Cricket

Firstpost Masterclass: Dip, drift and deception, L Sivaramakrishnan deconstructs the art of leg spin

  • Vaibhav Shah
  • July 19th, 2020
  • 14:03:32 IST

Editor's noteProfessional sport is as much a scientific pursuit as it is a recreational wonder. What appears routinely mundane is a result of the hours spent honing the craft and deciphering the body mechanics till it becomes a monotonous muscle memory. In Firstpost Masterclass, our latest weekly series, we look at precisely these aspects that make sport a far more intriguing act than we know.

The mystique of leg-spin bowling can perhaps fix broken hearts or probably convert the cruelest of critics into a comeliest of connoisseurs, and if tried hard enough it could maybe even help humankind overcome the deadliest of health crisis. Sure, none of that can be testified, but leg-spin bowling did exemplify all that is romantic about cricket.

If given a choice to show only one particular delivery to a soul who has never watched cricket, the chances are high that it would be a leg break.

In this edition of Firstpost Masterclass, we are joined by former India leg spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan.

Shiva, as he is fondly known, represented India in nine Tests and 16 ODIs in the 1980s, playing a significant part in India's 1985 World Championship of Cricket win. Hailed as a prodigy, Shiva's international career never ascended the heights it was earmarked for. After retiring from first-class cricket in 1998-99, he forayed into the commentary box, where he continues to be held in high regard. He also served as Players' representative on the ICC Cricket Committee and was also hired as a spin bowling coach by the Chennai Super Kings.

Shiva is famously remembered for the time he helped Sachin Tendulkar prepare for Shane Warne, considered the greatest practitioner of leg-spin bowling, ahead of India's home Test series against Australia in 1998.

Sivaramakrishnan has established himself as someone who has a deep understanding of the art. In this Masterclass, Shiva demystifies the allure that surrounds leg-spin, explains the biomechanics that goes behind delivering a perfect leg break, discusses the variations, and explains the mental fortitude required to ace the craft.

When and how did you take to cricket? Were you attracted to bowl leg-spin straightaway?

I lived in a colony that was filled with boys and I was the youngest of the lot, so every evening once everyone got back from school we used to play cricket with a tennis ball. Invariably I was forced to bowl as the older boys ended up batting most of the time. I used to bowl leg-spin because it was easier to turn the ball, much easier than the off-spinners. While the big boys were trying to bully me by trying to hit me out of the park, they succumbed to my bowling. I was getting them out plenty of times with my leg breaks, which gave me a lot of confidence and brought me a lot of joy in bowling leg-spin. I played a lot with a tennis ball when I was 10-12. Later, I continued bowling the same way with the leather ball.

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan made his International debut at 17 years. Sportzpics

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan made his International debut at 17 years. Sportzpics

Wristspin by design is a very complex skill to master and control, but what makes the art form such a compelling spectacle?

Yeah, it is (complex). A lot of things in life go clockwise, while leg-spin is anti-clockwise. It is essentially side spinning the ball. The ball goes in an anti-clockwise direction and that's one of the reasons what it makes it so much more difficult (to execute). The wrist position has to be particularly right if you want to impart sidespin.

Is there a standard grip to bowl a leg break or it differs from person-to-person?

There is a standard grip if one wants to adopt the book. The index finger and middle finger stay close to each other, the thumb is more for the support. The ring finger is the spinning finger and there is a big gap between the middle finger and the ring finger. That large gap enables a bowler to impart side turn. If the fingers are strong enough then a bowler will be able to spin the ball more in the air. The more you spin the ball in the air, the better the chances of the ball turning off the pitch irrespective of its nature.

It is the bowler who spins the ball and the ball spins in the air and turns off the pitch. The amount of turn will depend on the kind of pitch, whether it is dry or flat, but the bowler needs to spin and for the turn, he/she will have to depend on the surface.

The ideal position for a leg break is with the back of the palm facing the sky and then get into a position where the ring finger spins the ball towards the offside to take the ball away from the batsman. (This example is for a right-arm bowler bowling to a right-handed batsman)

On a turning track, how important is the stock ball?

