“Oh, I’ve given up bowling leg spin,” the talented youngster said to me during the first game of the cricket season on a bright April day.
“I took up bowling pace in the winter at University and my coach says I’m pretty good.”
I sighed. It wasn’t a surprise because the leggie (or now former leggie) had often spoken of his frustration at bowling spin. It didn’t matter to him that he could bowl fizzing leg breaks that swung into the right-hander before dipping and biting off the turf because has also bowled a few long hops in his efforts to give the ball massive turn.
He wanted to be a fast man; to take off heads and growl at batsmen. Through the pressure of most of the senior players in the team he had continued to bowl leg spin in the last couple of seasons. He was 18 and in the 1st team.
But one winter away from us had given him the room to make the change he so desperately wanted.
So halfway through that first match (a pre-season friendly) the captain threw him the ball. The pitch was green and had been seaming around.
Becoming a fast bowler
I looked at first slip and we took a rough guess as to how far back to stand.
Our hero tore up to the wicket from an extended run and as ‘keeper I crouched in readiness. I had images of the ball whistling past the outside edge and crashing into my gloves, pushing me back. I was ready with the shout of “good wheels buddy”.
His first ball was down the leg side. It was medium paced at best. It bounced before reaching me and I had to sprawl in the spring mud to gather it. His second ball was a slow medium wide half volley outside off stump. The batsman made short work of it.
The slip was removed. I stood up to the stumps.
“I thought you were bowling pace?” I mocked hoping to fire him up.
He managed three overs before being taken off with figures of 0-23. He still insisted he was sticking to pace bowling so for the first competitive game of the season he was dropped as the first choice spinner for the 1st XI to the first change seamer for the 3rd XI.
He moved away the season after and no longer plays for us. But his story is a common one.
Young leg spinners the world over face the same dilemma and often come up with the same conclusion: leg spin just isn’t worth the effort.
Only brave cricketers can bowl leg spin
This happens because to be a leg spinner you need to be the bravest person in the team.
If you are not brave, you may as well forget it.
Wrist spin is easily the hardest skill to learn and master in cricket. It takes work, there are inevitable setbacks and there are hundreds of uncultured batsmen with little talent waiting to slog your good length delivery into the trees.
While you are learning you will bowl a lot more bad balls than the average medium paced seam bowler. Your rate per over will be high.
Yes, you are a match winner (taking 5-38) but you are also a match loser for a while (often taking 1-64 or similar). Your captain will be afraid to bowl you because he has never understood how to handle spinners.
It’s an easier option to switch to miserly medium pace and take your figures of 1-24 off 10 overs every week. You always get a bowl that way.
But it’s also awfully cowardly.
With a little of the right practice you can bowl leg spin with turn, accuracy and good figures every week. Bowlers like Warne and Kumble have proven that you can bowl leg spin without being costly.
It’s just you have to get over that first hump where you are inaccurate.
If you don’t have the guts and attitude to do that right from the start, yes, you should stop bowling leg spin. Let the really passionate guys bowl it instead.
But once you are on the other side it’s accuracy, dip and wickets all the way.
And wickets mean more bowling at a higher level than ever before.
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image credit: Senthil Prabu.S