leg-spinners are redefining the art of bowling in Twenty20s
Flight, dip, and turn are posing a challenge to big broad bats and short boundaries.
As the tournament drew to a close, I was convinced that the 'L' in the IPL stood for leg-spinners. I had every right to slowly saunter to this conclusion. The impact that leg-spinners have had on the version has strangely slipped under the radar, much like their art.
The game is at it is skewed so much in the favour of the batsmen, and hence there were few complaining when Sunrisers Hyderabad lifted the coveted trophy; they were the best bowling attack this season, and in a day and age when everything favours the men wielding the willow, or should I say, logs of wood, the almost discarded tribe of bowlers finally found their voice and they eventually shrieked in delight with trophies aloft.
Samuel Badree in the World T20
This season will also be remembered for the impact of leg-spinners. In order to come to this season, we need to trudge a bit further behind -- to the World Twenty20 and to Samuel Badree. Badree is unlike any West Indian, he goes about his business without flair, he does not break into a silky dance move on picking up a wicket, well yes he did not even participate in the Champions Dance at the end of each match. But, factor in the stats -- in 6 matches he picked up 9 wickets with an economy rate of 5.39. Barely believable stats, but this is routine for Badree who almost inconspicuously picks up the new ball and chokes the opposition right at the outset.
Young Rashid Khan of Afghanistan picked up 11 wickets in 7 matches and Ish Sodhi of New Zealand picked up 10 wickets in 5 matches. They finished 2nd and 3rd respectively as the leading bowlers.
Who is surprised that they are leg-spinners?
The precedent had been set and was carried with quite some aplomb in the following Indian Premier League.
There were 3 bowlers who caught the eye, all spinners executing the most difficult art in the game of cricket, and all were doing in a way which is unique.
Amit Mishra- A matured article catching the eye
We start with Amit Mishra, the veteran in many senses. He has a skip and jump and then a smooth bowling action. He flights the ball and forces the batsmen to come to him and then his art takes over. The flight, dip and bite off the surface befuddled batsmen and almost forced them to surrender.
For someone who seems to be a gifted bowler, Mishra has not yet nailed down his spot in the National Side and has always been in and out of the team. I will not be exaggerating if I say, that currently he is enjoying in the midst of a purple patch. Spinners mature with age and Mishra at 33 certainly has reached that stage.
Adam Zampa- The young prodigy
The other leg-spinner who caught the eye this season was Australian leg-spinner Adam Zampa. Unlike Mishra, Zampa relies more on changes of pace and length. He is not a massive spinner of the ball, but he keeps his eyes fixed on the bowler and then changes the length and trajectory of the ball to collar the batsmen. He generally bowled in the death overs and came up with match-winning performances time and again what stood out was his ability to control his pace and his unnerving accuracy. He is also a bowler with a lower trajectory and this helps him skid the ball.
Yuzvendra Chahal- Going from strength to strength
Finally, we come to the most unheralded of the lot in Yuzvendra Chahal. The diminutive leg-spinner is an amalgamation of Mishra and Zampa. He delivers the ball with a gentle loop like Mishra and like Zampa reads the footwork of the batsmen and then changes his length accordingly. He has been a National chess players and has on many occasions attributed his successes in leg-spin to his ability to gauge the move of the opponent. Either that or the modern day batsmen are so occupied in their ability to clear the boundaries with the massive chunk of wood in their hand that they have forgotten the art of reading the ball out of the bowler's hand. This is where Chahal enjoys success and wins his battles.
Apart from all the traits, there is a certain mystique attached with leg-spinners that keep them in the game. Shane Warne, perhaps the greatest ambassador of the art always believed that leg-spinner grow exponentially if their captains have faith in them and use them as an attacking option. To be able to give the ball loop and lure the batsman into going for the big shot requires heart and belief in one's abilities. This is where the skipper steps in and backs the bowlers.
In the shortest format where six hitting is as important as singles, the ability to entice the batsmen out of their crease and then confound them mid-pitch is a sight to behold, a sight leg-spinners keep doing, a sight that will be for the ages.