Learn how to play spin bowling like a pro. In the first of a two-part series, Graham Thorpe, the ECB’s lead batting coach and an expert against twirlers in his day, shares his tips on how to face the turning ball.
WINNING THE EARLY BATTLE
When I first walk out to bat I’m looking at the gaps and also looking to sniff out the danger. Those first 20 minutes against a spinner are the most crucial and you have to have confidence in your defence. One thing you don’t want to be doing is prodding on to the front foot and then getting caught by close catchers.
You have to be confident in your ability to defend either away from the ball or sometimes to the ball, but softly. The bowler is trying to land it as many times as he can on a length. As a batsman you’re trying to make sure that you end up either getting away from the ball, so you can watch it spin, or hit it on the half-volley. That is what you would call ‘picking length’, which is the key thing against the spinners.
WORKING AGAINST THE SPIN
Some people say, ‘Can you hit the ball against the spin?’ Well of course you can, so long as you pick length correctly. For someone like Murali, bowling round the wicket, I generally took a middle-stump guard to start with and even though he was a big turner of an off-break, I didn’t want to exclusively work on the off-side; I wanted to be able to have options, to be able to hit him through the leg-side, against the spin.
ASSESSING YOUR SCORING OPTIONS
If there are fielders round the bat then you’re going to have gaps to score, so you need strong attacking options. It’s important to have real clarity on whether you want to sweep the bowler early on, whether you want to put them under pressure, whether you’ll slog-sweep, whether you want to hit them over the top. Once you’ve made those decisions then don’t lose those scoring options in your head.
If the bowler misses his length and is a little short, if your technique works well then you can push away and hit them through the off-side off the back foot. You’re trying to disperse the field, to tactically move them.
If you’re a good fine-sweeper of the ball and the bowler doesn’t have a fielder at fine-sweep, that’s an option as well.
If the bowler pitches it up, are you confident to hit him over the top? To someone like Murali I didn’t want to run down the pitch but if you do feel comfortable it puts them under pressure and maybe they’ll drop that man back, which opens up another gap for you.
Even if you don’t want to come down the wicket you want the bowler to think that you might because often that might create a quicker, shorter ball and then you’re in position to push back and execute a shot through the off-side for one, two or, if you hit it well, maybe even a boundary.
Everything stems from the quality of your footwork and having a method which is quick so you can execute that movement into a drive if the bowler overpitches or be able to push away if they drop shorter.
Sometimes when I’m coaching I’ll say to a player: ‘I don’t want you to hit over the top, I don’t want you to sweep and I don’t want you to play a forward defensive’. If you take out those three shots then the player can either drive off the front foot if it’s a fuller delivery or get away from the ball and play off the back foot if it’s a bit shorter. By restricting their range of shots you’re immediately encouraging the player to think about how they’re picking length and to move their feet correctly.
Imagine a line going straight down the middle of the pitch. Anything pitching outside of that line to an off-spinner is an option to sweep but you’ve got to be able to cover your stumps; you don’t want the ball spinning back round your legs.