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

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

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

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week