The arrival of T20 has forced cricket into a radical change in the last decade. With bats getting heavier, grounds getting smaller and batsmen getting more audacious, inventive and clever, pressure is all on the bowlers and only the sharpest survive. Quicks have started using pace variations more often while spinners have developed tweaks like carrom and knuckle balls.
All-rounder Moeen Ali, who worked his way up through the ranks to become England's No.1 spinner says having just one trick in the bag is not sufficient any more to succeed in shorter formats.
"I rely on natural variations. Sometimes the ball spins but sometimes, even on turning tracks, they hold the line without me looking to bowl a straighter one," Moeen said at a news conference in Mumbai.
"I'd love to have variations that guys like (Ravichandran) Ashwin possess and hopefully, over time, I may develop and have one. "But I do believe in variations. I try few things here and there. It’s frustrating because at first you are never going to get it. But as I practice more, I feel I am getting better. I don’t think there is any mystery ball, it’s just consistency. But it’s good to have these variations.
"The guys who are able to disguise that delivery have done well in this format like (Sunil) Narine and (Saeed) Ajmal. It’s hard to be just an orthodox off-spinner these days. You must know your role depending on the situation.
The offie, who is a batsman in his own right, said he's working on a few tricks. "I just take every day as it comes and try and be a better spinner. I’m trying to develop a few variations but the main thing is to keeping the arm ball and the quicker one," Moeen added.
Having started off as a batsman who could also bowl, Moeen has since improved massively as an offie since his arrival in 2014. Captain Eoin Morgan, for instance, has described his development as a bowler as "exceptional". He is now part of the three spinners England have kept faith in for the World T20.
Moeen said he didn't have any idol and learnt watching others play. "I don’t really idolise anybody; I watch others and see what they are doing, what works for them. I see how Ashwin is more up and down, while Jadeja goes quick and straight. On different pitches, you have to bowl differently…
"I come from South Africa where there was no spin, so you have to bowl a bit quick and straight. Here the balls spin so you have to bowl a little slow, but not too slow as these guys will just smack you out of the park," he added.
Moeen's watershed moment as a bowler came in the home Test series against India two years ago where he played a crucial role in helping England win the series, bagging 19 wickets from five matches. That is when his confidence started to grow.
"I wasn’t scoring well, so needed to take some wickets. Indian players are very good at handling spin. I was apprehensive about being hit all over the park but I managed to get some wickets and my confidence grew little bit. I don’t think the Indians were in a strong mental state at that time. But I didn’t think I tormented them," Moeen said.
So what did he do differently in that series?
"I bowled quicker, I set the right field. I didn’t give any flight," he said.
A man of calm demeanor, Moeen is frank and forthright in his own assessment. So was there any mental pressure after people started calling for him to fill in Graeme Swann's boots?
"There wasn't any mental pressure," said the all-rounder. "I knew that I was not that good. People say that but I was still getting smashed in some matches. Thankfully now I’m getting smashed less as I have got more experience and know-how. But I still know that I’m going to be smashed here (in World T20)," Moeen added.
With the World T20 taking place in India, the England offie will play a crucial role. He has chalked out his role in the side and it's going to be that of a holding spinner. "It depends on the situation but for me you get wickets if you are more economical. I try not being it for boundaries which builds the pressure. We have (Adil) Rashid who is a bit more of a wicket-taker than I am with all his googlies and variations. So I will try bowl tightly and hopefully he can take some wickets," Moeen said.
Captains have developed a strategy of using spinners in PowerPlays, especially in the subcontinent. Ashwin has had a lot of success bowling in the first six overs. Moeen has mixed opinions about bowling at the start of the innings.
"It’s difficult (bowling in PowerPlays), but I also feel it’s the time to get wickets and get the top batters out," Moeen said. "The guys are not set yet and it’s harder when you come on when batters like Virat (Kohli) and Rohit Sharma have go their eyes in after 6-7 overs. Sometimes it easy to bowl with the new ball, but I prefer to bowl in the middle overs," Moeen added.
Even though Moeen has withdrawn from the IPL auction this season citing workload concerns, he is looking to be a part of the tournament in the future. Success for England in the WT20 in India could well put him on the radar of franchises for next season. "I would love to play the IPL one day. It looks like a very glamorous competition and playing with all these international stars can be good for your game. I would love to get in touch with the spinners here who can teach me a few things."