Very important. If the pitch is doing something for you then use it. If the pitch is helping the ball turn, the bowler needs to be very accurate with his line and length and if you get the ball to turn on a regular basis and have the batsman in trouble, you will have to make the most of your stock delivery.

With the ball turning away from a right-handed batsman, there is always a good chance of getting the outside edge. If the batsman drives, there is a chance of the batsman getting out in the covers and if you beat the batsman in the air there is a chance of getting him stumped. So, all you do is stick to the stock ball on a pitch where the ball is turning and if the batsman has spent a considerable amount of time batting and getting used to your leg breaks, then you can try your variations. But if he is struggling with your stock delivery, just stick to the simple leg break because the ball that troubles him will eventually get him out.

No other singular aspect in cricket has as many variants as leg-spin bowling and all are separated by fine margins when it comes to execution. However, the end result is vastly different.

There is:

  • Googly or the Wrong’un
  • The Flipper
  • Top-spinner
  • Slider/Zooter or the back spinner...

The basic stock delivery is the leg break that turns away from the right-handed batsman.

The googly is one that comes back into the right-handed batsman. The googly is bowled with a similar action of that of a leg break and then suddenly the ball starts coming in, without any change in bowler's wrist position it allows to turn the ball the other way.

The top-spinner is the kind of an over spinner where the ball rotates in the direction of the batsman and then it goes straight on. It has an extra bit of bounce because when you're bowling with a conventional seam up, the top-spinner is supposed to hit the seam on the deck and then procure that extra bit of bounce. So top-spinner, instead of hitting the middle of the bat, hits the top of the bat, bringing the close-in fielders into play like the forward short leg and the silly point.

A slider or the zooter is the kind of a backspinning delivery, where the ball tends to a skid off the surface and can also keep a little low. This is a ball that is used a lot in the T20 format because after a boundary the bowler wants to bowl a dot ball or even towards the end of the over when you do not want to concede a boundary.

Flipper is a different kind of delivery. It is one that pitches, skids, and goes rapidly towards the batsman off the surface and Shane Warne was a master of that delivery. Warne used to bowl the flipper in a different way; he used his middle finger and the thumb and squeeze the ball out. Because he had such strong fingers, he was able to do it across the 22 yards and he got the ball to gain speed after pitching, many times even before the batsman could bring the bat down, and the ball used to hit the stumps or pad. Anil Kumble, too, was a master of the flipper. Kumble had a faster arm action than Warne, so he was also difficult to pick, however, Warne was a standout bowler because his action was normal, his release was slightly different and it became very difficult to pick it.

Wizard Warnie was the greatest leg spin bowlers of all time. Getty

Wizard Warnie could do it all. Getty

As leg spinners are spoilt for choices in terms of variations available to them, how does one ensure not over bowl them?

Cricket has changed dramatically over a period of time. Nowadays there are batsmen who aren't looking to defend the ball for a sustained duration even in the longer version of the game. So, as a spinner, what you want to do first is: turn the ball on any pitch. The amount of turn might vary on different pitches but even if a spinner is able to turn the ball by six to eight inches, he will be able to create that element of doubt in the batsman's mind.

A bowler should simply stick to his stock delivery and take his time in settling down, very much like a batsman takes a little bit of time to settle down before playing his shots. You can only settle down if you get your stock ball right. You need to find the ideal speed while bowling on different pitches, your first two-three overs should be bowled at different speeds because at one particular speed the ball might turn, so you would want to find that and then stick to that speed. Ideally, you want to be bowling between 75 to 85 kph and try and see at what speed the ball turns and simultaneously get used to the length.

What is the right length to bowl, and how much does it vary in different conditions?

The ideal length that a wrist-spinner needs to bowl is the one that draws the batsman on the front foot and hits him high on the bat. While the length varies from pitch to pitch along with conditions, the pace of the pitch and height of the batsman are the two other considerations to be taken into account while identifying the correct length to bowl on a strip. If the pace of the pitch is on the quicker side, then probably the bowler needs to shorten the length a little bit. If it is on the slower side, then the length will be slightly fuller.

When it comes to the height of the batsman - short batsmen don't have long reach and are generally good with the cut and sweep shots and if the batsman is tall with longer reach he will be able to drive the ball better, so the legspinner must adjust the length accordingly.

