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The spinner’s hand speed is a giveaway: Barry Richards

Legendary South African opener explains threadbare the dos and don’ts for a batsman on a turner. When it comes to picking the straighter one, which did the most damage in the two-day Test at Motera, batsmen must watch the bowlers' hand closely, Richards says.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Ahmedabad |
Updated: February 28, 2021 8:06:14 am
axar patel, india vs englandAxar Patel bowled a terrific first over in England's second innings. (BCCI TV)

Do you agree that the art of playing spin in challenging conditions is all but gone?

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Not only spin, countering seam also. Batsmen these days rather focus on the IPL/T20 cricket.

You mentioned IPL and T20 cricket, but a lot of cricketers still put Test cricket on a pedestal. From a batsman’s technical point of view, what are the downsides of T20 cricket?

See, to start with, bat is a factor. Modern-day bats have so much wood and spring in them that it seriously adds to the confidence factor. You carry the confidence to swing, knowing that mishits, too, might clear the fielders. T20 batting is about clearing your front leg and swinging confidently. And when you internalise that, when you are swinging harder at the ball, it becomes difficult to play with soft hands. You tend to push at the deliveries, which brings about your downfall.

As a batsman, how do you go about your job on a turning pitch?

On seaming pitches, you try to pick the seam position from the bowler’s hand, but you have to wait for the ball to bounce before you play the shot. On turning pitches, picking the length early is even more important. You got to work the ball around, which Rohit Sharma did. Sweep is a scoring shot on turning pitches, but you do that only when the length is right to play the shot. The problem with a lot of modern-day batsmen is that they don’t bat for time. They bat for runs. So when they get low-scoring wickets, they are in trouble.

In Ahmedabad, on a turning pitch, straighter ones did the trick – the deliveries that skidded off the surface. Batsmen by and large tried to play inside the line, not sure about which one will turn and which one will skid.

What I have found in a lot of modern-day batsmen is that they look at the bowler’s hand but they don’t look at it intensely. From a batsman’s point of view, detecting the hand speed is important and irrespective of red ball or pink ball, a spinner’s hand speed is different when he is bowling a faster, straighter one or giving it a tweak. So watching the hand intensely becomes imperative.

How important is footwork on a turning pitch?

Massively important. On a spinning pitch, you have to dictate the length to the bowlers. That will give you enough opportunity to score runs. Without that you are allowing the bowlers to bowl without any pressure. They will dictate the length instead. For you to dictate the bowler’s length, you need good footwork. See how nimble Rohit’s footwork is against spin. That allowed him to dictate the length.

A bowler like Axar Patel, who is quicker through the air and extracts steeper bounce off the surface because of his height, do you think sweep is a good option?

Once again, picking the length to play the sweep shot is important. There’s no foolproof way to pick the length but it is something top batsmen do well. Length will determine whether you play a flat-bat sweep or hit the bat on top of the ball and roll the wrists. Riding the length is important.

On a pitch like Ahmedabad, what would have been your approach to play spin?

I would try to dictate the (bowler’s) length. Against an off-spinner like (Ravichandran) Ashwin, I would rather take an off stump guard and try to play his off-breaks outside the line of the off stump. On low-scoring wickets, it’s important to reduce the risk factors. When you are playing the ball outside the line, you are taking LBW out of the equation.

Also, your back foot game becomes important. By having a good back foot game, you are allowing yourself that bit of extra time to adjust to the turn and bounce. At the same time, if your technique is good enough, you are in turn forcing the bowler to bowl fuller where you can have scoring opportunities off over-pitched deliveries. Not easy though, for Ashwin is a fantastic bowler.

You played County cricket in an era when pitches used to be uncovered. You faced the likes of Bishan Bedi and Derek Underwood on sticky wickets. How did you counter them on those pitches?

I remember one County championship match that we played against Northamptonshire at Southampton. Our second innings target wasn’t very big, but Northamptonshire had Bishan and the wicket was treacherous. Bishan wasn’t a vicious turner of the cricket ball. He would mesmerise you with his variations in flight. He was magnificent. I scored 45, but I rate it more highly than a lot of my centuries. Once again, the key factor was eliminating the risks as much as possible and being decisive in approach to put pressure back on the bowlers.

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