By Derek Pringle
Spin, specifically wrist-spin, is the latest bowling fad to adorn T20, at least judging from the number of them being utilised in the latest Vitality Blast, which got underway this week.
Where once left-arm seamers were the thing, now come the twirly men in all their dervish-wheeling variety. All but two teams in the Blast seem to have at least one to call upon though there were three on show in the game I watched at Chelmsford on Wednesday night, where Essex took on Sussex and were soundly beaten.
Two of the wristies, Rashid Khan for Sussex and Adam Zampa for Essex, come with top pedigrees from the Indian Premier League as well as other T20 leagues around the world. The third, Will Beer (Sussex), has been around a while, his career, almost certainly by now concluded in pre-T20 days, reinvigorated by the shortest format.
The rise of the wristies, and I’ve not described them as leg-spinners because they include lefties like India’s brilliant Kuldeep Yadav, is due to most batsmen being unable to read their variations from the hand. But the most effective among them need that wrong-un, otherwise their prey will not stay fooled for long.
It follows, then, that if you don’t know which way it will spin you are unlikely to be able to consistently hit the ball with the middle of the bat, the key to scoring boundaries against slower bowlers. That gives wristies a distinct advantage over those others whose variations are limited solely to a change of pace.
Of course there are batsmen who can read them in the flight, though even that gives the wrist-spinner leverage in the batsman-bowler dynamic – that extra millisecond or two it takes to gauge the ball’s spin preventing the hitter from setting himself perfectly for the shot.
It doesn’t always work out for them but in the game on Wednesday the pecking order of the trio on show, in terms of their career figures, was in direct correlation to their effectiveness in the match with Rashid at the vanguard.
Ahead of the others on all T20 metrics such as wickets, economy rate, dot balls and strike rate, Rashid bowled his four overs for 24 runs and took two wickets. Zampa, the next best, did not bowl his full allocation, his three overs costing 30 runs as he took one wicket, a dubious lbw.
Beer, the worst of the three data-wise, bowled one over for 14, though he came on when Essex needed 11 runs an over and were forced into excessive risk-taking.
Rashid, a teenager from Afghanistan, shatters the perceived wisdom that spinners need time to mature. Hailing from a country in which cricket was virtually unknown 30 years ago, he has risen in a bewilderingly short space of time to become arguably the world’s most desirable T20 bowling asset, and one who features on most teams’ wants lists.
At Chelmsford, the speed and control with which he bowled his wrist spin surprised many who had not seen him before. A brisk walk which gains enough momentum to break into a trot gives him the impetus, along with a quick arm action and a little jump, to send the ball down into the 60mph category.
I was not behind the bowler’s arm at Chelmsford but when I have watched Rashid in the IPL for Sunrisers Hyderabad, he has sent down mainly googlies, as they seem to be the balls that come out quickest with a full wrist rotation. They also grip more than leg-breaks at that speed, at least that has been my experience of him while commentating for talkSport.
It may be that batsmen will come to play him as if facing a quick off-break bowler, though that may be over-simplifying someone who has remarkable skills of control and for reading play, the latter a vital talent for bowlers especially in white-ball cricket.
Given it was early July, Essex’s batsmen faced Rashid in that awkward twilight period which although lit by floodlights (not very good ones as it happens and set to be replaced) is far from ideal for ball watching. Sussex probably knew this, as they took the unusual decision to bat first after winning the toss.
So much about T20 appears counter-intuitive and so it was with the end Rashid bowled at, the Hays Close, with its much shorter leg-side boundary for right-handers. Chelmsford is not a big ground anyway, which is why spinners are not always as valuable there as elsewhere. Yet, Rashid took responsibility and may even have used the shorter distance to lure batsmen to their doom. Certainly Ravi Bopara perished trying to hit him there as did Varun Chopra, Essex’s sole danger man once the others in the top five had gone cheaply.
Rashid probably bowled that end simply in order to take responsibility, allowing the lesser talents of Beer and finger-spinner Danny Briggs to operate from the other end with its bigger leg-side boundary. On the night, though, it felt like he was taking the mickey, as if he knew that English batsmen, their shortcomings well known against mystery spinners like him, would be unable to take advantage.
He was not the best bowler on show for Sussex. That accolade fell to tall seamer David Wiese, who took a remarkable 5-24. His efforts eased Sussex to a 36-run win though Essex contributed to their plight with a team that looked at least one batsman light.
There was also the strange decision by Ryan ten Doeschate, the Essex captain, not to bowl Zampa his full complement but instead to give Matt Coles, a burly seamer, all four of his overs which cost 49 runs.
Zampa, who bowled from the opposite end to Rashid, was cut three times for four, a fate that did not befall his rival even once – one of many lessons the Essex players, hopefully, learned on the night.