In the first of three Willow Talk columns this week distinguished former first-class cricketer and coach of international players Dr V. V. Giri, who conducted High Performance coaching sessions for MCA last year (and made a huge difference to the performances of the Academy’s fortunate youth players), shares his trenchant opinions on off spin and gives some excellent advice. For more on Dr Giri, check out MCA’s Profiles page.
What’s wrong with Ashwin?
During last year’s IPL and the subsequent ODIs played in India Ravichandran Ashwin
tormented the best batsmen with his off spin and was universally celebrated as the best Indian player. A few weeks later he went to Australia and after the test series he was criticized by almost everyone and branded as a ‘not-so-good’ bowler.
Why this sudden change of label? A man who controlled and fooled almost all the top batsmen in the IPL was suddenly found wanting. Well, that’s test cricket. Many spin bowlers have been reduced to a dust when it comes to test cricket, especially overseas. In tests, quality batsmen have all the time to read your bowling and negotiate accordingly. There is no need for them to score quickly and so they don’t make mistakes. You don’t get as many chances in test cricket to get a batsman out as in the limited overs.
If spinners want to survive long in test cricket, they need the following.
- Terrific control.
- Vicious spin.
- Clever variety.
- Never-say-die attitude — heart
Control, as you all know, is nothing but accuracy. In test cricket a spin bowler cannot compromise on line and length. It has to be precise throughout the spell. That’s the difference between the various formats of cricket. A test spinner is supposed to bowl every ball on a good length or where he intends to. Whether it is a ‘well-flighted’ delivery or ‘lower trajectory’, the ball has to pitch exactly in the planned area.
In the past I have seen almost all Indian spinners bowl with awesome control, continuously pitching the ball where they wanted. Whether it was a new ball or an old ball, they never messed up with line and length. But today, unfortunately, every spin bowler delivers most balls with enough width to be hammered. If today’s spinners bowl two balls on a good length, they are immediately considered excellent bowlers.
The next important factor is spin. There is a lot of difference between turn and spin. A turning ball need not have good spin and a spinning ball does not necessarily turn. You get ‘turn’ more out of pitch conditions. If the ball gets enough ‘grip’ on the wicket surface it turns. Just a few revolutions of the ball are enough to turn it on a rough surface. But spin is something in the hands of the bowler. There are three parts of the body involved in spin bowling – fingers, wrist and arm. If all three coordinate well, you get maximum spin on the ball. Spin is very important to get respect from the batsman. A bowler with vigorous spin will always worry the batsman.
Clever variety: at the highest level you definitely need to have some variety to make the batsmen guess. If you keep bowling the same spinning or turning delivery, batsmen at the test level get accustomed to you quickly and play you easily. The variety could be anything — arm ball, faster one, under cutter, top spinner, carrom ball, doosra, or the latest, the teesra.
All the bowler has to do initially is to show the batsman that he possesses varieties and the batsman is immediately under pressure. But bowling the variety ball in a good area and at the correct time is a real talent. Very few people utilize their variety balls skillfully.
Finally, the spin bowler needs a good heart at the test level. I am of the opinion that you’ll be a good spinner only if you get hammered in your early days. You should bowl on placid wickets to grinding batsmen to get the heart to bowl in tougher situation. Normally a spinner gets a ‘never- say-die’ heart only after he crosses 30 years or puts on even more years of experience. Till that time, spinners are still being seasoned.
Now, what is wrong with Ashwin? Ravichandran Ashwin is a very clever bowler. There is no doubt about that. He is a thinker, plans well and fools the batsmen most times in other forms of cricket. In test cricket, too, he was able to mesmerize the youngsters and beginners. On the Australia tour he was able to remove the inexperienced batsmen quickly, but veterans like Ponting, Hussey and Clarke pulverized him.
When you analyze the tussle between Ashwin and the top Oz batsmen you see that Ashwin was comfortable when bowling flatter, as in limited over games. The batsmen were playing him easily, scoring ones and twos. When he tried to toss the ball up these experienced batsmen came out and easily put him wherever they wanted.
In the 60s and 70s we saw Bedi and Prasanna tossing up the ball to the great Aussie batsmen – namely, Chappell, Walters, Redpath and Simpson — and they caused them lots of problems. What was so special about what they did that Ashwin couldn’t do now?
It is the spin factor. I have seen, in Indian team net practices, Bedi and Prasanna bowl with a new ball and spin it madly. In fact, I could hear the ‘fizz’ noise of the new ball spinning. They had supple fingers and gave enough tweak to the ball with only two or three fingers. They never used the thumb or palm, which normally prevent the spin. They could spin the ball like a ‘spinning top’, yet put the ball on the spot. Such was their talent.
Ashwin is not a great finger spinner. He gives a mild tweak on the ball sideways and, if the ball gets the surface grip, it turns. A good spinner spins the ball parallel to the pitch. That is, the seam should be facing the batsman and the spin should be in the same direction to cause more problems for the batsmen. This is called over spin. If the bowler spins the ball sideways, it doesn’t worry the batsmen that much.
How to bowl an ideal off spin delivery:
- The off spinner must hold the ball with not more than three fingers. (Normally the fingers are kept on the seam, not across the seam). Thumb or palm should not touch the ball.
- Take a comfortable, easy, fixed run-up to the crease. Do not look at the crease during the run-up or delivery.
- At the time of delivery, go sideways, closer to the stumps, arc your body backwards, bring the body in front along with the arm.
- Aim and deliver the ball with a good tweak — using fingers, wrist and arm to spin the ball to the maximum.
- Bring the body in front and bend enough to touch the ground after the delivery, which is called the ‘follow-through’.
- After delivery make sure that you move away from the danger zone.
When you follow those steps, you get enough “venom” in your delivery. Because of your arc, body-bending, follow-through and spin, the ball, which first goes up in the air, suddenly drops down due to the over spin. This is called the “DIP”. When you get such dip, you automatically get the “NIP” — which means the ball jumps high after pitching. This ‘dip’ and ‘nip’ phenomenon is the effect of following all the above conditions. This can be done on any wicket and in any conditions.
When a spinner is able to get this dip, he can flight the ball courageously and invite the batsmen to come out and play. There is every chance of fooling the batsman in the air and the batsman also may not be confident enough to come out, fearing the ball will dip and deceive him in the flight.
As I noted earlier, spinners like Prasanna and Bedi used to flight the ball high up in the air to even the best batsmen, inviting them to come out. They would do this on any wicket (even in Australia, England, or in the West Indies). Batsmen seeing the ‘dip’ fear to go out and finally try to play within the crease — and perish.
Ashwin, unfortunately is unable to do this. That’s the reason Clarke, Ponting and Hussey came out and drove him whereever they wanted. He must learn to spin more and also use the waist and follow-through effectively. If he gets that, he will be a real menace. His line and length also were not ‘test class’. Because of insufficient spin on the ball, the batsmen were in no trouble whenever the ball was pitched a little short or full.
A good example of a fearsome off-spinner today is Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal. If you watch replays of his bowling you can see all the above six steps being followed. He also possesses the required qualities for a classy spin bowler-Spin, Control, Variety & Heart.
Dr V. V. Giri.