Few young off-spinners? Tell us why Greg

Rajan Bala
cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

The Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, have always impressed me as serious students of the game.

Hence, when there is a tricky question or an intriguing situation in the game, they would be the first to apply their minds. This is one of the reasons why I admire them. While the elder, Ian, has wisely decided that his association with Indian cricket would be restricted to the commentary box and columns - "I'd be mad to accept an offer to coach" the younger, Greg, cannot stay away, despite his unfortunate experiences with the top job in the country. The verdict has to be that vested interests and envy combined to conspire to work against his success and the best coach India could have had, was reduced to a victim of Chanakyan intrigue.

Even then - may be the feeling that he has much to contribute to Indian cricket in an unofficial capacity keeps him here under the aegis of the Rajasthan Cricket Association and the patronage of Indian cricket's latest kingmaker and money spinner, Lalit Modi.

So, Greg went on a Bharat yatra - the Don Quixote with his faithful Sancho Panza, Ian Fraser - on a voyage of discovery to ascertain whether there is exciting young talent.

Not only did he learn to his dismay there is little at the very junior level, but the spin cupboard, especially off-spinners, is bare. It has surprised Greg that the simplest sort of spin bowling has few takers among kids in a land that has produced that genius, Erapalli Prasanna.

If youngsters can trundle slow left-arm spin or take to leg-spin and googly bowling, there are more rewards to be had and less punishment at the junior levels. In the case of left-arm bowling - fast or slow - the advantage is right-handers outnumber left-handers by a huge ratio and there is always the surprise element caused by the angle created.

It has little to do with the measure of spin, break, swing and cut imparted.

England bowler, Ryan Sidebottom's recent successes have to do with this angle as well as his accuracy. But, he is no world beater and will never be.

So, the left-armer has the angle to his advantage, while the wrist spinner has more spin and bounce as his weapons, these emanating from the wrist "breaking" first and the fingers providing the finishing touch as it were.

For the orthodox, conventional off-spinner, the challenges are more intricate and career threatening. He has to decide whether he knows the "right" grip to spin the ball hard and then with his grip, master the required accuracy to survive at the highest level.

One of the greatest practitioners of the craft, England's Jim Laker swore that a lad had to be able to spin the ball before going any further. And, it is a view that Prasanna shares wholeheartedly.

There is a difference between the off-spinner and the ordinary bowler, who deals in the off-break - cutting the ball slowly. This type of bowler does not pose problems in the air as spin is absent, and has to be very accurate. One of the finest exponents of this type of bowling was the South African, Hugh Tayfield as he was very clever, and after playing him, the great Englishman, Lord Colin Cow drey remarked, "And, to think that he conned me to believe he was an off-spinner, baffles me even till today."

Many of the successful off-breakers supplemented their bowling with batting ability, like Fred Titmus, Ray Illingworth and the Australian, Tom Veivers.

As bowlers, they were accurate and parsimonious. For them to be match winners, the conditions had to suit them.

Saqlain Mushtaq, the best off-spinner since Prasanna, would tell you why it is such hard and unrewarding bowling, unless one is superior and innovative. Not many kids are taught to grip the ball to spin it. If Prasanna does not care to reveal the secret, there is no way, you would know Greg, my friend! Also, ask why your brother regards Prasanna as the best ever. After all, a Sri Lankan, Muttaiah Muralitharan, is differently structured, and his skills cannot be emulated legally.

So, he has the highest number of wickets. But Prasanna is convinced that of his 187 Test dismissals, 165 were ones he specified as to when and how they happened - "appointed ones."

There is a lot to chew upon, surely.

Republished with permission from The Asian Age