Over the years, tweakers have spun deadly spells over the best of bats-men. The great spinning duos such as Grimmett and O’Reilly, Ramadhin and Valentine, Laker and Lock and Bedi and Prasanna or individual terminators like Johnnie Wardle, Richie Benaud, Hugh Tayfield, Lance Gibbs, Abdul Qadir and, more recently, Anil Kumble or Shane Warne have woven magic around the world. The advent of one-dayers in the 1970s and their progression through the razzmatazz of the Packer era to the intense excitement of the World Cup have all combined to condense the role of the spinner, further increasing his significance.
The 1996 Cup affords the spinner a fine chance to play a dominating role. An intriguing contest is likely between a wide variety of spinners who will thrive on the subcontinent’s slower responsive pitches. One-day cricket is all about psychology and the spinner’s role is to create as much pressure on the batsman. The principal way to psyche batsmen is to peg down the run rate as much as possible. Mastery of the four basics of spin-bowling—line, length, flight and spin—is essential, together with the flexibility to vary all four as and when occasions demand. There’s no room for inaccuracy or inconsistency: a short wide ball or a full toss can result in a crucial loss of the initiative.
Till the 1992 Cup, spinners were entitled to have over five leg-side fielders. This aided some bowlers, particularly off-spinners, usually with six fielders on the on-side split equally between the inner and outer rings. The present restriction of no more than five leg-side fielders has opened up the game and made it easier for batsmen to pick holes in a spinners’ field. This has compelled the spinner to attack more, longer, either by having three men in the inner-ring or by varying length, flight and spin more effectively.
The spinner can no longer fire the ball at leg-stump in the block-hole and hope to contain a quality batsman. Line, flight and spin variation have to go with a constant vigil —watching the batsman, anticipating his next shot, looking at his feet for any clue of movement and at his glovesfor any tightening of grip or shift of hands for a reverse sweep.
Perhaps the most significant product of one-day cricket is innovative batting—shots that utilise all possible angles, such as the reverse sweep that alarm the purists. Ian Botham was one of its earliest exponents and England captain Mike Gatting was widely criticised for using it in the 1987 Cup final which Australia won.
The last three Cups saw spinners playing a key role. In 1987, most teams had at least one spinner, if not two. Martin Crowe employed off-spinner Dipak Patel with the new ball in the 1992 Cup. After success in the opening ties against Australia, he used the tactic almost throughout the Cup with telling effect. Patel took wickets, and at the most economical figures of 3.10 runs per over. This went beyond the traditional role of mere containment, designed to achieve pressure. The spinner’s attacking role became pronounced as batsmen saw him as a target for easy runs, and employed unorthodox shots. In Jaipur in 1987, Viv Richards was bowled by a flighted one from England off-spinner Eddie Hemmings after having hit two huge sixes. Courageous spin bowling at its best. Again, on many occasions spinners took up the challenge and suffered. Navjot Sidhu responded in sparkling fashion when "taken on" by spinners—his record of six-hitting earned him legendary status.
The spinner, thus, provides a twist of adrenalin—bringing into play the batsman whose attack strategy is designed to increase the run rate and/or to destroy the spinner. Too much width at this stage is criminal: it opens up areas square of the wicket. Ideally, a fuller length is preferable as it restricts the batsman to playing straight down the wicket. The yorker is a vital weapon that cramps the advancing batsman but it can be meat-and-drink to the deflector and the reverse sweeper. Maximum turn should be utilised but never at the expense of the basics of line and length.
The stage is now set for an enthralling battle between the over-the-wrist spinners—Paul Adams, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed—and the batting of Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin and the Waugh brothers.