Do you have to have the gift to be a good leg spinner? Or can little bits of spin both ways work?
Terry Jenner, Shane Warne’s bowling mentor, used to call the ability to bowl a big spinning leg break "The Gift". He was absolutely right. However, very few can do it well. That's why we can name all the really Gifted Test leg spinners in about 10 seconds:
Subhash Gupte, Richie Benaud, Bill O'Reilly, BS Chandrasekhar, Abdul Qadir, Stuart MacGill and Shane Warne.
I have deliberately missed out the great Indian spinner Anil Kumble and my mate "Mushy" Ahmed from this list because their "gift" was a different one to that Jenner explained to me in 1998. These two bowl with little bits of spin both ways, always with over spin that creates dip, drift and extra bounce even from the most benign of surfaces. To me they were different types of bowlers to the guys that I listed above.
As you will note, my beloved England, does not feature at all in the Gift List. And we invested significantly to try to identify, then develop one in the early 2000's. It was a fruitless pursuit.
Whilst we have all been looking for the next Shane Warne, I wonder how many Kumble's and Mushtaq's we have missed.
Have our minds and coaching eyes been side-tracked by the search for the elusive Gift?
On Sunday, I worked with a young lad called Uzair. Uzair bowls at a rapid pace (around 55 mph) with huge levels of over spin and has the ability to spin the ball a little bit in either direction.
He has unnerving accuracy and has taken his wickets at 20 apiece in the Home Counties Premier League. That's great for a 17 year old spinner. Many observers have told me that he doesn't spin it enough, but is that is because their barometers are taken from Warne and not Kumble.
I'm sure England wouldn't mind 500 test wickets from a leg spinner, whatever his angle of deviation.
Uzair is a hard worker and he is doing his hand to hand drills daily. He is working on engaging his hips more to facilitate momentum flying up the kinetic chain and into his wrist. He is also experimenting with different grip pressure to try and find his key to more spin. In time, his leggy will spin more.
Yet even then he is unlikely to bowl a Warne-like delivery too often.
So, can he still be great?
One area that we worked on during our session on Sunday was simulating overs to a combination of left and right handed batters. What we noticed from the video that Uzair bowled the ball from the same position on the crease (from over the wicket) irrespective of bowling to and right or left hander.
We tracked the ball through the air frame by frame to see where the ball pitched from this release position to the left hander. Uzair noticed that in order to consistently hit the stumps, the ball often pitched outside the line of leg stump in order to hit the stumps on the angle. This would significantly reduce Uzair’s chance of getting a left hander out LBW. So we had to make a change.
Uzair adjusted his stock bowling angle to a left hander so that he released from nearer to the stumps. Then he could pitch both his googly and his legspinner in line with the stumps to then turn and hit the stumps.
Naturally, this bought LBW into the frame and meant that the left hander had to play each ball knowing that if he missed, Uzair would hit either the pad or the stumps. What a difference this made.
Uzair also worked out quickly that his previous angle could then be used specifically to bowl the ball across the line of the left hander to bring his keeper and 1st slip into play from the outside edge. It’s an angle that he can now use with a specific intention in mind.
If you have are blessed with a “Gift” bowler then work hard to develop them as the next Shane Warne.
But if you have someone like Uzair then please develop him as a Kumble and Mushtaq rather than beat his head against the “Warne Wall”.