THE SIMPLE definition of a turner is a track where you don’t have to try and turn the ball. Or a track where you are trying to bowl a straight ball and it still spins. On a turning track you have to first understand it’s going to do everything for you. On a flat track you are putting all your efforts to spin the ball, and thinking ‘it should turn, it should turn’. That is done for you here. That’s half the battle won.
The key is you have to keep asking questions by making the batsman play every ball. You zone in on that business area and then be relentless like a Ravindra Jadeja or Anil Kumble. You create that doubt where he just can’t think about leaving the ball. He’s always thinking, “mujhe khelna padega, mujhe khelna padega”. Secondly have the patience that there will be plays and misses, near appeals and nearly wickets. Sometimes umpires find it difficult to give lbws because even they don’t know how much it’ll turn.
Play it full
There is an absolute skill-set to bowl on turning wickets. You can’t give time to the batsman. So you have to be predominantly quicker in the air. You also need to be fuller. You can afford to be two or three inches fuller than good length, because the batsman’s already in a muddle about whether he has to defend his pad or risk playing a drive. Even an over-pitched delivery on a turning wicket can get you an outside-edge as we’ve seen. The basic idea is to bring him forward. So you can err on the fuller side. So you practice that in the nets, bowling 90 out of 100 balls quicker in the air and fuller than normal. So many times I have seen a batsman on a turning track play all over himself even when it’s really full.
So what I’ve looking to do in my first spell is get into a rhythm where I’m coining the dot balls. It’s not about being extravagant. On a turning track you don’t need to bowl that magic delivery first up, say turning one from outside leg. It looks good but doesn’t achieve anything. The more dots you bowl, the more a batsman’s thinking something’s got to give. Often it’s tougher to dislodge a well-set batsman on a turning wicket rather than a flat one because he knows exactly how it’s going to play and how much it’ll turn based on where it pitches. And he never can let his guard down anyway. So get them early.
Be the tease
With some batsmen you can tell he’s jittery from his defence when he walks out or just his mannerisms. Adpadango we used to call those types with whom you could see other tell-tale signs like hard hands when you know he is fearing the worst.
Getting cut on a turner is a cardinal sin. But you can get driven. A drive can lead to a leading edge. How many times on a turning track you see balls chipped back to the bowler or to cover when someone’s trying to close the face of the bat or when he’s not to the pitch of the ball. Or he thinks he’s to the pitch of the ball like on a flat track but the ball holds and stops on him.
The most difficult thing to do for a batsman on a turning track is milk a spinner or even take a single on occasions. So he’s always thinking where are the runs going to come from? Every now and then someone’s going to think if it’s in my radar I will swing for the fences. You have to have that kind of a field for that. On a flat track you can just go on the back-foot and punch it down the ground. But say even if you are slightly short when you are tired on a turner, you can have an in-out field and not get too hurt. Because then if you have mid-on back and he’s trying to hit against the spin, he’s going to hit straight into your hands. You can play with a batsman’s mind and tease him and it gets fascinating. You can’t jump out of your crease so easily either to push for a single.
That’s where you make him think that I have to strike a clean shot to get away. Then say I’m bowling to a Adam Gilchrist or Matthew Hayden. I am not giving them time to run at me and hit me over long-on. But that length can still be slog-swept. So the deep mid-wicket and the deep square leg are catching positions for me. There is no feeling of shame that I have those two out. They are as effective as say silly-point or slip.
The toughest ball to bowl is the straighter one. It’s not a cliché but a fact. How often have you seen Jadeja trap batsmen in front or Ashwin with a perfect pivot but the ball still going straight and hitting the pads of a left-hander! So many instances where I remember thinking I bowled a perfect delivery that will turn big but it went straight on. You can learn so much from the likes of Shakib Al Hasan and I’m sure Saqlain Mushtaq will be telling the English spinners about it. With him and Jadeja you’ll often see the ball land on the leather part and still spin. Being round-arm anyway means the batsman is always guessing the length of the ball. The English boys aren’t so used to turning tracks. So you’ll see them sticking to the conventional methods of bowling outside off-stump and looking for the right pace to spin the ball like they do on a green wicket rather than just probing on a fuller length at a quicker pace ball after ball.
An absolute don’t on a turning wicket is getting into a mental battle with yourself that you need five-fors and six-fors in every innings. You are thinking, “turning track hai so let me make hay while the sun shines”. You are putting pressure on yourself anyway. You have to guard against it. It’s even more difficult if you are the third spinner in the team. There will be days your partner has bowled better but you have the wickets. Just think if I bowl 20 overs, I should only go for 30 runs. You will automatically end up with wickets. Patience is the key.
(As told to Bharat Sundaresan)