Nine of the top ten ranked bowlers in the ICC T20I rankings are spinners, with four of them being leg spinners. A format in which it was initially believed would signal the decline of spinners, they have ruled the roost. But why have spinners been so successful in the 20-over format?
Cricket.com recently caught up with New Zealand legspinner and not long ago the No. 1 T20I bowler, Ish Sodhi, who shared a few nuggets behind the art of spin bowling in the T20 format. In the Caribbean for CPL 2020, where he is representing St Kitts & Nevis Patriots, Sodhi spoke at length about his one true love - legspin, cricket amidst a pandemic, and what the future holds for him.
How has the experience been in the CPL?
The experience at the CPL has really been a good one. I am surrounded by some really good people. I am with a different team this time around. In my first stint, I came as a replacement player for Jamaica Tallawahs and I was only there for about a week. So, it’s a full experience this time albeit a unique one with quarantining period and cricket being in a certain way at the moment. Now that we’re back playing, it’s nice to get back into the groove, playing after 4-5 months in the wilderness.
What is the idea behind that moustache?
Not too much of an idea behind it. My wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world about nine weeks ago. The cool thing about that was a chance to grow up. I’m going to see this as my ‘Dad Mo’. All the photos I have with my daughter looks like from the 1970s which I really like.
You’ll be spending four months away from your family. Did you have any second thoughts before coming over?
We really didn’t know what we were going to get ourselves into. There were definitely doubts in my mind as to what it would be like. It wasn’t until I actually spoke to Ross Taylor, he said this could be the normal procedure for the next few years. If that is the case, we may as well get used to it now as supposed to delay it further.
Has not having crowds bothered you at any stage? Especially in the CPL where the crowd is very loud. Is not having them off-putting in any way?
I don’t think it has affected a lot of us too much. I think we all prefer playing in front of the crowd, it does affect the atmosphere and entertainment to the ground. Especially, in the CPL – it’s the biggest party in sport. People love coming out here and getting amongst the atmosphere, getting in and amongst the party as well, especially in Trinidad. Definitely a lot different, but it could be the norm. The great things is that people have some cricket to watch on TV.
Were you worried about rustiness after lockdown? What were your training schedules like in these months?
This is the longest that I have ever gone without playing cricket in my entire career. It was unique. Definitely there was always going to be and probably still is a bit of room for allowing that rustiness and getting back into your best. Hopefully, that comes to me during the middle stages or the late stages of the tournament. Our training schedules back home were great. We weren’t able to do too much of cricket-specific stuff for the first couple of months of lockdown. Towards the backend, we were able to get into some marquees, train indoors quite a bit before coming here.
How has the playing experience been in CPL compared to the rest of the world?
Like all places, they have unique conditions. The Caribbean pitches are some of the slowest pitches in the world. That’s definitely something to get used to. In New Zealand, the pitches catch pace, when you bowl and the ball hits the deck, it catches pace. I guess you get quite used to bowling in those conditions, it’s really different here. Wickets are a lot slower, so you have to get used to what pace and length you have to bowl here.
What has been the atmosphere in the St Kitts dressing room?
We have got a great bunch of guys. There haven’t been too many specifics that we’ve talked about in terms of improvement at the end of the day. There are some improvements that we obviously need to make. So all these guys are professional cricketers, they’ve been playing for a long time, they really don’t need to be told what needs to be done. Everyone self-assess pretty quickly, reflect and hopefully move on quickly to the next game. I guess in these tournaments it’s all about qualifying. So, we’ve still got eight matches in the round-robin and more than a chance to qualify.
Who were the bowlers you used to idolise while growing up?
I fell in love with the art of bowling legspin while bowling under Dipak Patel. He was my coach when I was in an academy and was somewhere around 12 or 13. I couldn't really bowl offspin, so I learned legspin under his watch. Then being part of a generation where YouTube is accessible and I watched videos of Shane Warne and from there my love for legspin developed. After that, I started following Anil Kumble, and then Stuart MacGill. Those three during that era were the best and for me watching them as a young legspinner was a great inspiration.
You worked with Shane Warne in Rajasthan Royals. Have you had a chance to speak with all these guys and pick their brains?
Shane Warne has got the greatest cricketing brain I have come across. He understands the game really well and has a very simple approach. Anil Kumble was great when I spoke to him for about an hour in Kolkata once. Also spoke to him about his battles with Australia and what was it like to bowl in India. Something like changing your lengths and I got some valuable insights. As a spinner, you think you have to hit the same line and length every time but that's not the case. It was something I learnt from him. I also worked a lot with Stuart MacGill for a couple of years. We became really good friends. Great interactions, all of them! The main thing that they all have in common is that they are aggressive and always looking for wickets.
Why have been legspinners so successful in T20s?
The fact that they can spin the ball both ways. They can turn the ball away from both right-handers and left-handers and it's really important. The captains have been using them as aggressive options in the middle overs. They all come in different shapes and sizes. If you look at a guy like Samuel Badree who was a successful legspinner despite bowling in the Powerplay. He had some incredible skills. Then there are guys like Imran Tahir and Rashid Khan who are currently the best in the world. These guys do a great job for their captain and their teams as they get wickets in the middle overs which is really important in this format. Batsmen during that middle phase sometimes try to build their innings. A lot of the hard work gets done by seam bowlers in the Powerplay and at the death. Spinners kind of set things up for them by picking up wickets in the middle overs, so they are bowling to No. 6, 7.