The lengths that you bowl in different parts of the world are also completely different, but that is because the pace and the bounce of the surface are different. Even in India, bowling on day one of Test compared to day five is contrasting. The lengths would change as the pitch tends to get slower with the passage of time and the ball might start turning more on days four and five. So what was a good length on the first day of the Test will no longer be the same on the final day. Because of the slowness of the pitch, the batsman will have enough time to play a good length delivery off the back foot. A spinner has to adjust their lengths every day while playing in the subcontinent, try to bowl fuller and fuller, and eventually, there will be a marginal difference between a length delivery and an overpitched one.

However, the length that any bowler might want to bowl at, especially for a legspinner, is the one where he should not allow the batsman to play the cut and the pull shot. If he allows, then he is bowling poor deliveries, basically short length deliveries outside off and leg stump. If the batsmen are driving the ball then it is fine because to drive the ball they will have to get everything right technically, otherwise, even a small error will most likely cost him. When the batsman is driving in front of the square then even a field can be set.

Leg-spinners like Anil Kumble have succeeded without a big leg break. Is he an anomaly or can wrist-spinners thrive without possessing a delivery that turns?

Anil is a one-of-a-kind bowler. I don't think many bowlers can achieve what he could achieve. Despite him not turning the ball big, he was very accurate and had a very good flipper. Anil knew how to set up the batsman. He was an extremely intelligent bowler and he could plan a dismissal and bowl accordingly. He would set up a batsman brilliantly and also knew how to set his field to the plan. He was an attacking bowler who always looked for wickets.

Anil Kumble is one of the only two bowlers who have picked all 10 wickets in an Test innings. Reuters

Anil Kumble is one of the only two bowlers who have picked all 10 wickets in a Test innings. Reuters

The other wrist-spinners should follow the conventional methods of turning the ball. In Tests, when there are say three fielders around the bat, that leaves six in the outfield, so the bowler has to be accurate and cannot afford to bowl too many loose deliveries if he wants to succeed in the longer format.

You spoke about setting up a batsman. As somebody from the more traditional mould of wrist-spinners, can you shed light on how did you set up a batsman?

I played cricket at a very young age. I was in the Indian team when I was 16, at 17 I made my international debut, so it was still a learning process for me. Only after having played a couple of seasons of domestic cricket I was able to assess my bowling. Ideally, I would have liked to play a couple of more years of domestic cricket before I played for India which would have given me more confidence.

But because I was so young and things came naturally to me from my action to my wrist position to the balance in the delivery stride and even my follow-through and finish, I just had to run in and bowl.

I would probably set up a batsman with a lot of leg breaks on and just outside the line of off stump and probably once in three-four overs slip in a googly and try and surprise the batsman. I also found a lot easier to spin the ball and get some turn on most wickets, so ideally I was looking at a catch in the slip or gully or maybe at short extra cover. If the batsman decided to step out and because I could get the ball to turn significantly, the stumping was always in the mix.

How much does the height of the bowler play as a factor?

The height does play a role. There are talks about the ball going over the eye-line of the batsmen. Just look at the height of Ravi Shastri, he was a left-arm spinner, who is over six feet, and once he delivers the ball from a high-arm action, even a normal delivery will be above the eye level of the batsman whereas someone like me who is 5'7" will have to flight the ball a little bit above the eye level of the batsman.

There is a difference between a tall bowler and a shorter bowler. For a tall bowler, the advantage is his normal delivery is above the eye-line of the batsman, so he has to look up and then look down where the ball is pitching. The tall bowler is also likely to get the extra bit of bounce. So he has a lot more advantage than a short bowler who has to flight the ball, which means his trajectory is high and once it is high he has to make sure there is enough spin imparted so the ball will dip on the batsmen, otherwise it is going to be a full toss or an overpitched delivery if you bowl with a higher trajectory.

The shorter bowler will have to work hard in the nets and if he can get the trajectory right and get the ball to dip and pitch a few inches short of what the batsmen are expecting, the shorter spinner is bound to succeed in a big fashion.

