Cricket: Hard graft to save the craft

Iain Fletcher finds a cure for the slow death of English spinners
Click to follow
OH HOW Phil Tufnell must have enjoyed bowling at Edgbaston on Thursday. The quick bowlers had done their stuff, making considerable inroads into New Zealand's batting and he was on, skipping to the wicket, bouncing at the crease and giving the ball a rip. He knew what he had to do, and it is the most basic of instincts for any bowler worth his boots - take wickets.

Contrast that to the numerous occasions in his Test career when he has been forced to bowl over the wicket into the rough - containment rather than attack the command from above. Attrition is a vital ingredient of cricket but it should be a crime to subjugate the flamboyance of left- arm and leg spinners to that sort of negativity.

But after Tufnell whom? There is a dearth of quality spinners in this country and while conditions and climate are part of the reason, it is not enough just to shrug the shoulders. After all, England play half their cricket overseas, where spinners assume greater importance.

Keith Medlycott, the manager of Surrey, and a former left-arm spinner himself, believes that there are a number of factors conspiring against English spinners. "For years the English game has been based around seamers and the wickets have benefited them, so when a spinner has come on the batters have seen him as the target to get at. If we played on good wickets where bowlers had to work hard, then spinners would learn patience, turn the ball and would get a decent bowl.

"We also play far too much cricket. For six months we cram everything in, but the bowlers don't get the chance to practise, to learn their craft, and with spin bowling that is so important. Two winters ago we sent Ian Salisbury to Australia to work with Terry Jenner, and last year we brought Jenner to The Oval for 10 days. I think the English Cricket Board are bringing him over this year, but the coaching is so important."

So the ECB are trying, but no bowling coach has gone to The Oval to help the spinners. Bob Cottam has visited to help the seamers, but it seems that the development of spinners is left to the clubs. "We must not blame the support system all the time," said Medlycott. "Bowling spin is a tough game and it is crucial to keep supporting the bowler, never let them get negative. Spinners need to practise and experiment. Bowlers like Saqlain Mushtaq spent hours in the nets when they were younger, just bowling and practising. We don't do that over here and we need to."

That view is confirmed by the experience of Rupesh Amin, Surrey's 21- year-old left-arm spinner. He spent four months last winter at the Bishen Bedi Cricket Coaching Trust in Delhi and was astonished at how hard the spin bowlers practise. "I only played four games but for the first week I bowled for four or five hours a day, just working on a new technique, and there were 50-odd Indians doing the same - the difference was they were about 13 years old.

"Bishen told me that the key to spin bowling is the shoulders, but first of all you must be able to spin the ball. If you can, then when you bowl you should point your front shoulder down the wicket at the batsman, and after delivery your back shoulder should be pointing at the batsman - this creates max-imum spin. I'd never really heard this before and I practised it for hours, because before I used to point my lead shoulder at gully and this meant I bowled faster and flatter.

"And then we were coached that the curve and loop can all be controlled from the actual shoulder rotation as you bowl. A slightly lower shoulder alters the curve, loop and pace, but you are still wanting to start and finish at the batsman.

"I just wish I could practise it more now because it takes years really to learn, but I'm lucky because Saqlain talks to me a lot about watching batsmen and reacting to their style of play. He works so hard at his game and is a huge help because it is more patience and mentality that he is teaching me. But both he and Bishen have said that it takes hours, days and years of practice."

Bedi, one of the greatest of all spin bowlers, tours India coaching hundreds of teenagers, so it is not surprising that India produces talented, match- winning spinners. In England it is left to the counties and the knowledge that our seam-dominated cricket has been allowed to develop unhindered.