The Truth About Hitting Against the Spin

In England, I was bought up being told that you should not hit against the spin.

You can't hit with control and the bowler will end up getting your wicket, they used to tell me.

Every time I hit an off spinner for 4 between mid off and extra cover I was told it was risky.

But I reckon that in all my batting career scored 2000 runs with that one shot.

I  got out only once (bowled by Durham's off Spinner Jason Searle).

Now, that is not a bad average for a risky shot.

Hit into the spin, not with the spin

Later, when I worked with England, Duncan Fletcher talked about and coached hitting into the spin.

What did he mean?

The ball spinning into the stumps can be met by the full face of the bat when you hit through the off side because more of the ball and more of the bat will come into contact with each other.

 This means more power and - crucially - more control.

Contrast that to hitting a ball that is moving away from the stumps into the off side (hitting with the spin).

The bat face has to catch up with the ball rather than the ball coming to meet the bat.

Less of the bat face and less of the ball come into contact with each other. This means less power and less control.

I am not suggesting that hitting with the spin is risky. Players who hit with the spin well generally get close to the ball which enables them to control the shot.

All I am saying is that a greater understanding of the principles of hitting spin will help players to develop their scoring options against spin bowlers.

So the next time you hear a coach telling a player off for hitting against the spin, bring up the principle of hitting into the spin. Have a constructive debate as this is the way that understanding is developed and limiting beliefs are challenged.

Shots to play

When the ball is spinning into the stumps you can hit with the spin by playing;

  • Back foot drive (back foot on leg stump) through the off side
  • Front foot drive between mid off and extra cover
  • Using feet and hitting up and over mid off and extra cover (often described as hitting into out, yet we now know it is hitting into the spin)

When the ball is spinning away from the stumps you can hit with the spin by playing;

  • Sweep along the ground to deep square leg
  • Use of feet to hit over mid on
  • Hitting leg stump half volley through mid-wicket (See Sachin Tendulkar, Younis Khan, Rahul Dravid or Jonathan Trott)
  • Hitting back foot either side of mid wicket  (See Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid) 

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Comments

I think the advice is less to do with the angle of the bat compared to the direction of the ball and more to do with not taking undue risks in trying to attack a delivery that could potentially bowl you should you miss it.

When people advise batsmen not to drive offspinners through the offside, its simply because of the possibility of slightly misjudging the length and being bowled through the gate - whereas if you attempt to drive a legspinner through the offside and mess it up, you might miss the ball and look somewhat foolish, but unless its a cleverly disguised googly, its very unlikely to knock back your middle peg. The opposite situation applies to balls pitching on or outside legstump. Its just a case of risk management.

Obviously if the ball is definitely overpitched or definitely underpitched then the risk of playing and missing is severely diminished and the advice becomes somewhat unnecessary. It's just those inbetween lengths where you have a little bit more margin for error when playing with the spin.

This is a technical question that has never been adequately answered for me. I've read a variety of coaching sources, some advocate hitting with the spin and some against it.

In my personal experience, I was always told to play with the spin but found that I oftentimes had greater success going against the spin, whether it was driving an offbreak into the offside or glancing a leg break. It is good to see a respected coach advocating what felt so good, especially the backfoot drive to the offspinner.

This principal was shown brilliantly by Dravid last summer when he played Swann off the back foot. He went deep in the crease and drove the ball through the off side with a straight bat as the ball spun in to him. When properly described and illustrated it all makes perfect sense and isn't hitting against the spin.

I think the advice is better aimed at players who turn the face of the bat, trying to work the ball into the leg side when the ball is spinning away from the bat. Prime example being Cook offering return catches to Ajmal off the leading edge, as he pushes forward and tries to turn a straight off break to mid wicket.

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