Shane Warne once said that part of his job was to prove that spinners were attacking bowlers in all forms of the game. Even though he has retired, his legacy has been to give captain's more confidence in their spinners.
For Shane was right. Spinners exist to get wickets. What makes it interesting is that there are many different styles of spinner. Whether you captain spin or give the ball a tweak yourself, understanding your own style is crucial to success.
All spinners must have the aim of getting maximum revolutions on the ball. Not only does the ball turn more if you give it a rip, but it also drifts in the air and dips late in its flight more too: All essential elements in deceiving the batsman.
However, some spinners ignore this advice and tend to roll the ball gently. This makes it tougher to take wickets. These bowlers' tactics are to frustrate the batsman with a tight line and length. Close catchers are less important but well placed outfielders can be effective.
To right handed batters, off spinners have 2 main lines of attack. Around the wicket bowling at off stump so the ball straightens:
Over the wicket outside off stump so the ball turns back to the stumps:
The former is harder to play, especially with a leg side biased field. It can bring lots of catches to short leg fielders. The latter brings in the classic 'through the gate' dismissal but can make it easier for the batter to play the ball with the turn into the leg side.
I tend to see very little around the wicket bowling by off spinners in my club games. Perhaps this is because better wickets at the top level have discouraged it and club spinners simply follow suit. However, it is an excellent attacking tactic if you can spin the ball enough to straighten it.
Orthodox left arm spinners usually bowl around the wicket at off stump so the ball straightens:
They bowl from a wider angle than the off spinner so off line balls can be hit more easily. This means they need to be more accurate. They also should be watchful of the amount of turn. Too little and the ball slides down the leg side, too much and it is a free hit through the off side.
Leg spinners bowl a similar line, usually getting the ball to turn more and bowling from a less acute angle. The variation a leg spinner has means there are more lines to account for. The googly may pitch wide of the off stump to turn back, the top spinner might pitch straighter.
In defence (or for a variation, especially if there is a lot of turn and bounce) both the leg spinner and the left armer can bowl the other side of the wicket (round for the leggie, over for the left armer) and at leg stump:
The great left arm spinner Headley Verity once said that a spinner's length should be as short as possible to make the batsman play forward. This is the essence of length and something all spinners on all wickets should be striving to do. It gives the ball time to turn and bounce but the batter has less time.
A common mistake, especially on turning wickets, is for the spinner to bowl short enough to watch the ball turn. However, the batsman has much more time on the back foot to watch the ball and account for unexpected movement. So when in doubt as to length, think back to Headley Verity and experiment with how far back you can pitch the ball while keep the batsman on the front foot.
One thing to be careful of when using this theory is when the ball is turning too much. The the batter plays forward he will miss it and be hit on the pad (turning in) or go past the outside edge (turning out) without ever being in danger. Here you may need to pitch it slightly further up than normal.
Most coaches agree that spinners are better if they give the ball flight. It gets the ball above the eye line making it harder for a batsman to judge line quickly.
Different spinners interpret this advice in different ways. Some will throw the ball up with plenty of spin, others will be more concerned with staying accurate and loop it less. This makes a big difference to your tactics. The loopier the bowler the more they tend to buy their wickets. They tend to be more effective against tail enders. Both styles can be equally as accurate or inaccurate though.
The really good spinners have control of flight and can make small variations to keep the batter guessing, even if the ball is landing in the same place all the time. Better batsman tend to prefer loopier bowling as they have time to pick it up, so a good spinner can learn to experiment and find the compromise between pace and loop that players find most uncomfortable.
Jeremy Snape once pointed out that most spinners use the crease much less than they think. In a coaching session he asked a young offie to bowl really wide on the crease. On the video playback we found out that he had moved just a couple of inches to the left. He felt he was almost touching the return crease.
It shows that using the crease takes practice. Most spinners place their front foot somewhere in the middle and find it hard to go anywhere else. Others get naturally closer to, or further from the stumps. It's important to know where a spinner bowls from as it dramatically changes the angles of attack. The wider the angle the less likely you are to hit the stumps so generally it's better to bowl from as close to the stumps as possible.
However, if a spinner can master moving around (both sideways and backwards) you can upset a batsman's rhythm and timing which could lead to a mistake. Just bear in mind that bowling from the return crease will make the ball end up in different areas than bowling from next to the stumps. Always look to match the field to the style of bowling.
When bowling around the wicket it can be difficult to get close to the stumps as you are moving away from them in the delivery stride. To counter this you can bowl from further back (landing the front foot on the bowling crease) and get much closer to the stumps like in this picture:
So far we have only discussed tactics and methods for individual balls. However, spinners have to tease batsmen out more than any other style of bowling. This is sometimes called bowling in sets.
The classic set for an off spinner is to bowl a couple of balls with less spin followed by one with a big rip to catch the batsman through the gate or get a bat-pad chance. However sets can be even more subtle than that. A good spinner will test a batsman at a range of different lengths, angles and flights until he finds a weak spot and gets the wicket through guile.
The key message is rather than try and bowl the perfect ball every time, the spinner can take time to set the batsman up for a fall. He and his captain must know what this plan is so the right fields can be set in advance.