Friday, 18 January 2013

Why, Although Daniel Vettori Is Awesome, All Left-arm Leg Spinners Are Boring

by Tim MacBain

I am a self-proclaimed cricket lover. It is a wonderful sport, full of subtleties and intricacies, and has adapted to modern culture really rather well. I love it so much that, even though I am appalling at the game, I try my best to get better at it when the opportunity shows itself; although, it doesn’t stop me from shouting to the facing batsman as I come in to bowl “Get ready for some target practise!”. If the term ‘part time’ in the world of cricket denotes someone who specialises in something other than the skill that is being described, I am most certainly a part-time cricketer.

However, that has never stopped me enjoying watching whatever cricket I can. With the rest of my family and I refusing to prop up the Murdochs, all England matches are off-limits. Therefore, I am restricted to that wonderful arena known as the Indian Premier League, the IPL. With grounds teeming with enthralled spectators watching the best in the world bash it out – yes, I do use that term intentionally – with bat and ball, it’s actually great fun, even if ITV4’s commentary leaves a lot to be desired. It is the place where the greats of tomorrow can be found, amongst the greats of yesterday who have been put out to grass: the likes of Adam Gilchrist, Daniel Vettori, Muttiah Muralidaran (yup, I’ve read Amol Rajan’s book), even the great Shane Warne until a couple of years ago. When you combine such names with subcontinental pitches, spin is very much prevalent. All the better for me, who tries right-arm leg spin. It’s amazing to watch.

Now, to the point. When I think about cricket, I think about spin. I’m sure all the coaches at PGS would advise me against it (and I wouldn’t blame them, after trying to coax SOME form of skill out of me), but it is great fun to theoreticise in these matters. Whilst watching the IPL, I was shocked by the number of left-arm leg spinners there were. They were EVERYWHERE. Now, I have no problem with them, not at all. I just think they’ve got it rather easy. Most batsmen are right-handed. That’s a fact. Therefore, balls that turn away from them, rather than into them, are harder to bat against, and the straight one will clatter into the stumps/trap them lbw if bowled correctly. Off-spinners don’t have that luxury. They have to vary their bowling much more to get a batsman out, as their variations are less scary, thus having a less psychologically detrimental effect. They have to bowl with, I would say, more intelligence then the leg spinners for this very reason. I will always maintain that one of the most impressive things I’ve seen is Graham Swann bowling dot after dot after dot, wearing away the batsman’s confidence as the run rate drops. He, arguably, is the best spinner in the world.

So, how to separate the right and left-arm leg spinners?

Both of them have it easier than the off spinners, as detailed above. I have a natural inclination towards the right-armers, but that’s probably because I attempt it myself. However, the main problem I have is with the action. Lefties have one of two actions; either bolt upright and very tall with a dead straight run up, or bounding in on a weird angle with a looping action. This, quite frankly, is dull. When compared to the right-armers, who skip and prance and (in Warne’s case) amble to the crease, lefties get more and more boring.

My final point is quite a simple one: if somebody tells someone with a small-ish amount of cricket knowledge (i.e. me) to name the greatest, most renowned spinners, they would come up with the likes of Warne, Kumble, Laker, Muralidaran, and possibly Swann. In order: right-arm leg, right-arm leg, right-arm off, right-arm off and right-arm off. The likes of Vettori, Giles and Tufnell pale into insignificance.

Until one considers the wider game. This brings me to my last point; I may think that left-arm leg spinners and boring, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Daniel Vettori is the best case in point here; a man who burst onto the scene as a brilliant spinner whose career was put in jeopardy by a nasty injury to his back. He adapted his action, and has now become New Zealand’s most capped Test player, and one of the best captains in the world.

So, although I think left-arm leg spinners are boring, I also think they can be wonderful cricketers and people. And, if you’re a left-arm leg spinner and you’re reading this in shock and disgust, I have just one challenge: prove me wrong.



  1. I must say, this is an interesting article, and being a cricket lover myself, I was intrigued by the title and had to read it.
    I don't disagree with most of what you're saying and rather surprisingly, find myself agreeing to some of your points (especially the one about the loopy action, though that is because of having to bowl from around the wicket most of the time). However, I do not think that any certain aspect of the game, especially in bowling, can be termed "boring".
    It is true that statistically the top spinners in the world are right armers, but that does not take anything away from the beauty of left-arm spin. Since batsmen are predominantly right-handed, left arm spinners are usually forced to come around the wicket to get the angle right, hence the loopy action. If a right-arm spinner had to bowl mostly from around the wicket, the case would've have been the same.
    Left arm spin is a dying art in cricket, especially the form of left arm leg-spin (or chinaman bowling). Yes, there are plenty in the subcontinent as can be seen in the IPL, but none of them exceptional in their field. Therefore, left arm spin bowling should be encouraged worldwide to revive the art, especially the form of Chinaman bowling, which I had last seen only Australian cricketer Brad Hogg bowl.
    Your point about the ball leaving the right handers and off-spinners having to work more than left armers is quite peculiar. If a right arm off-spinner were to bowl to a left handed batsman, the result would be the same. From what you're saying, right arm leg-spinners would get the same advantage over off-spinners, which is not always the case.
    So, despite there not being too many left arm spinners in the all time top wicket-takers list,it is by no means "boring". In more recent times, the England team have come to realise this. When they played Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, their massive downfall was mostly because of spin bowling, and left arm spinner Abdul Rehmann. Left arm spin hasn't always just caused England problems but worked in their favour as well. As we saw in the recent Test series in India, England's left arm spinner Monty Panesar played a key role in England's victory over the hosts and took nearly half of the Indian wickets to fall in the matches that he played in.

    1. Thank you for your interesting and well balanced comments. If I may just respond, the term 'chinaman' refers to left-arm OFF spin, rather than leg, which I am fascinated by and would love to see more of.
      My point about the right-handed batsmen was, I admit, a generalisation, and I agree that the off spinner has the same advantage against the left-handed batsman as the left-arm leg spinner.
      Finally, I do not dispute the very the left-arm leg spinners are very effective; I just prefer others. I for one was ecstatic when Panesar was selected for the Second Test in India - it finally showed that the selectors has finally learnt something.
      If you wish, do find me at school if you want to discuss this further; it would be wonderful to get someone else's point of view.

    2. Tim, please take a look at the link below. I apologise for using wikipedia as my source but thats probably the best I could find at the moment/. Left-arm chinamana is a left-arm leg spinner rather than an off-spinner. When speaking about left-arm spinners, we must look at it from the perspective of left-hand batsmen. Left-arm chinaman bowlers are left-arm unorthodox bowlers, who turn the ball away from left-handers and into right-handers.

  2. Interesting left-armers? Try a couple of Yorkshiremen, Wilfred Rhodes and Hedley Verity. The latter was killed in the 2nd World War - who knows how great he might have been. Closer to home only seven men have taken 1,000 first class wickets for Hampshire in this their 150th year (and no one will ever achieve that again). Two were slow left armers: Stuart Boyes and Peter Sainsbury. Doesn't necessarily "prove" anything of course but ...

    Incidentally Amol Rajan will be at Hampshire's Ageas Bowl on the evening of Weds 6 Feb talking to Hampshire Cricket Society about his book which you mentioned, "The Twirly Men"

    Dave Allen

    1. Thank you, I shall do some further research on them; I know the names from Amol Rajan's book, but not well enough to think about them properly.

      What a wonderful coincidence! I may well try and find out a little more about it...

  3. Excellent point. Hedley Verity is a great example of classic left arm spinners.

  4. That 50p challenge was amazing! No mortal could ever do that!


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