Certain things in cricket mesmerise me; an Ian Bell cover drive, Morne Morkel bowling around the wicket to Michael Clarke, Graham Thorpe nudging his way to a ton, the mythical entity that is Shahid Afridi, the certainty of a Ricky Ponting hook, Jonty Rhodes athleticism at backward point…cricket and cricket’s technical skills have an aesthetical pleasantness that are unrivalled across sport. I think it’s why cricket writing is so much better than other sports (and no, I don’t include my own cobbled together mutterings in that).
Yet even in a sport which contains so many micro enjoyments within itself, spin bowling is in a metaphorical field of it’s own. Get it right and you have outwitted the discombobulated batsman through a vicious combination of verve and technical application. Get it wrong and the batsman will almost certainly have both the time and piece of wood in his hands needed to punish you. An off-spinner bowling someone driving through the gate, a leg spinner clipping the off bail having pitched outside leg, Steve Smith bowling a horrific full-toss to dismiss Ian Bell. If someone hasn’t written a poem about these moments, they should.
The best part of spin bowling is how angry it used to make me feel as a batsman – I can only assume others are the same. The few occasions I survived the pace bowlers to even face a spinner, suddenly my mindset changed. No longer would I wish to merely survive. No longer was I particularly troubled in terms of being hurt by the 12 ounce mass of hardened leather. Suddenly I wanted to be the aggressor. I wanted to launch it into oblivion. Bowl it flat, I wanted to smash it. Give it flight, I wanted to smash it. On a length, outside off stump, hitting middle, I wanted to smash it.
Quite often I would miss it.
I’d create a whole new sport based around the art; reduce bowlers’ run-ups to a maximum of three paces and use those special “grippy” pitches that England net on when touring the subcontinent, presumably to get them used to being completely bamboozled by spin bowlers. I’d insist that there are a minimum of four fielders within five metres of the bat – ideally there’d be a silly mid off right under the batsman’s snout! We’d use a new ball with an extra seam at 90 degrees to the existing one for extra turn and we’d reduce the size of the popping crease by half; stumped is, afterall, the best method of dismissal after ‘bowled’. It’d be a game based on misdirection, guile, suggestion and showmanship. I’d call it Spincket. Which is a rubbish name that doesn’t even remotely do justice to the potential of the game.
Naturally, the face of the sport would be Saeed Ajmal.
Devilishly handsome with fine hair, Ajmal is my favourite current bowler and would be the first man I’d turn to in order to promote Spincket. Ajmal has excellent control, gets significant turn and lovely loop. The fact he has a doosra makes him officially naughty and an antithesis of James Tredwell. As much as he’s decent in limited overs for England, I definitely wouldn’t let Tredwell play my game, nor Nathan Lyon. I’d let Graeme Swann play, but only to left handers. Ajmal would be the man though. He is a modern day Saqlain Mushtaq. Saqqy could definitely still play even now, as could Mushy if he’s up for it.
At the other end would be Graham Thorpe and VVS Laxman. Wristiness. There would be double runs on offer for dabbled sweeps behind square leg – naturally. I’d also give a congratulatory run to any batsman who plays a shot so late that the ball is within a foot of the return crease. Does anyone want to play?
Steve Smith to Ian Bell
Poor shot selection
Toe ended to mid on
Full toss there to be hit
Part time leg spin delight