Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spinners aren't clever

Looking at the recent report from the BBC’s account of England’s thumping victory over the mighty New Zealanders a phrase stuck in my mind:

“The scoring rate was strangled by spinners Patel and Vettori, who varied their flight intelligently, and the pressure they exerted paid off when Collingwood (10) was guilty of an ugly stroke off Patel which ended in Taylor's hands.”

There is another bog standard remark in the spinner’s lexicon: “a clever variation of pace”. Now obviously as a spinner in my youth, I was useless. I was also, we can say, thick. However, as a wee willy twelve-year old, trying my damndest for Twickenham under-13s, even I knew that mixing up the deliveries was probably a good idea.

There may be things such as the ‘unplayable googly’ but it is only unplayable because the batsman doesn’t expect it. If he knows that there a high, slow off-spinner coming, he will hit it for six. The same principle applies to a spinner’s standard ball: a consistent line, length and arch makes the bowling predictable, and therefore easier to slog. Thus, when I watched the ball whistle over my head as Teddington thrash as again, even to a ball of reasonable line and length, my young mind begins to tick. “Perhaps I should try something else?” In my head, there were other things, too: “I wonder if we can finish this match before The Avengers comes on.” And “I wonder what girls are.” This was not a sharp mind – it was stupid, and yet it occasionally produced balls that caused decent batsman problems.

Thus, surely, changing things up a bit is just part of the standard game of cricket. It is not an original act of genius to produce a ‘clever’ slower ball. It’s just what bowlers do. Perhaps captaincy can be clever, and even sitting down and mulling a specific line, or pace to a particular batsman. But I just feel the need to dispel the myth that unthinking variation means intelligence. We even knew that in Twickenham.