Why off-spinners have lost favour in ODIs | Crickit
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Why off-spinners have lost favour in ODIs

By, Mumbai
Sep 27, 2023 08:10 AM IST

If R Ashwin makes it to India’s final 15 for the World Cup, he will not have much company with off-spinners being under the pump

A YouTube video from International Cricket Council archives has a collection of the top 10 spinner’s wickets from the 2011 ODI World Cup. It involves Muttiah Muralitharan and Saeed Ajmal’s doosra, Graeme Swann beating Gautam Gambhir in flight and Harbhajan Singh pocketing a wicket with a quicker one. The video with over 4 million views teases you to one glance through the squads of this year’s World Cup, only to find no one other than Moeen Ali and Mohammed Nabi among list of specialist off-spinners. Afghanistan’s Mujeeb ur Rahman makes it more for the mystery in his bowling.

India's R Ashwin reacts during the second ODI cricket match between India and Australia, at Holkar Stadium(PTI) PREMIUM
India's R Ashwin reacts during the second ODI cricket match between India and Australia, at Holkar Stadium(PTI)

Ravichandran Ashwin has made a strong case for himself with his recent showings in the ongoing series against Australia. But if were to make it at the expense of Axar Patel, he will have to buck the trend of off-spinners being surplus to requirement; of them being cannon fodder for power-hitters, and to right-handers.

RULE CHANGE

On the face of it, all finger spinners – both off-spin and left-arm spin have been at the receiving end once explosive power-hitting became par for course in ODI cricket. They were hurt even more during this twelve-year span that sees ODI World Cup return to India by two crucial rule changes – two new balls from both ends and a limit of only four boundary riders in the 11-40 overs phase.

A fortnight ago, Ashwin questioned the motive of the rule-change on his YouTube channel. “I somewhere feel India's dominance with spin was choking world cricket. With four fielders inside the circle, it was very difficult to get away in the middle overs. But then they implemented the two new balls rule and brought the five fielders inside the circle rule. Once they did that, the 240-250-260 games disappeared.”

Before the Australia ODIs, Ashwin has featured in only two ODIs for India since July 2017. There’s a reason why a spinner of his class hasn't found it easy to force his way back. During this phase, off-spinners in the middle-overs – they bowled 34,980 balls - took 11 and 13 more balls on an average to take a wicket in a match than leg-spinners and left-arm unorthodox spinners; they also conceded 15 and 18 more runs, respectively. During Ashwin’s early years before the rule changes were enforced, there was little to separate the bowling averages and strike rates of finger spinners and wrist spinners.

According to CricViz, Ashwin averaged 36.2 at an economy of 4.7 from Jan 2012 to July 4th 2015 in overs 11-40, which is better than global average of the off spinners among full member teams. Since the new rule change to July 1st 2017 where he was out of the ODI set up, he averaged 62.6 at an economy of 5.8 where the global average was 48.5 and the economy was 5.2 among off spinners in full member teams.

Ashwin struggled against left-handers after the new rule change. His average was 22.9 against left-handers since his debut to July 2015 and it increased to 56.3 in the July 2015 to July 2017 time period.

Sachin Tendulkar recently revealed why he felt off-spinners have been forced to become defensive. "If an off-spinner is bowling, he is forced to bowl a middle-stump line. Because you either have to have your deep point in the ring or you need to bring in the long-off because on the on-side, you have three fielders in the deep. So, they cannot deceive a batter by getting him to play a cover drive,” he said.

The quantum of bowling done by off-spinners hasn’t come down sharply but teams are making do with some overs from part-time off-spinners to counter left-handed batters. Liam Livingstone, Glenn Maxwell, Glenn Philips, Aiden Markram, the list is long.

The numbers suggest left-arm spinners have done slightly better than off-spinners – avg 42.3 to 46.3 and SR 51.4 to 55.6. Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel subject to fitness, Mitchel Santner, Ashton Agar, Keshav Maharaj will be among those expected to play a key part in the World Cup.

“In left-arm spinner’s case, you are encouraged to keep the deep mid-wicket open for the right-hander, so that there is a chance of a top edge, if they go against the turn,” said former off-spinner Nikhil Chopra. “The left-handed batters do target cow corner, but because by default left-handers are fewer than right-handed batters, left-arm spinners don’t suffer as much.”

THIRD SPINNER

With Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav expected to start, Chopra thinks, if fit, Axar’s all-round utility should score over Ashwin for the third spinner.

One of Axar’s handicaps is his recent poor numbers against adverse match-ups. His average goes up to 185 from 23.7 and SR 6.13 from 4.37 bowling to left-handed batters over right-handers in the 15 matches he has played in the current World Cup cycle. Jadeja has also been targeted by left-handed batters, but his batting and fielding more than act as cover.

The numbers and trends are loaded against Ashwin and those of his ilk. But the wily spinner brings with him a wealth of big-match experience and an incredible drive to problem solve. Once batters began spotting his carrom ball early, Ashwin developed the reverse carrom ball – imparting back-spin to bring the desired effect. That’s how Ashwin trapped a right-handed Dave Warner and Marnus Labuschagne in the Indore ODI.

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