As a leggie, should you be looking to beat the batsman in the air, or off the pitch, or both? What worked for you?

These are the things that a bowler has to decide on the ground. If the pitch is assisting the bowler then he doesn't need to do anything in the air. If the pitch is turning square, there is no need to flight the ball because if one flights the ball it gives the batsman an opportunity to get to the pitch of the ball. If the surface is conducive to turn, the bowler has to bowl flatter and little quicker with accurate line and length.

Coming to bowling on a flat pitch, that's the time when, as a leg-spinner, you try and deceive the batsman in the air. That's when you flight the ball and bowl different trajectories and when you flight the ball you have to spin it more. Only then the ball will dip on the batsman.

If the batsman is good and has been batting for a fairly long time, you have to try and outdo him with variations. It also depends on the bowler's maturity and how quickly they can think on their feet.

We have spoken about all the different types of deliveries but how important it is for a wrist-spinner to drift the ball? Is it something that can be developed or it depends largely on the conditions.

It can be developed. We have seen Ravichandran Ashwin develop it over a period of time. Initially, he didn't have much drift but later in his career, especially while bowling to the left-handers from round the stumps he got the ball to drift into the batsman.

Drift has also got to do with the shine of the ball, but now with the saliva ban, it is going to be tricky. But with the shiny side on one side and rough side on the other, and if the spinner grips it strongly and in a correct manner, for instance, Ashwin holds the shiny side of the ball on the inside and bowls to the left-hander that time the ball follows a path that is very similar to reverse swing, for Ashwin the ball drifts into the batsman and then turns away, and if the ball goes straight on and the batsman doesn't pick it, he becomes a candidate for a leg before wicket. Although, I don't know how we will be able to maintain the ball with the new regulations.

Regarding the skill of drift, the ball is something that can be honed with a period of time and in some cases, the conditions also help in achieving drift. Depending on the wind factor in particular grounds, it enables the bowlers to drift. If the wind is blowing across the pitch, then as a leg-spinner you choose the end from which you want to bowl. If the wind is blowing from the offside to the legside, so the ball will drift into the right-hander and then turn away. Multiple factors do come into play. The captain must provide the bowler with the right end.

Is the amount of drift on the ball in bowler's control?

Playing a lot of white-ball cricket, spinners do not try and flight the ball too much. If you don't flight the ball then there is no chance of getting the ball to drift in the air. It is just going to dart straight. The ball needs airtime to drift.

How much time does it normally take for a leg spinner to identify the right length, to assess the conditions, and find the right rhythm?

It should not take much time for an intelligent leg spinner. The best thing to do is talk to the batsmen if your team has batted first, and find out the ways to bowl on that pitch. If somebody has batted for a considerable amount of time, the batsman will know exactly what the pitch is doing. So it could be ideal to have a long chat with that batsman, even before you get into the field so you're prepared with regards to where you want to bowl, how you want to bowl.

If you're bowling first, I would say stick to your basics. Bowl the delivery you are comfortable bowling. Bowl the delivery that you bowl 85 percent of the time in the nets. Try and settle down and find your rhythm which you correctly talked about. When you talk about rhythm it's all about the balance in the delivery stride. With your balance, you can do anything well. If you have control over your body, you have control over the ball and you can push the ball exactly where you want to.

So you have a nice smooth run-up, balance in the delivery stride, release the ball at the right point of time, impart a lot of strength, and just try and gauge the length. Get the batsmen on the front foot, force him to defend and that particular area is your length for the rest of the day. So you have to be persistent with the line and length, learn as quickly as possible.

Someone like a Shane Warne used to set up a defensive field when he started bowling because he wanted to know the right line and length. Even if he erred in line or length, he had a boundary rider to stop the ball. But once you find the line and length, you slowly and steadily start getting the field in, placing a silly point and forward short leg. So it all happens over a period of time, you cannot expect things to happen immediately. You cannot expect to be brilliant from ball one. If you are then outstanding, but just give yourself a little bit of time, be patient and try and get it into the groove and the rhythm and find the right line and length to be able to trouble the batsmen.

Could you tell more about the other key aspects that go into delivering a leg break, involving the run-up, balance in the delivery stride, and wrist position?