A legspinner has to be mentally strong, especially when you are trying to take wickets in T20 cricket. Your views on that.
In T20 cricket, batsmen try to hit you for a six, if not every ball, at least every second ball. You have to be pretty courageous to be a spin bowler in T20 cricket. I think sometimes that courage can override your skills. It's important to be courageous in this format. We played against Barbados the other day and every single batsman coming in could clear the ropes and tried clearing the ropes without even getting their eyes in. You have to be aware of their strengths and meet aggression with aggression, especially being a legspinner as batsmen are always trying to take you on.
How does being aggressive play on the mind of the batsman?
That’s what Courtney Walsh (our coach) talks about a lot. He always says show aggression, but controlled aggression. You don’t want to be too angry all the time. You want to be aggressive in your mind, be confident in your ability but you don’t really want to take it out on the batsman.
It’s just that aggressive intent – always making the batsman feel like you’re trying to get his wicket. If you can do that, you might go for a few more runs sometimes than perhaps what you would, but this day and age, the amount of runs that are being scored, wickets are starting to become a lot more important than perhaps what they were 10 years ago.
Excited about the role of spin consultant and operations executive for Rajasthan Royals during the IPL?
Yeah, definitely. It’s a role that I took if I wasn’t going to be picked in an IPL franchise. Unfortunately, Rajasthan Royals didn’t need an overseas legspinner. They had a couple of young legspinners. In my two years, I’ve worked very closely with some of the young spinners there and like to think I added a little bit of value. I guess in the future, I’d love to be a spin bowling coach and I guess this is bit of apprenticeship – getting a chance to do it at such a young age.
It’s something I’m looking forward to, but obviously in the back of my mind, the priority is playing. I’m 27 years old, I want to play cricket for as long as I can and as long as I can keep my body good and still be enjoying the game. It’s definitely something I want to keep doing for a long time.
Does the operations executive role stem from the fact that you prefer to have a professional degree in finance?
A little bit. It was something I spoke to the chief of operations at Rajasthan, Jake Lush McCrum, when I was in my first season. I said I like to study finance at some stage of my career and I’d love to see how it works in the finance aspect in the IPL, just like to see how the budgeting and all that stuff works.
The operations executive, I don’t think there will be a huge amount of work for me to do but I think it’s a chance for me to sit back and learn about finance and how it happens. If I can have that experience at the back of my head, it’s something that can add value to the future as well.
How will a spin consultant role add value to your resume?
I haven’t really thought about it too much from a long-term perspective. It was just a way to add value to a franchise that I really enjoyed being a part of. Like I said, I’ve been with the Rajasthan Royals for two years as a player and really enjoyed the setup. I have got a great bunch of people to work with and I really enjoy working with those people. Sairaj Bahutule, who is the head spin coach there, was unbelievable for my career – in terms of helping me out through the IPL, teaching me how to bowl in India.
A big chance for me to get over there as the spin consultant is also to work on my game as well. Because in the future I aspire to play again for the Rajasthan Royals or another IPL franchise if that’s the path that it takes. I’d love to continue playing and developing my game and being in and amongst that environment is a great place for learning as well.
Do you approach matches differently in different conditions?
Yeah, I think so. The personnel are very different. English players play 360, they reverse sweep – almost 95% of them reverse sweep and reverse hit. So, I’ve always found the English quite difficult to bowl to and contain because setting a field for them is quite difficult. That’s one I’d love to work on, improve on, and figure out a way to be successful against those kinds of teams.
In Australia, the boundaries are a lot bigger and the wickets probably bounce a little bit more. So, perhaps you bowl a little more overspin.
In India, sometimes the wickets turn a little bit more and stay low so you might want to bowl with a little more sidespin so that you can spin the ball with pace.
There are many young spinners; you have worked with in the past like, Riyan Parag Das, Mahipal Lomror and Shreyas Gopal. Are you excited about them?
Riyan Parag and Mahipal are great allrounders, they can hit the ball miles, and very skilful with the ball. Once they get some opportunity, whether it's in the IPL or in India they will do really well. Shreyas Gopal is a gun. Every year he gets either in the top wicket-takers of Rajasthan or he's right up there with the top wicket-takers in the whole IPL. It's not that he gets some local players or young players wicket, but he gets some really big scalps. He’s had a couple of really good games against RCB. They have got Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shreyas Gopal always turns up for those matches. He’s a big match player. So he's got great skills. And he's just a great team-mate, works really hard, and if he is called up tomorrow for India, I think he has the skills to be able to go and do really well.
November 2018 was the last time you played Test cricket for New Zealand. Do you still have red-ball aspirations?
Hugely. I've been working really hard on my game recently. With the fact that I've been playing so much Twenty20 cricket, I haven't had a huge chance to sharpen up those red-ball skills. At the start of our home summer this year, we have four-day matches and it's a really big target for me to go and make an impact on those. Test cricket is the ultimate format. Four or five days of really tough work building up to a result. It's really special. And that's something I definitely want to continue.
Finally, any new skills that you picked up during the lockdown?
During the lockdown, I cooked a lot and I really enjoyed cooking. My wife is probably benefiting a lot from my cooking. It is great for the baking here and there. Learnt how to change some nappies, which is obviously quite challenging.