When everything is in place, there is no more a mesmerising sight in cricket than a leg-spinner in full flight, deceiving and sometimes deluding batsmen with their sheer variety — always at their beck and call — and convincing the batsman that there are variants yet to be unfurled.
It is cricket’s most romantic gadget, and perhaps its most worshiped tool too. It has inspired more verse than most other additives of the game. British poet, Alan Ross’ metaphor best eulogises their craft. “Leg-spinners pose problems much like love,” he wrote in his poem Watching Benaud Bowl. “Requiring commitment, the taking of a chance. Halfway deludes; the bold advance.”
With leg-spinners there is always something happening. Like a drop shot in a tennis rally, the introduction of a wrist-spinner suspends the normal norms of exchange. Everyone in the arena catches their breath and sits up to see what might unfold. Even the batsman, upon being dismissed, sigh and admire its gradient beauty.
The demanding mechanics of the art mean that there is no safety mode. When a leggie’s figures turn messy, he doesn’t have the option of firing in darts on middle and leg. But the flip side is that his triumphs have a unique beauty, which is not lost in the claustrophobic framework of the skewed format.
This installment of the T20 World Cup has been a resounding revelation for them. Think Amit Mishra. Think Imran Tahir. Think Samuel Badree. Tahir’s strike-rate has been phenomenal, a wicket every eighth ball; Badree’s average is incredible, a wicket for every five runs conceded. Mishra’s economy rate of five an over defies logic.
Mishra is the most conventional of the three, the slowest also, relying on flight, dip and beating batsmen in the air. “I stuck to my strengths, that is to flight and turn the ball, worked on my variations and speed. I don’t mind getting hit, as long a I can take wickets,” he reveals his philosophy.
Tahir’s leg-breaks are faster, and his control not as immaculate as Mishra’s, so the occasional half-tracker or full toss. But his concoction of leg-breaks and googlies can be uncanny for batsmen to fathom, especially if the latter premeditates.
Like all great spinners, he plots his dismissals. “Any spinner can change the game. It’s been proven in T20 cricket. You just need to go into matches with a clear plan. If you go half-half, it’s going to be really hard to come back. I am not going to tell you what I’ve been thinking but I’ve got clear plans on what to do to against each batsman. So you go with a clear plan and back yourself,” he explains.
Trinidadian Badree is the most unconventional of the threesome. He isn’t a conformer of prodigious turn, those ripping leg-breaks that caters to the theatre.
He banks on his myriad mix of googlies and sliders, delivered with pinpoint precision. He trades the beauty of his vocation for heightened effect.
When you’re a journeyman well into your 30s, plying mostly in the T20 circuit, compromises have to be made. It might also be that he purveys more in the powerplay overs, an aspect he has nuanced. “It’s always difficult to bowl in the Powerplay overs, new ball coming on to the bat, the batsmen are looking to capitalise. I think I have been consistent in terms of line and length, I bowl to my field, things are just working out fine for me, I guess I’m a bit lucky as well,” he elucidates his formula.
They have collectively demonstrated that even in cricket’s most prosaic form, their verse can prosper. And it’s not only the triumph of leg-spin but also an ode on cricket’s delirious charm.