Leg spinners have something intrinsically evangelical about them, a strange blend of mystique and quirkiness that at times enhances their aura. Like Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed and the peroxide-haired wonder from Melbourne, who vibrantly revived the seemingly dead art and craft and science and daring of the leg-spin, single-handed, by the nous and skill and joie de vivre. One who added the “sexiness” component to it.
While Amit Mishra is unlikely to either revive the extinction-headed art or enhance its sexiness, he can well demonstrate to the world that quality leg-spin can still prosper in these days of one-shot bingo, fly-by-night mystery spinners, receding ropes, chunkier willows and defensive skippers. And without compromising with the essence of their craft.
His remarkable surge in the World T20 is a narrative laced with rejection and dejection, the plight of a man condemned forever to the fringe, then the bench and again to the fringe. While his passport might be thicker, his portfolio wasn’t. Debuting as far back as 2003, in the Anil Kumble-Harbhajan heyday, he has seen a battalion of spinners perform and perish.
But like those forever left-out lead-role aspirants, he was handed out the random look in, in low-key roles in unobtrusive scenes. Often a formality, only to be forgotten after the movie. That 15 of his 23 ODI appearances came against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies reinforces the extent of the raw deal meted out to him.
The criticisms and conclusions, often impetuously wrought, were full many. He tossed up the ball too slow and too much his supposed deception by flight and dip was negligible; he was clumsy on the ground, the bulging waistline a ready reckoner of his lack of suppleness; he was little utility with the bat.
The 31-year-old worked on the latter aspect — while he still doesn’t flaunt a washboard ab, he looks considerably trimmer. He could have been inclined to change his bowling, too. But he desisted, for he still reaped bountiful returns in the IPL with his trusted methods. “I worked a lot on my fitness. I have worked on my variations, have tried to understand the game a bit more. There is no doubt that the more variations you have, the more it helps in this format. I have increased my variations and have worked on my speed a lot as well,” he explained.
The pangs of the wait, though, seemed interminable, though Mishra confides otherwise. “I always think positive. The whole team was supporting me, every time the coaches come to me, they said your time will come. Just wait for your time,” he recollected.
Then life, has a strange way of remunerating men, at the most unexpected junctions. The Asia Cup seemed just an bench-warming routine before he was summoned against Pakistan. Thereon, his script finally attained the much-required clarity and flow.
Doubts, though, still clung on to him, for the past he knows has often been vindictive. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni, insightful man of leaders as he is, abated his nerves. “I felt he was feeling a bit of nerve in the first game against Pakistan. I went up to him and told him you are known for turning the ball. You are someone who flights the ball, varies the pace and you have variation. So just don’t keep bowling the straighter one or try to bowl back of a length so that the batsman cannot hit. Use that extra bit of flight in deceiving the batsman.”
This was what he seemed to lack throughout his career; the skipper’s trust. Now that he knows he has it, his narrative can finally await its tour de force. It’s only a grand irony that he had to wait this far.