I would probably work backward because a lot of coaches would suggest run-up involving six steps or eight steps, but ultimately what are you trying to gain? Run up just gives you the momentum. What you want and what is most important, is your balance in the delivery stride.

You see a lot of bowlers, even before marking their run-up, just stand and bowl and that is when you're perfectly balanced. You can bowl the ball wherever you want. So I should look at achieving things backward.

I think initially the balance in the delivery stride and bowling with a couple of steps is the most important thing to do before slowly and steadily increasing the run-up from where you can generate enough momentum to the crease and maintain your balance at the crease and then being able to bowl.

The longer the run-up, the longer the stride is going to be as you get closer to the crease. That is a given because as you keep running, your stride gets longer and longer. And if your delivery stride is too long, you'll lose the height. When you lose the height you lose the bounce.

The higher the arm action, the higher the trajectory. The ball is in the air for a longer period of time and because of the higher trajectory, you'll get more bounce. So ideally you would want to be bowling right on top and want to have a delivery stride which is not too big, where you might lose balance, you might lose height. The balance should be given importance with the run-up being secondary. Run-up just gives you momentum, it's the balance that allows you to transfer with the weight, get you in the right position to spin the ball.

Could you assess the run-up, delivery stride, and follow-through of these three contrasting wrist-spinners:

  • Shane Warne
  • Mushtaq Ahmed
  • Stuart MacGill

Let me talk about Warne first. As I said it is all about the balance. If you stand and bowl, you bowl better. Warnie would just amble up to the stumps and make sure he had the balance in his delivery stride.

Shane Warne was very strong physically and his fingers were so strong that the ball fitted like a lemon in his hands. He could amble to the crease and had a firm base at the time of delivery stride along with a good hip drive which made his deliveries so accurate and also made them turn big time.

When I talk about the hip drive what I essentially mean is about the back leg of a bowler driving towards the batsman as the bowler is about to release the ball. The body weight is transferred from the back leg to the front leg and into the ball and you have a nice finish, because of seamlessness in the transfer of the body weight, the follow-through is automatic.

Mushtaq Ahmed retired with 1407 First Class wickets to his name. Image courtesy: Twitter @ICC

Mushtaq Ahmed retired with 1407 First Class wickets to his name. Image courtesy: Twitter @ICC

However, for somebody like a Mushtaq, the follow-through happens but is a little more exaggerated because he runs with his follow-through. While MacGill had a round-arm action and he too like Warne had a very good body action. He was more of a leg-spin bowler than a googly bowler because of his round-arm action which makes it very difficult to bowl the wrong'un. Also, with the round-arm action, it is difficult to disguise the googly as the back of the palm will be away from the body making it easy for the batsman to pick it.

They were three very different kinds of bowlers but all very successful and that makes leg-spin such a fascinating aspect. Mushtaq tried to imitate a bit of Abdul Qadir while Warne was himself. Imagine somebody going for 1 for 150 in their first Test match...in most countries, he might not have played a Test match again but Warne was persisted with. He worked hard on his bowling and over a period of time when you see the Sydney Test when he made his debut against India and when you see his bowling action 10 years later, it was totally different. Warnie started off with a high arm and open chested action and later on, he became more conventional and more successful.

You spoke about the back leg, could you expand on the importance of the landing foot and pivot that is required for the balance.

When the wrist-spinner runs in to bowl and approaches the crease, the back leg lands parallel to the crease and the front leg lands in a straight line. The back leg and the front leg should be in one straight line, but the toe of the front leg should be pointing towards fine leg. With the back leg parallel to the crease and the toe of the front leg pointing towards fine leg along with the non-bowling arm up when you are looking over the shoulder, is a perfect side-on position, so much so that one can draw a straight line from the (left) non-bowling arm to the toe of the front (left) leg. That's the biomechanics called alignment.

The back leg, front leg, landing, and then the non-bowling arm in a straight line brings the bowler in a position to be able to synchronise the motion which is completed with the rotation of the bowling arm and with the back leg driving through, that's when everything happens together. The body weight goes into the ball and you get a lot more purchase from more stitches.

