x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

When left gets it right in the art of spin

Osman Samiuddin is thrilled to see slow orthodox bowlers winning Test matches for their respective teams.

England's Monty Panesar is a among a crop of left-arm spin bowlers to have made their craft more relevant to contemporary Test match cricket. Satish Kumar / The National
England's Monty Panesar is a among a crop of left-arm spin bowlers to have made their craft more relevant to contemporary Test match cricket. Satish Kumar / The National

Left-arm spinners are the nerds of spin and that is without getting into the fact that the catch-all used to define them – slow left-arm orthodox – implies them to be some straitjacketed, break away religious sect.

Leg-spinners have always been the kings of spin, awaited and feted like none else.

In modern cricket, off-spinners are the season's must-haves, the new black, the It crowd, the new trendsetters. Slow left-arm orthodox?

It perhaps says what needs to be said about them that when one of their breed, Ashley Giles, had some mugs made in his honour, a printing error had him called the "King of Spain".

I have always been partial to them myself, right from watching Pakistan's Iqbal Qasim and India's Maninder Singh bowl as an earliest, formative cricket memory. Those days left-arm spinners were what they were.

They were not ones who made up the numbers, the ones like Giles and Paul Harris that you had to have because you did not have a good enough fourth fast bowler but would not admit to it; or the ones who came in to stop runs; or the ones who basically batted but did this on the side, as if ashamed to own up to it.

But this year has been beautiful for left-arm spinners.

Four of them are in the top 16 wicket takers for the year and who cares if they have prospered on helpful tracks because every kind of bowler needs his own kind of help, ultimately. There are four off-spinners as well and no leg-spinners at all.

Rangana Herath, Abdur Rehman, Pragyan Ojha and Monty Panesar have actually won Tests for their sides during the year (or in the case of Panesar, stands tomorrow on the verge of doing so).

They have not just chipped in with a couple of wickets and kept the runs down. They have not sneaked in the art like some supplementary skill. (Daniel Vettori, I am looking at you because really, you are a better batsman than you are a spinner.)

Instead, they have attacked as leading men, all in their own style; some skiddy, some turners, some in the older, much-lamented classical tradition.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the classic genre dismissal this year: pitching middle and leg to the right-hander, darting away and taking off stump. But it is definitely more than I have seen cumulatively over the past few years.

We should be grateful for England in particular, not only for providing us with Panesar (whose body seems to stop fighting and come to some basic, workable agreement with itself only as he skips in to bowl) but also for making it look so good by being so bad at playing it. They have given up 52 wickets to left-arm spinners this year in the subcontinent and UAE, and their seventh Test is yet to be completed.

There is no evidence yet that this may be a wider revival of the genre, of course, but this flowering, this revenge of the nerds, ought to be cherished for however long it lasts.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE