Spin bowling faces a crisis in the country. Several reasons, from the pitches to a welter of games in the abbreviated form, could be adversely impacting India’s spin depth.

Venkatapathy Raju believes the nature of surfaces these days is detrimental to the development of spinners. “They are playing all their cricket on turf wickets. Given the sheer number of matches, the curators do not really have the time to prepare them,” said the Hyderabadi here on Tuesday.

Grass factor

Raju, who scalped 93 batsmen in 28 Tests with his left-arm spin, adds, “What they (the curators) are trying to do is to leave some dry grass on the surface and then roll it to bind the pitch but this does not really help the spinners. There is not much bounce, so essential for the spinners, from the pitch.”

The former left-arm spinner is presently in the city guiding Hyderabad in the Buchi Babu tournament. The Hindu caught up with Raju on the first day of the semifinal at the IC-Guru Nanak ground.

He agrees that the spinners face a challenge from the shorter forms of the game. “It is important that you hone your skills in the longer format of the game and then bowl in, say, a Twenty20 match. You need to get your fundamentals right,” he points out.

Indeed, control is the heart of spin bowling.

Too many variations

Another former India left-arm spinner, Raghuram Bhat, feels the budding spinners are attempting too many variations before achieving control and consistency in their bowling.

“They bowl three balls on a proper line and length and then attempt something different. It’s very frustrating. They need to bowl long spells, concentrate,” says Bhat.

The Karnataka bowler figured in two Tests in the 80s and took four scalps. He was a formidable figure in first class cricket with 374 victims in 82 matches; this included 24 five-wicket hauls. Bhat is here as a member of the Karnataka selection panel following the team in the Buchi Babu tournament.

At his coaching academy in Bangalore, Bhat asks the young spinners to bowl at a spot on the good length area about the size of a table tennis raquet. “There are no stumps and I do the ’keeping. Then, I get them to bowl at a coin on the spot. Some of the boys are regularly hitting the coin now,” says Bhat.

Respected for his control and a mean arm-ball, Bhat also talks about the ball’s release. “The young spinners are looking at their bowling hand and the course of the ball during and after the release. Ideally, they should be looking at the spot they are aiming to bowl at for better control.”

Importance of pivot

Raju dwells on the importance of pivoting for a spinner. “There is no getting away from the basics. Spin bowling is not about the hand, wrist and fingers alone. You need to get your body behind the ball.”

Bhat has an interesting suggestion. “You must get the young spinners to bowl with the tennis ball. It’s very difficult to spin the tennis ball without using your body. The ball will not go off the pitch otherwise. The boys will automatically learn to pivot.”

Spin bowling, with a few exceptions, has largely become mechanical, he says. “You need to study the batsman. If he is a bottom-handed player, then you make him drive on the off-side with a man at a short cover or mid-off. If he plays with the top-hand, then you bowl just short of a good length. If he plays close to his body, then you draw him wider for a drive. If he plays away from the body, you bowl straighter. The art of setting up a batsman should not be lost,” opines Bhat.

The use of the crease is a critical area. “You pull back a top-handed player by shortening your length a touch and releasing from well behind the crease. It can be deceptive, can create an illusion about the length. It is also crucial to vary the angles by clevery using the width of the crease.”

Length and trajectory

Spin bowling is much about subtle variations in length, trajectory and the extent of spin. The one that goes through with the arm – the arm ball – is an important weapon for a spinner. The delivery that travels with the line can be deadly amidst balls that spin.

Raju says the contemporary spin bowler has to adjust his length in Twenty20 cricket. “Here, the length balls are likely to be hit to the far corners. So you need to bowl fuller or pitch it short of a good length. It’s not easy for a spinner to adapt. However, you need to bowl with an attacking mind-set in Twenty20 cricket. You need to rip and flight the ball and use the quicker one judiciously. If you see, spinners have been winners in Twenty20 cricket. It’s all about belief.”

Learning from Azhar

The affable Raju reveals he learnt much from bowling at Mohammad Azharuddin and V.V.S. Laxman at the nets. “Azhar could whip you from outside the off-stump or play a wristy inside-out cover-drive to a delivery pitching outside leg. If you bowled against him, it became easier bowling at the others. Laxman too was like Azhar. He is very wristy, uses his feet and can pick the length quickly.”

Bhat wants to be in the thick of things to assess the young spinners. “I want to have two practice games among the probables ahead of the Ranji Trophy season. I will bowl from one end, and a young spinner will operate from the other. I will set the field for him.”

It should be interesting!

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