That brings us to the role of the non-bowling arm...

The non-bowling arm is very, very important. The non-bowling arm gives you direction. If you take your non-bowling arm in the direction of the wicket-keeper who is just outside off-stump it gives you a perfect line. The non-bowling arm also gives you the ability to use your upper body and when you drive through your back leg you use your lower body a lot better. So your front arm and your back leg play a significant part in using your entire body weight. It's got to be a synchronised action.

For a fast bowler, the non-bowling arm comes down a lot quicker but for a spinner, it comes down slowly but you are going to have a very firm non-bowling arm and in the direction, you want to bowl. The front arm is more of radar and the bowling arm does the job that the radar has targetted.

We keep hearing about rotator cuff injury which happens quite often to a wrist spinner. Is there a technique to avoid it or that is a price you pay for bowling leg-spin?

As I had mentioned earlier, leg-spin is the only delivery that goes anti-clockwise, so your shoulder works in a different direction. For a leg spinner, say if you bowl a googly you will know how different muscles work as compared to the ones required for the leg break.

The rotator cuff has happened to Kumble, Warne, and MacGill, as bowling leg-spin does put a lot of strain on your shoulders and because you bowl long spells. Nowadays spinners bowl 30 balls in the nets, but earlier in the 1980s and 1990s we used to bowl for two hours. It does stress your shoulder and over a period of time, you have got to take good care. You require a good physio and make sure your training methods are monitored. Your throwing technique also needs to be good.

In modern-day cricket when the ball is say tapped to cover and even if the batsmen aren't running, the fielder will still go for a throw, that is done to maintain the intensity but in the bargain, you are throwing which means you are making your shoulder work for nothing. I would probably suggest if the batsmen are not running, then just lob it back to the mid-off fielder and he will give it back to the bowler, that's what Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev did.

Throw only when it is necessary. You have to take care of your body and give your best when you are at the centre, but this shoulder injury does happen to leg spinners simply because they are going anti-clockwise and when they bowl the googly they are going clockwise.

My injury happened in Australia mainly because of throwing during the World Championship of Cricket. Throwing over those big boundaries. In the '80s nobody knew about the rotator cuff injury, they just said shoulder injury, and I was given an injection and asked to rest for a month and as soon as I came back, within two days I was playing a Ranji Trophy match for Tamil Nadu against Mumbai in Chennai and I bowled non stop from the start of play till tea time on Day 3. So my rotator cuff got worse and I don't know if it has recovered as I never checked it after that.

We covered most of the physical aspects of leg-spin bowling, now we move to the mental aspect. How important is it for a legspinner to have the heart of tossing the ball in the air in pursuit of wickets and not worry about conceding runs in the bargain?

For a leg spinner, however good he is, even if he has got all the variations and has all the necessary ingredients that need to make a genuine wicket-taker, he needs a lot of confidence and that confidence will come only if he has a good captain. A good captain will use his leg spinner to take wickets.

Whenever I get a chance to interact with the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja, Kuldeep, or Chahal I try to be positive with them.

You need to be positive in your communication, you don't want to be negative and tell, 'Don't give runs'. Imagine Virat Kolhi giving the ball the Cahal and saying 'Don't give runs, keep it tight.' Can you imagine what it will do to Cahal or for that matter Kuldeep's mindset? It has to start with the captain. The captain has to be proactive and must say, 'I want you to get wickets, you look fresh today and I want you to bowl and get wickets.'

Even how you coach in the nets is an important factor. When you tell a bowler you are doing good and you can do better, the human mind opens up to listen to you instead of straight away telling them, 'What you are doing is not good,', something that used to happen in our days. Then the human mind just shuts down and wants to avoid you, because you are always coming up with something negative.

Even in conversation and while communicating you have to make sure that you are using the right words.

Communication is important and the captains need to have confidence. Only if the captain has confidence in his spinners he will be able to pass it on to his bowlers. if the captain doesn't have the confidence in the spinner then the bowler is going to be under pressure from the captain, expectations from the people in addition to his own stress. With so much pressure pinned on the spinner, the bowler is likely to become stiff and when the body is stiff, the chances of bowling bad balls increase, which will then lead to conceding runs early in the spell subsequently that will push the bowler on the defensive.

