Sunday, 8 July 2018

Why are modern batsmen weak against legspin in the short formats?

Ian Chappell in Cricinfo

It's not only the range of strokes that has dramatically evolved in short-format batting but also the mental approach. Contrast the somnambulistic approach of Essex's Brian Ward in a 1969 40-over game with England's record-breaking assault on the Australian bowling at Trent Bridge recently.

Ward decided that Somerset offspinner Brian Langford was the danger man in the opposition attack, and eight consecutive maidens resulted, handing the bowler the never-to-be-repeated figures of 8-8-0-0. On the other hand England's batsmen this year displayed no such inhibitions in rattling up 481 off 50 overs, and Australia's bowlers, headed by Andrew Tye, with 9-0-100-0, were pummelled.

Nevertheless one thing has remained constant in the short formats: a wariness around spin bowling, although currently it's more likely to be the wrist variety than fingerspin.

The list of successful wristspinners in short-format cricket is growing rapidly and there have been some outstanding recent performances. Afghanistan's Rashid Khan was the joint leading wicket-taker in the BBL; England's Adil Rashid (along with spin-bowling companion Moeen Ali), took the most wicketsin the recent whitewash of Australia; and in successive T20Is against England, India's duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have claimed the rare distinction of a five-wicket haul. It's a trail of destruction that have would gladdened the heart of Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly, a great wristspinner himself and the most insistent promoter of the art there has ever been.

Wristspinners are extremely successful in the shorter formats and are being eagerly sought after for the many T20 leagues. Their enormous success is mostly down to the deception they provide, since they are able to turn it from both leg and off with only a minimal change of action. Kuldeep provided a perfect example when he bamboozled both Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root with successive wrong'uns in the opening T20 at Old Trafford.

The fact that Bairstow - a wicketkeeper by trade - was deceived by the wrong'un is symptomatic of a malaise that is sweeping international batting - a general inability to read wristspinners. This failing is not only the root cause of wicket loss from mishits but also contributes to a desirable bowling economy rate for the bowlers, as batsmen are hesitant to attack a delivery they are unsure about. This inability to read wristspinners is mystifying.

If a batsman watches the ball out of the hand, the early warning signals are available. A legbreak is delivered with the back of the hand turned towards the bowler's face, while with the wrong'un, it's facing the batsman. As a further indicator, the wrong'un, because it's bowled out of the back of the hand, has a slightly loftier trajectory. Final confirmation is provided by the seam position, which is tilted towards first slip for the legspinner, and leg slip for the wrong'un. Any batsman waiting to pick the delivery off the pitch is depriving himself of scoring opportunities and putting his wicket in danger.

When Shane Warne was at his devastating peak, fans marvelled at his repertoire and said it was the main reason for his success. "Picking him is the easy part," I explained, "it's playing him that's difficult."

Richie Benaud, another master of the art, summed up spin bowling best: "It's the subtle variations," he proffered, "that bring the most success."

O'Reilly was not only an aggressive leggie but also a wily one, and he bent his back leg when he wanted to vary his pace. This action altered his release point without slowing his arm speed, and consequently it was difficult for the batsman to detect the subtle variation.

This type of information is crucial to successful batsmanship, but following Kuldeep's demolition job, Jos Buttler said it might take one or two games for English batsmen to get used to the left-armer. This is an indictment of the current system for developing young batsmen, where you send them into international battle minus a few important tools.

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