Durham and England leg-spinner Scott Borthwick has worked with many of the world’s best spin bowling coaches in the last few years and is beginning to blossom as a cricketer, making his Test debut down under at the end of England’s 2013/14 Ashes tour. (Anyone remember the score to that one? No? Good, thought not). Here he shares some tricks of the trade for a wannabe leggie.
Try and spin the ball with the third finger. The third finger is the most important. It’s tucked in behind the ball but it comes over the ball when you bowl. Some leg-spinners have the thumb off the ball; I rest mine on it.
Every leg-spinner has a different run-up. Shane Warne had the walk in and the bound which I try to do. My run-up is sort of eight steps, and after I’ve had my walk in I try to get my energy from the crease.
I take four or five steps then jump off my left leg just before the crease. Ideally you want your back foot on the line of the stumps, and your base when you land should not be too closed, so that you’re facing towards the leg-side, but not too open, because you need to use your shoulder to spin the ball.
The front arm is important, you need that in front of you – rather than to the side – and to get it coming through so that you can follow it, and finish your action off.
Ideally you want to get your right leg coming through and be set on the crease facing the batsman so you are ready for the ball coming back to you and maybe a return catch. You don’t want that leg too wide otherwise it means you’re not completing your action.
I just want to land it on a good length, spin it and make the batsman think. For the field, I wouldn’t go too attacking. As a young leggie you can go too attacking if one spins and throw in a slip, a gully and a short-leg. You have a slip and an off-side ring with a point, and to start with, a deep cover, in case somebody drives you. That way they only get one for it rather than a boundary. You then have an extra-cover, mid-off, mid-on, mid-wicket and a man back for the sweep shot. Leggies do occasionally bowl bad balls so you want that protection on the leg-side. You need either a short-leg for the ball which pops up or a drive man on the off-side, which I tend to have. With a drive man it tends to make you bowl at a length which is a wicket-taking ball, i.e. bringing the batsman forward.
At first you want to bowl dot balls, land the ball in a good area and bowl maidens. As you go into your spell you change your pace, you change how much you want to spin it. You want to find the pace of the pitch.
Ideally, if you’re spinning it you want to pitch it on middle-stump so you can take the edge, although if it’s spinning more then you can re-adjust. If it’s not spinning much then pitch it on off-stump so you can still take the edge.
Change-ups and variations
My first change-up is the googly which I bowl with a scrambled seam to make it harder to pick. It’s exactly the same action, but instead of bringing your arm round, it just flips out of the back of the hand with the thumb finishing it off.
Bowling a googly, it’s natural to fall away but you want to try and make your action look as similar to your leg-spinner as you can. Your front arm needs to be as strong as possible to stop you from falling away. You can’t try to spin it too much, which is the natural tendency, because then your shoulder goes back too much and it’s easier to pick.
You want to get that line right outside off-stump and above his eye line so you can get the batsman driving and bowl him through the gate.
Again, a similar grip to the leg-spinner but instead of coming around you go over the top. The seam is pretty much straight, and if the ball’s got some shine on it then it might curve in.
The length is key – you want him coming forward so if it does bounce you might get a catch – or if the ball skids on, an lbw.
Pace and line
You want to try and make your pace as different as possible so the batsman can’t settle. The slower one is also likely to spin more, which is useful. With your line, sometimes as a leg-spinner you want to chuck one wide so the only option is to clip it for one, but if they do try and slog it, it’s spinning away so it’s hard to control.
As a leg-spinner it’s hard and you have to accept that people will want to come at you and you’re going to bowl bad balls. The biggest thing is to be brave, have a big heart and remember that you’re going to have good days. And when you do have good days, try and make them very good days, as they might not come round that often.