Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Leg-spin in 2013

That last post about Scott Borthwick has led me to do some further digging around on Statsguru, to find out how the World's Test leg-spinners got on in 2013. There was 9 to 12 of them depending on whether you count players like Tendulkar who bowl both leg-spin and off-spin, and what exactly you classify Mendis as bowling (finger spin if you ask me), with just three specialist wrist spinners, plus Steve Smith who is now clearly a batsman rather than bowler. So, how did they do?

I.S. Sodhi, NZ, 21
5 Tests, 11 wickets at 51.45, Economy rate 3.62, Strike rate 85.36
Best innings: 18.5 - 3 - 59 - 3 vs Bangladesh at Dhaka

A leg-spinner from New Zealand? Well it has happened before, Grimmett was born a Kiwi after all. Ish Sodhi was in fact born in Ludhiana in northern India and moved to New Zealand aged 9, and owes much of his success to a fluke. After Imran Tahir was named in the South African team to face New Zealand in 2012, Sodhi was employed to give the Black Caps some practise against leg-spin, and so impressed was Daniel Vettori by what he encountered in the nets that he intervened to give Sodhi's career a nudge. After a single season of First Class cricket Sodhi was picked for New Zealand 'A', then went into his first Test Match having not even turned 21.
Sodhi took six wickets in the two match series in Bangladesh and a further five in three matches at home against the West Indies, no performance particularly standing out as either brilliant or awful. He's undoubtedly raw and would appear to be merely keeping Vettori's seat warm for the time being, but the veteran rates Sodhi highly and adding some useful lower-order runs into the mix so far New Zealand seem willing to give him the patience every leg-spinner craves.

A.G. Cremer, Zim, 27
4 Tests, 9 wickets at 43.11, Economy rate 3.79, Strike rate 68.22
Best innings: 5.2 - 1 - 4 - 4 vs Bangladesh at Harare

Graeme Cremer made his Test debut as long ago as 2005 but with all the troubles in Zimbabwe 2013 was their first reasonably full Test programme since then.
Cremer didn't make the best of starts in the two match series in the West Indies, being rather expensive and only taking two wickets. His one highlight was a notable all-round performance at home against Bangladesh, a career-best 4 for 4 and some useful runs with the bat helping Zimbabwe to the win, but in his next match he again struggled and was dropped, with off-spinner Prosper Utseya preferred for the home series against Pakistan.

Imran Tahir, SA, 34
2 Tests, 10 wickets at 24.60, Economy rate 3.13, Strike rate 47.20
Best innings: 13 - 3 - 32 - 5 vs Pakistan at Dubai

The grizzled old journeyman pro on the list, Tahir's return to International cricket came late in 2013 following his battering at the hands of Australia the year before. His bowling seemed to have improved in his year out and he finally produced a spell worthy of his talents, taking his maiden Test five-for in his first innings back to decimate Pakistan.
However he took a step backwards in his next Test against India, conceding too many runs and taking just two tail-enders' wickets, and was dropped for the following match. It will be interesting to see when, and indeed whether, Tahir plays for South Africa again, but it's never going to be easy to maintain a place in the World's best team, even for a player of Tahir's skill and experience.

SPD Smith, Aus, 24
12 Tests, 6 wickets at 37.83, Economy rate 4.37, Strike rate 52.00
Best innings: 6 - 1 - 18 - 3 vs England at Lord's

Smith's days being touted as Australia's next #1 spinner are long gone, but at least now that his ever-improving batting is getting him a game we can occasionally enjoy his bowling on a part-time basis.
When called upon he did pretty much what you'd hope for from a non-specialist bowler - kept it reasonably tight, gave the batsmen something different to think about and snaffled the odd wicket here and there. His six over spell at Lord's produced his best ever Test bowling figures, taking the wickets of Bell, Bairstow and Prior in a manner that felt potentially match-turning before Australia stuffed up their own first innings. (Seems an age ago now...)
He's still astonishingly young, but it remains to be seen whether he will have the time or inclination to develop to his full potential as a bowler when his 2013 batting has brought him two centuries and an average of 37.42.

In conclusion

it's been a bit of a grim year, just three leggies picked for their bowling, of whom one is woefully inexperienced while the other two are currently surplus to requirements. The only one on this list guaranteed a place in 2014 is Steve Smith, while Borthwick's Sydney fluke may not see him in the teams to face Sri Lanka and India if others state a strong case early in the County Championship season. Well it's always darkest before the dawn* as they say, maybe the next great leg-spinner is only round the corner...

*it is, in fact, darkest exactly midway between dusk and dawn, but leg-spin often involves the triumph of optimism over vulgar things like facts.

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