It was easily the ball of this IPL. It was also a wondrous moment in the world of legspin. When Rashid Khan slam-dunked KL Rahul. You couldn’t have faulted Rahul for shaping to defend for a googly and left stunned as the ball turned the other way to peg back the off stump. His misreading wasn’t a mistake, as it did seem like a googly. It had been delivered from back of the hand, and in the conventional world of legspin, this was how a wrong ’un was bowled. Not so in the world of Rashid Khan.
Replay the release in slow-motion. The Rahul dismissal should be seen alongside Rashid’s next scalp: when he got Karun Nair lbw with a googly. These back-to-back wickets say a lot about the leggie’s impact on this IPL. He can bring the ball in to the right-handers, and also away from them, with his back-of-the-hand release.
There are two chief attributes of his art: the deceptive action where even the legbreak can come off back of the hand like a googly, and the unusually quick speed. Both are uncommon to leg-spin.
Rashid’s googly is way quicker than most leg-spinners. He is comfortably quicker by 7 to 8 kmph as compared to Samuel Badree and Imran Tahir, the other leggies with quickish googly (see table).
The googly is generally slower than leg-break. This is not by design or a need for a slower pace. Since the wrong ’un gets delivered from back of the hand and is looped up to complete the wrist-twist, the speed suffers.
But in Rashid’s case, both these variations have nearly the same speed — and this isn’t a deficiency. If anything, a googly would be more potent if it comes through quicker on a batsman unware about its nature, and sneaks past his last-instant wrist adjustments. That is if a batsman is good enough to do the adjustments.
As an effect of the way he releases the ball, his leg-break doesn’t spin much, but it’s a beneficial result. That’s why he gets the batsmen bowled, or alternatively gets them caught behind in case the right-handers make any quick late-adjustment.
What makes his googly special?
For starters, while bowling the googly. He also collapses his bowling arm that allows him to release the ball even before the arm reaches the head. Most googly bowlers twist their wrists, get their arm higher, and release the ball after the arm has gone past the head. They loop the ball up at a higher trajectory, this results in their googlies being slower.
The secret of Rashid’s pacy googly is the way he whips the ball out of the thumb and index finger. With the shoulder providing the extra push, he almost snaps the ball out of his hand. The ball rushes through, and skids off the track, leaving the batsmen with very little time.
Only if he misses the length, and bowls too full, can the batsmen can hit him from the crease.
He isn’t easy to go down the track for a old-timer’s wallop. Chris Gayle’s assault against him was because of a fullish length.
Another trick that his technique gives him is that, unlike a few other googly bowlers, he doesn’t have to let his head fall over to the left as a tell-tale sign, or go wider of the crease. The arm-collapse and the snap-release manipulation of the ball allows him to stay pretty close to the stumps and keep his head relatively steady.
Khan’s leg-break vs wrong’un
Difficult as it may be, there are subtle signs a discernable batsman can read if he wishes to pick Khan’s variations. The way he approaches the crease is similar for both leg-break and googly, and there isn’t a big visual difference in the release. But there are minor differences. He is more upright for his leg-breaks while his head tilts away for the googly. Secondly, he goes slightly wide of the crease for the leg-break vis-a-vis the googly.
Where it becomes tricky is when you combine this with the fact that ball can come out of back of hand for both versions and comes across fairly quickly at that. That’s why he hoodwinked Rahul on a memorable night-out in this golden age for wrist spinners in limited-overs cricket. It also nicely sets up the Test match in India later his year to check on Rashid’s evolution.
(Prasanna Agoram is South Africa’s performance analyst and a Level III coach. He has also worked with several IPL teams.)