Wrist spin – The resurrected art that is set to dominate World Cup

On February 17, 2005, there was a new addition in a rather small family of cricket formats. With the advent of T20, many felt that wrist-spin bowling would fade into oblivion with one of Chris Gayle’s stratospheric strikes. In those early days of T20s, picking a leg-spinner in the side was a gamble in itself; the general consensus was that the inconsistency of the ball coming out of the wrists would be the perfect foil for the batsmen to slog the ball out of the park.
The wrist spinners were seen as bugbears, most of whom would only end up warming the benches. And the retirement of Shane Warne and Anil Kumble almost coincided with the advent of this format. The increasing girth of bats, powerplays, and the stealthily decreasing radius of the boundary meant that the on-field action was being choked – the existence of this art was under threat.
Not surprisingly, only four leg-spinners featured in the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup in 2007. And as it generally happens, the trend shifted to 50-over format too. As a result of this trend, in the 2011 and 2015 World Cup, Imran Tahir and Shahid Afridi were the only wrist spinners who were regular members of their respective teams.
Nevertheless, as the threat of getting extinct loomed large, the wrist spinners resurrected themselves: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ Trite it was, but the crafty ‘turners’ slowly but surely adapted to the changing modes of cricket.Almost every team has a wrist spinner in their ranks now.Almost every team has a wrist spinner in their ranks now. ©Almost everything that becomes a vogue in T20 cricket these days transfers to the 50-over format too. And slowly but surely, the wrist spinners have turned the tables on the snooty batsmen in one-day cricket too. A glance at the ICC rankings for ODI bowlers will tell you that the evidence is damning – out of top ten bowlers in the format, five are wrist spinners.
So, did their fortunes change overnight?No, it took years to gradually change the success mantra from flight, dip, and turn, to googlies, wide-outside-offs, and sliders. It was the accuracy, which wrist spinners weren’t traditionally known for, that took them streets ahead of the finger spinners in the modern age. Accuracy that was forced upon them by short boundaries, field restriction, and bats on steroids. A few years of conditioning and the masters of chicanery were back in business. The term ‘stock ball’ has been thrown out of the domain as the frequency of leg-breaks and wrong ‘uns has become almost identical. Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan spins the ball away effectively from both the southpaws and the right-handers. In addition, he is more a googly bowler than a conventional leg-spinner.
The wrist spinner has become a vital cog in almost every limited overs team now, and with the biggest cricket tournament of all – the Cricket World Cup – just around the corner, their importance and influence on their respective teams’ chances will be most telling.
Extra bounce and fifth-stump line
When troubled by spin, and uncertain about reading the variations from the hand, the stereotypical instincts of non-subcontinental batsmen holds true in general – it urges them to sweep. This can be a dangerous proposition against wrist spinners; the extra bounce that they can generate due to the over spin, regardless of the nature of the surface, often produces the top-edge, and subsequently, a wicket.
Then there are wrist spinners like India’s Yuzvendra Chahal, who outwit the batsmen keeping it in the fifth-stump channel and enticing them to try the loft. In his record-breaking spell of 6/25 against England in 2017, four out of six dismissals were either via a googly or a ball in that fifth stump channel.
“Wrist spinners are becoming more successful because batsmen are trying to hit them for boundaries every ball. Batsmen generally premeditate the slog which makes the task easier for them,” Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, former India legspinner, told Cricbuzz. “Since wrist spinners have a lot more variety and they are using the googly so much, most of the time the batsmen are slogging against the turn or they have to drag the ball from the fifth stump into the leg-side.”
Both shots are tough to execute and fraught with risk. The flatter trajectory of the modern wrist spinners (relative to Warne, Qadir and Sivaramakrishnan himself among others from the 20thcentury) makes it tougher for batsmen to reach the pitch of the ball. Furthermore, it is even harder to get under the ball and provide the elevation.
Moreover, the quick-arm action of the likes of Rashid Khan and Imran Tahir makes it hard for even good batsmen to read these bowlers out of their hands. In an interview with TOI, Rashid revealed “I don’t use my wrist a lot in my bowling. I use my fingers as I deliver using the tip of my fingers. That helps me to bowl quicker.”
So, the speed at which the ball comes out of Rashid’s hands makes it nigh-impossible for batsman to read him off the hands. That leaves the batsmen only with one choice of reading him off the pitch which means batsmen have lesser time to adapt and it gives Rashid a clear advantage.