What goes into becoming an excellent spinner? It's a question raised recently by this article looking at what England need to do to improve their spin stock. What can you learn from these ideas to take into your spin bowling?
One thing is for sure, getting good at spin bowling about more than just bowling. There will always be a school of thought that bowlers just need to bowl more and that's it. The more you bowl the better you get. And while you do need to bowl, there is more to it than that.
So, let's build a big picture.
What's your job?
Before you even pick up a ball, you need to understand what you do. Spin has a wide range of roles in cricket. Those roles are performed by players with a wide range of skills and experience against batsmen with a wide range of aims. There is no one size fits all.
The job will vary between spinners. It can vary from game to game, and even from moment to moment. The context is crucial.
Perhaps you are looking to rip it square, take wickets and win the game. Maybe your job is to keep it tight and take the pace off the ball in the middle overs of a Twenty20. Perhaps one day it's one job and the next day its the other. Maybe you're an experienced spinner on a turning pitch or perhaps you are a part timer on a flat one. What is considered a good performance in these moments will vary.
The point is, you need to understand the context.
Then you can get better at bowling within all possible scenarios (or at least, the main ones). Based on your knowledge you can answer questions like:
- Am I getting enough turn?
- Is my accuracy acceptable?
- What pace do I need to bowl?
The answers will vary based on your context, so make sure you get it right. Then get to work.
Are mentors and consultants useful?
This is where a consultant or mentor is a powerful tool at your disposal. A good mentor will understand the context, and will be able to guide you towards getting better. This means technical, tactical and mental changes to iron out weaknesses or build strengths.
It's why we naturally think that, say, Shane Warne advising a leg spinner will help the spinner get better. Warnie, we assume, will use his experience to see what the young spinner needs to do and then guide his training towards the best approach. This can work, although it often depends on the mentors coaching skills. There is a big difference between understanding your own game and helping others learn theirs. So, don't assume mentors automatically have all the answers.
It's more important to have a good coach than a good player acting as a mentor. However, the ideal is someone who is both!
How important is experience?
So far, we have looked at context more than actual bowling, so let's fix that now by thinking about experience.
In short, spinners need more experience than any other type of player. It's why they develop so much later and why so many turn away from spin when they are young. It's darn tough and takes a long time to build up the required accuracy and game awareness to be consistent.
How many consistent 18 year old spinners are there? Not many. How many 25 year olds? Still not many!
Becoming a good spin bowler takes a long time.
The catch 22 here is that to get experience you need to bowl a lot, but you don't get a lot of chances to bowl when you have little experience. Seamers can get away with a lot more because they have more margin for error. With you, one mistake and the skipper gets scared and whips you off.
So, how to you build experience?
- Bowl a lot in practice, especially at the captain. If you get him out a couple of times he becomes more understanding. Be the last to leave the net.
- Be the first to offer to bowl in every match situation. Don't keep quiet on days where the wicket is flat and the batsmen are filling their boots, see it as a chance to learn.
- Make sure you are one of the best in your team at another skill. The days of a specialist spinner who does nothing with bat and hides in the field are gone. Aim to be selected on your batting or fielding alone. Give the selectors no excuse to drop you.
- Have an understanding captain and selection team. You can't do much about this, but it sure helps.
- Play games at a lower level than you can play to get overs under your belt in the middle. It doesn't matter how rubbish the batsmen are, there will always be a challenge for you: A slogger, an aim to bowl fewer bad balls, a spell under fatigue.
Have you got the character for spin?
As you see here, it's not easy being a spinner. There are a lot of barriers to success. But, by far, the biggest indicator that you will succeed as a spinner is your character.
- Can I have a terrible day with the ball and still come back next time just as enthusiastically?
- Am I prepared to go through a lot of bad days to get really good at my skill?
- Do I accept that spinners are treated unfairly: That I have to work harder than everyone else to get an opportunity?
Whether you answer "yes" or "no" to these questions, if you are going to be a spinner you have to develop a way of dealing with difficult situations. That's your character. If your style is to get down or get angry about these things you can change. If you don't want to change you will never be an exceptional spinner. Move along.
If you're still reading now, congratulations; you have a spinners heart and stomach.
You will still have your moments. You will lose faith and wonder if you will ever find a way. But if you spend time building confidence with lots of deliberate practice and a good review process you will have the tools to make it through.
What's your spin development masterplan?
So, let's go back to the start. What have we learned?
- Understand what you need to do, because there are many different types of spinner and situation.
- Relentlessly work towards building experience, it's your best chance of success.
- The best spinners have the character to overcome the inevitable obstacles.
- Only be concerned with technique enough to build up your experience. It's better to be imperfect and experienced than technically perfect but never bowl.
Then, hopefully with the support of coaches, captains and fellow players, you will make it through the hard times and start spinning to win.