Chennai: How do you counter mystery spinners? Do you get on to the front foot or play back allowing the ball to spin? Welcome to an engrossing cricketing debate.
Moving forward when in doubt is an option that is practised often. However, in an era where the umpires are prone to ruling batsmen out on the front foot the ploy can come unstuck. There is greater danger for the batsman if the decision is referred. Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan, both accurate and precise, also had men in bat-pad positions during the Test series to gobble up opportunities.
Former Mumbai cricketer and noted coach Vasu Paranjpe is of the opinion that going forward early and playing the ball late could be an answer. Here the batsman’s trigger movement takes him five to six inches forward as the bowler is about to deliver. The head — still and steady — and shoulder move forward. The elbow comes back towards the body.
Here, the batsman moves forward but does not commit himself. Once he gauges the length, he has the option of shifting his weight back.
When a batsman plays off the back-foot, he needs to get outside the line of the leg-stump to maximise his scoring opportunities. He should create the room for the bat to come through
Parthasarathy Sharma, a former India batsman and a noted technician, also talks on similar lines. He is a believer in ‘floating footwork.’
“By this, I mean non-committal footwork. You either move fully back or fully forward or dance down the pitch, but do not commit yourself. You either get to the pitch of the ball or play it as late as possible,” he says.
Sharma picks an example from the India-Australia Test series of 2004.
“Damien Martyn made a lovely hundred in Chennai and he often went fully back and played the ball late. The Indian spinners could not make the alterations in their length accordingly, as they tried to get him on to the front foot. They tended to over-pitch and Martyn, who even took an off-stump guard on a few occasions, made runs.” Martyn outthought the Indian bowlers on that occasion.
Eventually, it boils down to how well a batsman reads a spinner. Paranjpe recalls a delightful vignette about Vijay Manjrekar watching, from the back of the nets at the CCI, Pankaj Roy struggling against leg-spinning magician Subash Gupte.
When Roy returned after a largely fruitless stint, Manjrekar asked him whether he watched the revolutions on the ball. Roy’s reply was in the negative. Not surprisingly, he was clueless against Gupte.
If a batsman does not read the spin on the ball and the length — both are connected — he is bound to be in trouble against a quality spinner.
Even mystery spinners can provide clues. Paranjpe says Mendis flights only his googlies. The batsman, if he picks the flight early, can dance down to the pitch of the ball and take him on.
This could be an important piece of advice on dealing with Mendis in future Tests.