When Shreyas Gopal castled Kane Williamson with a peach of a delivery in the opening moments of Rajasthan Royals (RR) match against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) on Saturday, he confirmed a title bestowed upon him by fans and cognoscenti alike. That of being a giant killer, with major international batsmen like Virat Kohli, AB de Villers apart from the Kiwi skipper in his kitty.
The last few editions of the IPL have seen the rise and rise of the spinners. The 12th edition is no different with wrist and finger spinners creating inroads in this premier tournament. Gopal, along with Imran Tahir, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin feature in the top ten wicket taking bowlers as the IPL nears its business end.
People would have sneered upon those who were to predict that spinners (especially the wristy ones) would have a big impact in the IPL when the tournament started in 2008. Most had assumed that the tournament, that gives a bowler just four overs, is played with shorter boundaries where the trundler is pitted against with top class batsmen wielding heavy, modern bats, would be more suited for the pacers to create whatever possible damage.
The advent of ‘finger flick’ (if the style could be called that) bowlers like Sunil Narine and wrist spinners like Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Rashid Khan and now Gopal, has changed the equation completely. The magical and delectable art of wrist spin bowling has been given a huge boost by the performances by this lot and has made the craft indispensable when teams are selected in shorter formats.
If one takes a look at the teams selected for the International Cricket Council World Cup 2019 (WC19), one will find that almost all teams will have one (or more) wrist spinners. From Chahal, Tahir, Adil Rashid and Adam Zampa, teams feature different varieties of wrist spinners who were once considered expensive propositions in the shorter format of the game.
Teams from the Indian sub continent, blessed with spin bowlers, used them beautifully since the advent of the ODIs. Pakistan used legendary leg spinner Abdul Qadir in two world cups (1983 and 1987). The Lahore born spinner grabbed 24 wickets in the tournament, over two editions in thirteen games.
Though his exploits didn’t win Pakistan the coveted trophy, the gambit was taken further by Sunil Gavaskar who invested in young Laxman Sivaramakrishnan in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia.
Knowing they will be playing on grounds with big outfields, the shrewd Indian captain gave the leg spinner a free rein to end up as the highest wicket taker for India and bag the World Championship. The dream ball he bowled to Javed Miandad, a master of playing spin, will forever be etched in memory of every Indian cricket fan.
Qadir and Sivaramakrishnan’s exploits spurred many young bowlers to take up the unusual art of wrist spin and the post 90s saw the arrival of Shane Warne who took the craft to a different, much higher level. An art which was considered as a dying one was resurrected by the wizard of Oz whose mastery over controlling the ball made him the darling of cricket fans.
From Bill O’Reilly, Subhash Gupte to Warne and modern practitioners of wrist spin, the art is growing leaps and bounds with new innovations added to deceive the best batsmen in the world. Far from dying, the art of leg spin is today treated as a potent weapon in the commercial age of the game. The success of young wrist spinners in the T20 format of the game has given the genre a new fillip.
Wrist spinners, who have the potential of changing the game at any moment of time, are very different from the rest of the bowlers. Like speedsters, the wrist spinner is the most attacking bowler provided he is given complete freedom and freed of any curbs that a demanding captain may enforce.
One is reminded of an incident that involved Subhash Gupte while on his last trip to Mumbai, his hometown. Down on a visit from Trinidad where he resided, the legendary wrist/leg spinner was asked for tips by a promising leg spinner while he was chatting with his peers at the Cricket Club of India on a balmy Sunday afternoon. “Do not listen to anyone,” said the wheelchair bound legend.
“Do what your heart tells you to do. Leg spinners are not bound by rules,” he concluded.
It remains to be seen if wrist spinners will become the giant killers at WC19. These free spirited cricketers are the mystical Sufis of the modern game who will play by their own rules to win matches for their teams....