Amol Rajan: Five twirlymen keeping alive the beautiful art of spin

Rajan’s Wrong 'un: Even Muralitharan was salivating at Dananjaya’s exquisite control

When the Indian Premier League was in its infancy, a phalanx of gnarled veterans declared spin bowling to be on suicide watch. Perhaps the most outspoken was the late Terry Jenner, an Australian maverick who did more than most to turn Shane Warne into the greatest bowler that ever lived.

"The format [Twenty20] plays no role in developing spinners," Jenner said in 2008. "Spin bowling is all about giving the ball air to deceive the batsmen. But in T20 turning the ball is not priority… I consider it popcorn cricket… it's nice to see cricketers earning huge money, but the format is never going to work for the development of spinners." Most of us shared Jenner's concern. But it is salutary to note that this was a spectacular misjudgement.

Given the centuries-long assault on spinners from all sides – shorter boundaries, limited overs, bigger bats, video technology, cautious umpires in the pre-Hawkeye era, pitifully ignorant captains – it would be wonderful even if spin bowling just happened to survive in an era when Muralitharan, Warne and Kumble were gone from the top level. In fact, because of T20 and the IPL specifically, we are embarked on a new era of greatness in spin. This era has countless personifications, but there are five twirlymen in particular, I think, who embody a renaissance in this most beautiful of sporting pastimes.

They are Akila Dananjaya (right), Sachithra Senanayake (both Sri Lankan), Karan Sharma and Amit Mishra (both Indian), and Trinidadian Sunil Narine. Let's take them in reverse order.

Narine has been just about the most successful bowler in the IPL for back-to-back seasons. He bowls two main deliveries: a conventional off-break and a carrom ball, flicked out by the middle finger, which spins away from the right-hander while skidding through. Both of these come from the front of the hand, and by scrambling the seam for his off-break, Narine deceives countless batsmen.

Mishra is short, fat and orthodox. In method and deportment, he is a modern Tich Freeman. As a small man with a bustling action, he generates tremendous loop, bowling flightier leg-breaks than most, with plenty of over-spin and bounce. His quick arm makes a fine googly hard to detect, and he bowls a mean, seam-up quicker ball that can move either way.

Sharma, at 25 still developing, is of a similar ilk. His hurried, over-busy action allows him to conceal a zooter – also known as the slider or nothing ball – that looks like a leg-break but skids through at pace.

Senanayake, who like Narine plays for the Kolkata Knight Riders, may be the most talked- about bowler this season. He learned the carrom ball from Ajantha Mendis, another Sri Lankan whose Test career was meteoric in the strict sense of that term: it blazed in brief glory before fading from view. Senanayake – who is tall, has a very discomfortingly bent arm and bowls the off-break and arm ball – also has a real mystery ball that has bamboozled commentators and batsman alike. This is a flipper-like delivery, squeezed out from under the wrist with a snap of the thumb, which stays low and can go either way.

The bowler who most excites me is Dananjaya, a 19 year-old with an impish smile, bounding, kangaroo-like approach to the wicket, and more deliveries than an episode of One Born Every Minute. Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardena fast-tracked Dananjaya to the national squad after facing his off-break, leg-break, googly, carrom ball and doosra in the nets. His exquisite control and sharp spin at the T20 World Cup had even Muralitharan salivating at the prospect of a long-term successor.

These men are part of a new army, waging war against declinism and the impulse to turn mystery into history. Not since the early 19th century has spin bowling been such a force within the game. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

twitter.com/amolrajan

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea