Left-arm spinners are the least celebrated type of bowlers in T20 cricket. Neither do they take as many wickets as wrist-spinners, nor do they have as many variations as modern-day off-spinners, but they are economical. They don’t always make the highlight reels, considering they generally finish with figures like 1/20 or 2/24, but they still play a massive role in the team's success. They go about their business in a defensive and humdrum manner but more often than not do the job they have been asked to do. They are probably the most role-oriented bowling type in the shortest format of the game.
Unlike left-arm orthodox spinners, wrist-spinners and off-spinners nowadays have a plethora of variations up their sleeves. Wrist-spinners are your wicket-takers. They are the ones who are spoiled for choices, considering they can bowl leg-breaks, googlies, sliders, and all other kinds of deliveries. Then you have mystery spinners like Sunil Narine, Varun Chakravarthy, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Maheesh Theekshana and you never know what’s coming up when you are up against them. However, most of the left-arm tweakers operate with just two weapons - the one that turns away from a right-handed batter and the one that goes straight with the arm. Altering their bowling speed is the only other variation up their sleeves.
“My style is to bowl quicker through the air, I don’t like to flight the ball much. I stick to my strength and don’t even think about tossing the ball,” said India’s Axar Patel earlier this year. In T20 cricket, most of the modern left-arm spinners bowl with the seam slightly oriented in the direction of the batter and rely more on drift rather than flight. Just look at the way Imad Wasim, Akeal Hosein, Mark Watt, Shakib Al Hasan, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja and a few other left-arm tweakers have gone about their business, especially in the powerplay, in the ongoing T20 World Cup and you will know how different they are from traditional left-arm orthodox spinners.
"Let me tell you why they are so good (in T20s), and I am not being disrespectful to them, but not many of them turn the ball much. Someone like Axar Patel, doesn't turn the ball, but because he is coming from a wide angle, they have the ball coming into right-handers all the time. Most of the deliveries that these left-arm spinners bowl, go straight in towards the pads. The odd-balls hold up and it makes them very tricky to hit,” former England off-spinner Graeme Swann told Cricket.com.
The sight of a left-arm spinner opening the attack has become very common. If you look at Imad and Hosein bowling with the new ball, you would feel like you are watching a finger spinner bowling inswingers to right-handed batters. The ball just keeps coming in with the arm and that makes them a handy option even against left-handed batters. Apart from England, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, all the other teams in the World Cup have/had at least one quality left-arm tweaker in their squad. However, England have Adil Rashid, Sri Lanka had Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga, while Afghanistan had Mujeeb and Rashid Khan and that’s why they probably didn’t need a left-arm spinner, but not every side has that luxury.
Quietly making their presence felt in T20 WC
If you want to know the advantages of having a quality left-arm spinner in your XI, just ask New Zealand legspinner Ish Sodhi. “The way that he (Santner) bowled today, four overs through the middle (with) one of those in the powerplay, to create the pressure that he did and induce some false strokes. I think a lot of us bowlers benefit a lot from the pressure that he puts on through that middle period. And that can definitely never go unnoticed," said Sodhi after New Zealand thumped India by eight wickets and more or less ended their T20 World Cup campaign.
Sodhi picked up key scalps of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and was named Player of the Match but the 29-year-old leggie wasted no time in acknowledging the pressure Santner created from the other end. The latter gave away only 15 runs in his four overs and forced two of India’s most-experienced batters to take the attack to Sodhi, resulting in both their dismissals. He did a similar job against Scotland and Namibia too. Santner has claimed only two wickets at an average of 59 in the ongoing showpiece event. Based on these numbers, it would be easy to discard his contributions. However, it’s his economy of 6.5 that really stands out.
“I have got this theory, every year I have watched Chennai Super Kings play and I am convinced that Stephen Fleming (head coach) knows what a genius Santner is. I think he has picked Santner in the Chennai squad so that he can't bowl for anybody else. The guy was No. 1 in world cricket for a long time. He is a really good T20 bowler. When he bowls, it looks like he is turning a screw. He puts a lot of pressure on the batters. He is the modern-day Daniel Vettori,” said Swann.
We are done with the Super 12s stage and have got our four semi-finalists - Pakistan, England, Australia and New Zealand. As mentioned above, England don’t have a left-arm spinner in their squad, while Australia have played Ashton Agar only once in the tournament. The 28-year-old picked up 1/15 in 2.4 overs in a match in which England chased down 126 in 11.4 overs. Australia have preferred an extra batter over Agar and you can’t really blame them considering they have won all the remaining four games. The Blackcaps will meet England in the semis and it won’t come as a surprise if we see a lot of Santner in the first six overs. Then there is Imad Wasim, who has picked up the least number of wickets amongst all frontline Pakistan bowlers but has the best economy (5.23).
The likes of Shakib (5.6), Jadeja (5.9), Scotland’s Watt (6.1), Oman’s Zeeshan Maqsood (6.2), Keshav Maharaj (6.7), Hosein (7) and Namibia’s Bernard Scholtz (7.2) too bowled with great control in the tournament. Amongst all the left-arm spinners who bowled at least 10 overs in this competition, none of them had a higher economy rate than 7.2 and that tells you something about their consistency. Tabraiz Shamsi was the only left-arm wrist-spinner who featured in the T20 WC and if you leave him out, left-arm spinners have the best economy rate amongst all bowling types. It’s not just this World Cup, left-arm tweakers have been efficacious in various T20 leagues around the globe.
Acing IPL and other T20 leagues too
If we just stick to IPL 2021, left-arm spinners’ numbers are even better. They conceded runs at just 7.12 in the last edition of IPL, with Axar (6.7), Jadeja (7.1) and Shakib (7.2) all doing well for their respective franchises. There were Harpreet Brar (6), Abhishek Sharma (6.4), Shahbaz Ahmed (6.6) and Mahipal Lomror (6.7), who bowled 50 overs between them, a decent sample size, and still returned economical figures.
Amongst bowlers who bowled at least 10 overs in the middle overs, Brar (6) and Axar (6.3) had the second and fourth-best economy respectively. What’s more, their numbers against left-handed batters aren’t bad either. For example, Brar (5.7), Axar (6.9) and Jadeja (7.4) operated at good economy against left-handers and that’s largely because of their ability to angle the ball away from the batters from round the wicket.
They become even more dangerous if there’s a bit of turn on offer and the conditions in the UAE have worked in their favour. However, even if we look at overall numbers (in IPL 2021, PSL 2021, CPL 2021, BBL 2020-21, T20Is amongst top-10 teams in 2021), left-arm spinners (6.93) have a better economy than offspinners (7.17) and legspinners (7.35). Also, for some reason, most of the aforenamed players are three-dimensional, adding more value to a T20 side.
Let’s not forget, the likes of Pragyan Ojha, Shadab Jakati, Murali Kartik, Pawan Negi, Iqbal Abdulla, Daniel Vettori, Bipul Sharma and Ankit Sharma too had their moments in IPL. Left-arm spinners are not flashy and might not always take the centre stage but their presence only makes the team better.
(All stats till November 9, 2021)