Shane Warne and the other leg-spin magicians

Leg-spin, googly, top-spin, flipper and variations on each with subtle changes in pace and flight: the magic of wrist-spin is in its reach and deception. An imperceptible change in grip and wrist position can fool you. Drifting and diving into a fly ball can be a batsman’s downfall sucked into what looks like a juicy hit.

Like a magician, it is through a sleight of hand that a leg-spinner provokes bewitchment and hypnotizes the spectators. Hence its enduring appeal as a wicket-taking weapon for captains and an eye-catcher for fans.

ALSO READ: Shane Warne dies of heart attack

One of its greatest wizards was Australian Shane Warne, who died last Friday at the age of 52. He is the second highest wicket-taker in Test cricket with a total of 708, after Sri Lankan mystery player Muttiah Muralitharan’s 800. Fourth on this all-time list is another leg player: Indian Anil Kumble, with 619 wickets. Considering Muralitharan had a wrist action that was sort of the reverse of a leg spinner, rather than a finger spin of a conventional off-spinner, one could say that three of the top four wicket takers in test history are wrist spinners.

As in all sports, there is invariably a debate over who the GOAT (greatest of all time) is. But judging this is especially difficult for leg rotation because locations, opposition, and epochs have a huge bearing on this.

Also Read: Shane Warne’s Last Tweet and Our Online Legacy

At first glance, for example, Warne and Kumble stand head and shoulders above all other leg spinners due to the large number of wickets they have taken. But their counterparts of old had far fewer matches or overs to work with. Richie Benaud took just 63 Tests for his 248 wickets, compared to Warne’s 145 Tests. And although BS Chandrasekhar played 97 Tests, the number of overs he played was around a third of what Kumble delivered, as Chandra played at a time when India regularly fielded a trio of greats spinners who shared the workload.

Shane Warne and Anil Kumble stand head and shoulders above the other leg spinners due to the large number of wickets they have taken.

Spin throwers adapt their art to the conditions in which they are playing. Warne had strong wrist action and an angled arm to produce substantial cornering even on surfaces that didn’t have much grip for the ball, such as the hard, bouncy tracks of Australia and South Africa. or the grassy wickets of England and New Zealand. Kumble, on the other hand, used its size and a much faster delivery speed than most spinners to take full advantage of the abrasive and responsive locations in India. This is one of the reasons why Kumble was much more successful in India than in Australia, and it was the reverse for Warne.

The nature of the opposition also shapes the spinner’s game plan. Warne has played most of his Tests against neighbors New Zealand, arch-rivals England and South Africa. Batsmen from these countries rarely encountered quality leg spinners in their domestic matches, as the conditions were more suited to the pace of bowling. As a result, they weren’t so adept at reading a delivery from the leg-spinner’s hand to determine if it was a leg-spin, googly, or top-spin. And they tended to play on the other side of the line with pinball machines going straight out to make them LBW or bowling. So the amount of turns and variations in Warne’s repertoire earned him buckets of wickets against these opponents.

Read also: The battle for form is the struggle of sport

But that was a different story against Indian batsmen who were accustomed to leg spinner tricks in their formative years. For all the alluring aura around Warne following his exploits against Australia’s main rivals of this period, the likes of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar read him easily. This is reflected in his bowling average of 47 against India being almost twice as high as his career average of 25. The best Warne has scored against India was six wickets in a game, and even that doesn’t performed only twice in his career, in Adelaide in 1999 and Chennai in 2004.

Shane Warne in action.

Shane Warne in action.

He had much more success against the other two main Test nations of the subcontinent, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But again, good spin players got the better of him, like in the 1996 World Cup final between Australia and Sri Lanka in Lahore, Pakistan. Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who has had an ongoing battle with Australia over all the slurs thrown at Muralitharan’s bowling action, even mocked Warne as being overrated. Then he continued the conversation with an unbeaten 47 alongside unbeaten century maker Aravinda de Silva to defeat Australia; Warne was wicketless in 10 overs, conceding 58 runs.

The great leg spinners of the past in the subcontinent depended more on disguise than degree of bend. Pakistani Mushtaq Ahmed’s bowling style, with the front of the hand facing the batsman just before the delivery spot, made it very difficult to distinguish between his spinning leg and his googly. It was an action modeled on that of his idol, Abdul Qadir, who former England captain, Graham Gooch, rated better than Warne, after playing against both of them. “It’s impossible to believe the wrist spin was ever played better than Qadir in his hometown of Lahore in 1987-88, when he took 9 for 56 against England,” Wisden Almanac editor Scyld Berry wrote.

Also Read: Why I’d Wait For A 1983 Documentary And Miss The Movie

Many of Warne’s best performances also came against British rivals England, starting with his first Ashes series in which he won 34 wickets. The first of these wickets was that of England captain Mike Gatting, beaten by ‘the ball of the century’ which swung wide to launch into the rough outside of the leg stump and spun at a 45 degree angle after the defensive pad and the Gatting bat. to hit the top of the off-stump. Then, in his last series in 2006 at home, Warne came full circle by inflicting a shocking defeat on England in Adelaide as the game appeared to end in a draw. His four wickets caused a slump of 129 on the final day after both teams posted scores over 500 in the first innings.

Kumble also produced their most stunning act against India’s rivals Pakistan, winning all 10 Pakistani wickets in the second leg at Delhi in 1999. Qadir, Warne and Kumble – three spinners with very contrasting styles vie for the role of GOAT, not discounting the claims of Benaud and Chandrasekhar, who had their own unique styles.

Also Read: Decoding Rohit Sharma’s Perfect Wins Record in ODIs and T20s

As for the current generation, including Adil Rashid from England, Adam Zampa from Australia, Yuzvendra Chahal from India, Shadab Khan from Pakistan and Wanindu Hasaranga from Sri Lanka, the leg spinners seem to be perfecting their craft for the shorter format. game. , T20, where batsmen are forced to take more risks. The magic show has a new stage.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bangalore.

Also Read: How Big Money Moves in the IPL Mega Auction

Brian L. Hartfield