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Dipping off-spinners

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Harbhajan_Singh_India_cricket_IPL_Mumbai_Indians_MIOnce it goes up it comes down, once it comes down it goes up again – loop, dip and bounce with some spin imparted on it. This trajectory of the cricket ball when repeated one ball after another is a delight to the human eye and mind.

But the time it takes, once it leaves the fingers until it reaches the batsman, stands opposed to the modern adaptation of the game – T20 cricket. Time, a critical parameter in the shorter form of the game, travels at a much higher speed than the speed of an off spinner’s delivery.

In hindsight, it looks as if T20 cricket and off spin cannot go hand in hand. Is it right to perceive it so? This year’s IPL has set an alarming precedency in this regard. Numbers aren’t any encouraging and the results are there for everyone to see. A change is happening though it might seem hard to admit the same. But the time is not far away when we will begin to realise that T20 format might have done in one breed of spin bowling – right arm off spin.

 

Only half of the IPL teams have a frontline off spinner in its ranks – Ashwin (RPS), Harbhajan (MI), Narine (KKR) and Jayant Yadav (Delhi). The rest of the teams have either used part time off spinners for a couple of overs or never used one as they didn’t quite deemed it right to pick one. And add to that, this IPL hasn’t been a great one for any of the front line off spinners either!

Ashwin was under bowled in most of the matches despite being RPS’s prime wicket taker. Dhoni either waited for the left handers to come in or the pitch to turn. When neither of them happened, Ashwin just trotted around the cricket field with little purpose. As desired, pitches have been batsmen friendly and Ashwin’s economy has gone up from 5.84 to 7.25 this year, and his average increased from 22.80 to 31.90.

Harbhajan Singh too has had to struggle this season. He picked 9 wickets from 14 matches with an average of 43.55 and an economy of 8.0. Last year his 18 wickets came at an average of 24.77 and an economy of 7.82.

Jayant Yadav, who has been selected to the Indian team for the tour of Zimbabwe, featured in only 5 of the matches for Delhi. His 2 wickets came at an average of 62.50. Yadav, who believes in giving the ball some air went for an acceptable 7.35 runs per over but he needed to be given a long run to have some confidence and wickets under his name.

A rejuvenated and remodelled Sunil Narine was half the bowler he was last year. With a bent arm he could dart and hurry the batsmen but when he looped them and bowled slower through the air, batsmen used the leverage and attacked him with little sympathy. This year he has averaged 27.63 as compared to his career IPL average of 19 and he went for 7.09 runs an over as compared to his career economy of 6.17.

 

The ball spinning away has been the preferred option for all the captains in the shorter formats and the likes of Zampa, Chahal and Mishra have been efficient in providing the needed break throughs. Low trajectory, sharp away turn and efficient googlies have as always given more wickets than the deliveries coming in.

The left arm spinner has usually won the second spinner’s spot in the team given that he can either spin the ball away from the right hander if the pitch offers some spin or otherwise dart them in with his arm balls. As the left handed batsmen are relatively lesser in number, the right arm off spinners are gradually becoming out of favour.

Ashwin in his recent interview to The Ring side view pointed out that there is no scope for repetitiveness in T20 cricket, which incidentally is what an off spinner thrives on too, repeatedly landing the ball around the same spot with the deft variation in speeds and hence deceiving the batsman. But the shorter boundaries and heavier bats have virtually ruled this out of the game hence depriving him of an option to attack.

As Ashwin points out, mediocrity might become tomorrow’s success scale. That in itself is a dangerous sign for the format which has evolved drastically over the last few years. If not addressed soon no wonder if it hits a road block in some time.

How long one would jump in joy and celebrate a game comprising of only sixes and fours? How long will this monotonous flow of events serve the viewer’s appetite?

Limiting the size of the bats, lengthening the boundaries and inserting some life into the dead 22 yards strips are the first necessary and simplest steps that can be taken.

Don’t let the off spinners fade away, let them play. Give them a fair field to exercise their right.

 

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