The off-spinner, an endangered species in IPL
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Having watched relentless frenetic T20 cricket for three weeks, I thought I would watch some Test cricket and allow its beautiful, lazy rhythm to lull me to sleep. I needed to, the incessant action was keeping me awake. Instead, I chanced upon Shane Shillingford bowling some really eye-catching off-spin. He was getting the ball to kick off the surface and got really good players of spin in Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke caught high off the bat. It helped, too, that two of my favourite broadcasters, Tony Cozier and Michael Holding, were on air.
But it got me thinking about what the game is doing to off-spinners. Nathan Lyon bowled an impressive spell later in the game, Saeed Ajmal and Graeme Swann in their own styles are bowling beautifully, but in the IPL, the off-spinner is getting extinct, fenced in as he is by medium pacers forsaking their seam-up bowling style for slow off-breaks and by left-arm spinners who have cropped up from nowhere.
One obvious reason is that modern bats deposit anything that is tossed up into the stands. For long I have worried about short boundaries but I barely see any small sixes these days. More sixes have hit the concrete than the boundary rope. It could be of course that free of the worry of being caught in the deep (courtesy the boundary distances), batsmen are actually hitting the ball better. But it doesn't dilute the argument that T20 is best played with long boundaries.
The other factor is the preponderance of right-handers. There are a lot of left-handers around the world but in the IPL, only two of the top-ten run-getters bat left-handed — Chris Gayle and Jesse Ryder breaking the mould. It gets a little better if you expand the base but still it is only nine out of the top thirty. Now this works on the assumption that right-arm off-spinners cannot bowl to attacking right-hand batsmen, and I hope there are some young bowlers out there who want to vigorously contest that.
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