Ideally, the captain and the leg-spinner should have a long chat before the game to have a certain plan as to what to do when things are going in certain ways.

What makes leg spinners tick in the shorter formats but not so much in Test cricket? Besides Yasir Shah, there aren’t many successful wrist-spinners going around in the longest format of the game.

Yasir Shah said spinners could expect some assistance in August in England. AP

Yasir Shah is one of the only few leg-spinners going around in the world who is selected regularly in the playing XI of any country. AP

I have been noticing that trend for a while now. I think it is because in T20 and ODI cricket the spinners generally bowl in the middle overs, some of them bowl in the power play, and even in the power play the batsmen are looking to attack in the T20 game.

When you are bowling in the 10th, 12th, 14th, and the 16th over the batsmen are looking to attack and they are playing a shot almost every ball in search of a boundary. When the batsmen are attempting such extravagant shots, there is a chance that they will make a mistake, and that's why the leg-spinners who are able to turn the ball end up taking a lot of wickets. The other reason why they take a lot of wickets is that they have so many boundary riders, with five fielders allowed in the deep. So they have a lot of protection for the big hits with batsmen taking more risks, even a bad ball can get bowlers wickets in T20 cricket and a good ball can go for a boundary.

The thing is with red-ball cricket you don't have the luxury of keeping five fielders on the boundary. In Test cricket, you are likely to have three fielders around the bat and six trying to stop the singles, so you have to be very consistent while in T20 and ODI cricket because you have protection for a bad ball the spinners get away with it. But at some stage, they are bound to get exposed. There are a lot of leg-spinners who play T20s these days but don't feature in the Test side and that tells you the story.

What do leg-spinners need to do to have a successful career in Test cricket?

The mindset needs to change. Leg-spinners feel very comfortable having fielders at the boundary and they don't feel comfortable having fielders around the bat, so the mindset has to change, to begin with. Wrist spinners have to work hard on their accuracy and have a bagful of variations because you can't bowl the same ball over and over again in Test cricket. You have to bowl all kinds to deliveries to set up a batsman for a wicket-taking ball. So I think a modern-day leg spinner has to get used to all this which is a lot of pressure by itself. I think there is a lot of attraction and following for white-ball cricket. Leg-spinners are quite content and happy playing white-ball cricket. This is my opinion and I hope I am wrong.

Every now and then, we hear theories regarding ‘leg-spin is a dying art form.' Does it hold any water in your opinion?

It would seem as to what people are saying is not true, but if you look at leg-spinners, they only play white-ball cricket. Very rarely do you see a leg-spinner playing in Test matches these days. There are so many leg-spinners playing in T20 and ODI, why aren't leg-spinners playing Test cricket? I feel the quality of leg-spin bowling which involves forcing the batsmen to defend and then snuff out a wicket, which is how I remember, is no longer present in modern-day leg-spinners.

Nowadays, the wrist-spinners are waiting for the batsmen to make a mistake which the batsmen do in white-ball cricket in search of boundaries. Wickets that you want to take as a leg-spinner in Tests is caught at slip, caught at silly point, caught at short leg, whereas in T20 cricket it is caught at deep mid-wicket, caught at long-on, caught at long-off. These are not the kinds of dismissal you would usually see in a five-day game. The mindset is not strong enough and if you don't have confidence in your ability to have all the variations and bowl a steady line and length over a period of 40-45 overs you are not going to be successful in Test cricket.

So, you subscribe to the theory that leg-spin is a dying art form in the longer format?

Yes, certainly. Adam Zampa made a statement that he desperately wants to play Test cricket. He wants to be taken seriously. If a cricketer comes out and makes a statement then he is telling his team, his captain, and the selectors that 'I do want to play Tests'. A leg-spinner has to communicate to everybody that he is interested in playing Test matches.

On the flip side, if you still do not see leg-spinners feature in Test teams that tell us that the selectors and even the team management are not confident of playing a leg spinner in a longer version of the game simply because he does not have the quality to play in a Test match.

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Updated Date: July 19, 2020 14:03:32 IST

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