Spin and other turns

Interesting ‘ask the expert’ feature with spin coach Terry Jenner [must read, especially if your name is Harbhajan Singh]:

In my view we should find ways of getting those young, developing spinners to play longer forms of cricket where they can bowl sustained spells. There are two ways to develop as a spinner: by going to the nets and working on your craft and bowling at targets. Or by experimenting and bowling in matches where you can try the things you tried in the nets. In limited-overs games everyone applauds a dot ball but not the batsman’s strokes. To develop as a spinner in the four-day game you have to invite the batsman to play strokes. If the mental approach of all concerned – the coach, captain and team-mates – is to keep it tight, the spinner struggles to develop. We say big bats and short boundaries have created difficulties for a spin bowler but dot-ball cricket has done more damage.

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‘Everybody does it’

Harsha makes two points in his latest column — one, that Shahid Afridi could be the one day captain Pakistan needs, and two, that maybe it is time to look at making ball tampering official.

The captaincy debate comes just when Mohammad Yousuf, the incumbent, gaffed his mouth with his foot:

“I didn’t do badly as captain, not as badly that I should resign or quit. I accepted captaincy when no one was willing to take captaincy for the tours. I took it [captaincy] only because of the country and will continue for the country in future.”

That statement is disingenuous at so many levels. For starters, when he says he didn’t do as badly as he could have, after being whitewashed in both Tests and ODIs, it kind of begs the question: how worse do you suppose the defeat had to be before you felt a sense of personal responsibility?

As to the second part of his statement, that he took it because “no one else was willing to”, he forgets to point out that his predecessor Younis Khan quit because senior players made his life miserable — and one of the major culprits was Yousuf himself.

The biggest argument against Yousuf’s continued tenure, though, is that he is totally lacking in inspiration on the field — and though I didn’t watch the Australia-Pakistan series start to finish, the sense I got from the parts I did see was that he is not the kind who is likely to grow into the job.

So there needs to be a change — and given the fractious nature of the team, different captains for Tests and ODIs seem to make sense, with Afridi the obvious choice for leading the one day side thanks to his ability to galvanize his mates [it is no coincidence that the one game where Pakistan and Australia were on level terms is the one Afridi led in].

But from that to endorsing ball-tampering seems a bit of a stretch — particularly when it comes from the voice of moderation that is Harsha.

But at least one good has come out of it. We now have a nice debate on the whole issue of ball-tampering. Predictably bowlers, who have always played the role of the exploited, sometimes with good reason, are all in favour of fiddling a bit with the ball. Batsmen (and at least one wicketkeeper) are up in arms. The law doesn’t allow it but maybe the time has come to question whether the law is indeed just. Cricket allows you to “maintain” the state of the ball but not to “alter” it. You can therefore rub the ball on your flannels to ensure the shine stays longer, but you cannot rub it on the ground, for example, to ensure it goes faster. But in either case you are altering the natural condition of the ball.

By maintaining the shine a bowler prevents the ball from deterioration. And yet the worsening of the ball, and the ensuing implications, are at the very heart of our game. Either action seeks to make the two halves of the ball unequal, so why should one be allowed and the other outlawed? Is it because one helps conventional swing and the other encourages reverse swing, which has always been looked upon as the naughty child in the family? Or, let’s face it, is it because batsmen don’t like reverse swing?

Cricket is no stranger to ways of making the shine go off the ball faster. Remember when Sunil Gavaskar used to “open” the bowling? The wicket keeper would collect and roll it to fine leg, who would roll it to mid off, who “passed it” to third man and so on. An over of that, and the ball would be just right for Bishen Bedi to bowl over number three. And even now, bowlers do more than rubbing the ball to ensure that the shine stays longer — in the areas they polish and the ones they don’t lies the secret of preparing the ball for reverse swing, and no one has a problem with that. [It is not, for instance, as if the law says any polishing done should be even].

But to go from there to the extreme, and to suggest maybe that it is okay to snack on the ball between deliveries [what next, if I am a bowler with weak teeth, can I bring my knife and fork to the party?] is more than I personally would want to see — because if you open that particular door, there is no telling where it will end. If it is okay for instance to use your nails to raise the seam, why then is it not okay to use a bottle cap? If teeth are acceptable, why not a knife?

“Everybody does it” is, first up, false — a more accurate statement would be, “some people do it”. And the fact that some people do something does not, in and of itself, make that the right thing to do. Hey, some people do dope — so would we argue the case to make doping, recreational or performance-oriented, legal?