Perth Scorchers were so desperate for a legspinner, they found one in St Kilda’s 2nd XI. The Scorchers have everything; they don’t even need all their overseas players. But even with a list so good they barely need to show up most games, they still had to dust off James Muirhead from club cricket in Melbourne.
Because everyone needs, or wants, wrist spin.
Some people, like former Victoria legspinner Craig Howard and Mahela Jayawardene, have talked about how wrist spin should be bowled more at the death. Franchises are looking around for any overseas player in their databases with LB next to their name. Part-timers are being encouraged in the nets. Legspin, cricket’s most inaccurate art, is the most popular form of bowling in the one place you’d think consistency is the most important, T20.
If you can bowl legspin, land a wrong’un and are semi-consistent, you’re a chance of playing for your local franchise, but also travelling the world. R Ashwin talked a while ago about having to bowl “well-constructed bad balls” because batsmen like consistency when they’re lining up a bowler. Legspinners have natural variation; their s*** gets wickets. They get more bounce than finger spinners; they need less help from the surface. And the ability to spin the ball both ways, far easier than a finger spinner can.
Three of the top 10 wicket-takers over the last two years in T20 are leg spinners. Five of the top 20 are. And so are seven of the top 25. Players like Ish Sodhi and Imran Tahir – who struggle in the longer formats – are hot properties. Even the slider legspinners like Adam Zampa and Samuel Badree are taking buckets of wickets.
Rashid Khan‘s going from land to land destroying batsmen. He’s taken 121 wickets at 14.64, while going at 5.67 an over. I think he conquered Norway last year.
Muirhead’s first ball in the BBL this year was a wide half-tracker, it went for a single. At the moment it doesn’t seem to matter what delivery is being bowled, as long as it’s out the back of the hand.
D’Arcy Short looks at the crease when he bowls like he is not sure of what he’s doing. He’s a better bowler than the nervous look suggests, but in first-class cricket he averages 44.30 with the ball. Here at Bellerive, after the Heat smashed 62 off their first six overs, it was Short, who hopes he can become an allrounder, bowling the seventh over.
Short bowls fast, straight left-arm wrist spin. His first three balls go for three runs. Joe Burns is restless and tries to smash one and hits it straight to long-off. Short will end with 1 for 24 from his three overs.
The eighth over is bowled by Cameron Boyce. It goes for five. The next over, he takes the wicket of Alex Ross. After 3.3 overs Boyce has 1 for 17, when Ben Cutting hits a couple away, he’ll end with 1 for 28. This year he has gone for 6.9 runs an over, despite having a first-class average of 49.92.
Short and Boyce combined for 1 for 52 from their seven overs; they went at 7.4 an over, while the rest of the Hurricanes managed 8.7.
Yasir Shah bowls the second over for the Heat. It’s the 24th over of wrist spin (it’s all been legspin) bowled in BBL Powerplays this season. Over the last two years combined there were 29 overs of wrist spin in the Powerplay, 25 from Samuel Badree. Before that wrist spin basically wasn’t allowed to be bowled up front. It’s a trend, a fad, and it’s working.
Legspin’s economy in the first six overs this season is 6.35, all other kinds of bowling are 7.2.
But it’s not just in the Powerplay they are dominating. In the first year of the Big Bash, wrist spin accounted for 12% of bowling, which dropped under ten for the next few editions. This season we’re up at 17.6%. Australia has always barely tolerated finger spin; it’s wrist spin they love. Yet even they’ve never embraced it like this.
Over the last three seasons wrist spin has gone for 0.9 runs less an over than other forms of bowling. This year the legspinners are 1.3 better than all other bowlers. But that’s nothing, at the death it’s crushing. Wrist spin is going at 7.52, seam bowling 9.69.
Wrist spin at the death sounds like it should be the last thing a captain ever tries, and yet back of the hand is embarrassing the standard forms of death bowling.
Other than left-arm wrist spinner Liam Bowe, who went at tens in his one game, the only wrist spinner over eight an over is Brad Hogg. He’s at 8.04. Ten bowlers have an economy of under run a ball this BBL, four of them are wrist spinners.
Mark Waugh says D’Arcy Short will be circumspect facing Yasir Shah, and next ball he smashes it back over his head. But he’s right, Yasir is, as always, accurate. He bowls the odd wrong’un, but mostly is shorter than is drivable and angles the ball in. Yasir is not one of the global T20 wrist-spinning stars; he doesn’t even get a game for Pakistan. But in this league, he’s shown how hard he is to play. His new-ball bowling has been exceptional, going at six an over, and outside the Powerplay he’s gone for even less.
Tonight, his last delivery was a big appeal, but he couldn’t break through. Still, his last over only went for three, and he ended with 0 for 28.
“Reigned them in last couple of overs, the Heat,” says Mark Howard on commentary. Two things made that happen: the Powerplay finished, and legspin from both ends.
Mitchell Swepson bowls from the other end, his first over concedes only four runs, one of those is a wide. Despite bowling to Short and Dan Christian, Swepson isn’t hit for four until his 18th ball; that’s why he’s only been going for 7.3 an over this season. He ends his spell with 0 for 31. He and Yasir have gone at 7.3 from their overs; the other Heat bowlers go for 8.9.
There’s one moment where Swepson bowls a faster ball down the leg side; maybe it’s a flipper, or just out the front of his hand. The keeper can’t pick it up, and it’s five wides. A few balls later he drops the ball short and Short smashes it away. If you saw those deliveries, you’d be forgiven for thinking: leggies still can’t land the ball consistently. You might even think they’re getting lucky. Why on earth would you let them bowl at the death?
If they are, they’re getting lucky in the Powerplay, the middle and the death. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are the best T20 bowler in the world, like Rashid Khan, a part-timer like D’Arcy Short, a Test specialist like Yasir Shah or a second-grade bowler like James Muirhead: wrist spinners are getting lucky a lot.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber
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