Erapalli Prasanna, Ian Chappell and V Ramnarayan discuss
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10

Talking Cricket

The science of deception

Aerodynamics, biomechanics, psychology, and pitching on a length: Erapalli Prasanna and Ian Chappell on the thrill and skill of spin bowling

Interview by V Ramnarayan |

Ian Chappell regards Erapalli Prasanna as the best slow bowler he faced, and Prasanna retains healthy respect for Chappelli's proficiency against spin. Foxed by Prasanna in the first Test in Adelaide in 1967, Chappelli held on to his spot with 151 in the following Test, in Melbourne.

Prasanna was happiest when batsmen attacked him, when they left the safety of the crease to reach for the ball; Chappelli knew that decisive footwork was the key to playing spin. Prasanna, who was successful on vastly different pitches in Australia and New Zealand, says a spinner must bowl length in all conditions; Chappelli, who starred in Australia's series win in India in 1969-70, says batsmen should always stay positive.

Their undiminished confidence, vast knowledge and delightful anecdotes led to a fascinating conversation nearly 45 years after they last played against each other.

V Ramnarayan: You've often said Prasanna is the best spinner you faced. Would you expand on that?
Ian Chappell: The thing that intrigued me was, I felt like he was trying to get me out every ball. So that made it an interesting challenge. Here in India in '69, the difference between Pras and Bishan [Bedi] was, Pras was trying to get me out every ball whereas Bish was trying to tire me down and wait for me to get myself out. So it was enjoyable to bat against Pras.

The other thing was his ability to flight the ball. We were having a beer after play one day and I said, "You little bastard, you've got a string tied to that ball. Every time it leaves your hand I say, I'm going to get to this one, and I get down there, and suddenly you pull on that string and drop the ball."

A lot of people talk about the blind spot for a batsman. Tiger O'Reilly, the great legspinner, said if he can curl it into middle and leg, that's the blind spot for a right-handed batsman. At the Brabourne Stadium in the first Test in 1969, Pras threw this one up and I came charging down the track and I thought I had it covered and I went for this big drive. And I don't know where it went. It just disappeared and the next thing I know I heard a clunk behind me and I was on my way.

Throughout that tour in '69, Doug Walters and I used to have this ongoing discussion/argument, "Who was the best spin bowler?" And he would say Bedi and I would say Prasanna. I saw Dougie only a few weeks ago and the argument started again. Who's the best spinner? Prasanna or Bedi? I don't think we're ever going to resolve that argument.

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VR: Why does he think Bedi was the best?
IC: Mainly he says because the ball was spinning away. Also, Doug is the best player of offspin I've ever seen. He didn't just survive against the really good offspinners. On his day, he scored quickly against them. And every time I hear a commentator say you shouldn't cut offspin because you're cutting against the spin, I feel like saying, "Go talk to Doug Walters, because he could cut offspin and he could cut it like nobody else."

VR: You said your flighted ball was like a juicy half-volley but it was an appointment it never kept. How do you explain that?
Erapalli Prasanna: I wanted a batsman to come at me. You had one Sastry, Tamil Nadu opening batsman…

VR: Yeah, Harihara Sastry.
EP: Yes. He never used to play any strokes. He used to squat. His stance was like a frog's. So the only way to get batsmen like him out was to get them to reach out.

When you are bowling into the breeze, or even if the breeze is coming at 45 degrees, there is what is known as a fish effect, which is normally applied in aerodynamics. When you throw a Frisbee, it has got two-three elevations. When you try and catch it, it comes to you and then eludes you and then goes up. And once the revolutions are dying, that is the time it drops.

So you apply that principle while bowling into the wind with a lot of spin. The ball climbs up. That is the time the batsman feels he can reach out and he comes out, commits himself, but the ball drops and that is the instant when the batsman invariably and inadvertently reaches out. That's when it looks like someone is flying a kite - controlling the string.

VR: How can you do that when you're bowling with the wind?
EP: That's when you hold the ball back. You need to allow the ball to float in the air so that it can carry to the batsman. But again, the ball has to drop. So the spin on the ball, the RPMs, has to be more.

"I can't think of anything more embarrassing than to be mesmerised and taunted by a spinner" Chappell

VR: How important is your arm speed when you're doing that?
EP: The arm is always high. You've got to leave the ball at the highest point. The term "timing", by and large these days, is used only for a batsman - when he transfers his weight from the back leg to the front leg. At the moment of striking the ball, he transfers his whole body weight through the bat to the ball.

Bowlers also need timing. You transfer the weight at the release of the ball, at the highest point. Your weight has to go into the ball so that the ball traverses that distance.

You should also have some intuition of where to bowl. If I want to bowl at the off stump, that intent has to be there. Like a batsman has to have the intent to middle the ball. The moment he feels he is middling the ball, he feels far more confident, he thinks he's in business. As a bowler, the basic objective is to see that no batsman middles the ball.

VR: So you would be unhappy if a batsman middled you all the time?
EP: Yes. I always felt, on any good wicket, I might not be turning every delivery but I wanted one ball to turn immediately when I came on to bowl, so that I could get that psychological advantage. That's when I was in business. After that, I may have only bowled straight ones - topspinners and what not - but the moment you turn one ball, you're not allowing the batsman to play you comfortably.

There is a lot of psychology involved. Once [in 1970-71] we played a tour game in Jamaica and Lawrence Rowe was one of the players everyone was talking about. He got off to a good start and even though I was bowling well, he was playing me comfortably. As he played each ball, he was also whistling (makes whistling sound). I was thinking, "What the hell, man?" The ball was hanging in the air and dipping but he was smothering the spin quite comfortably. So I went to the umpire and said, "Look, Lawrence is whistling and it is distracting my fieldsmen." I think you will know - the Chinese…

IC: Oh, Douglas Sang Hue.

EP: Yeah. So he went up and said, "Lawrence, will you kindly stop whistling?" And Lawrence just looked at him and said, "Yeah okay." Now when he faced the next ball, Lawrence wanted to whistle. His mind was on the whistling. And he was caught at forward short leg. So these are things you sometimes have to do. (laughs)

Anyway, the fundamental point is - a spinner has to bowl length. Even if I didn't turn the ball, it was okay. But I could set a field if I bowled length. You can't set a field for a short ball.

Chappell's objective when playing spin: try to manipulate the field settings

Chappell's objective when playing spin: try to manipulate the field settings © Getty Images

VR: What do you mean when you say, "A spinner has to bowl length"?
EP: When a ball is in the air, it induces the batsman to come out. Now remember that a batsman can take maximum two steps to drive a ball. First hop, second hop. If he takes a third hop, I don't think he can reach the ball - the ball would have gone past him. So once the batsman sees the ball in the air, it drags him out. He goes forward. When the ball dips and he reaches out, that is the best spot to bowl.

And second, most importantly, every bowler must bowl to take a wicket. If he is not attempting to take a wicket, then no one will give him a wicket. There are three stumps in front of you, right? What are those for? They're not for the batsman to find out where his off stump or leg stump is. No. They are the targets the bowler has been given. His objective has to be to bowl to the stumps.

So when a batsman attempts to protect the ball from going to the stumps, there are many odds. You have the leg-before, caught behind, caught in the slips, caught and bowled… and various other types of taking a wicket. But the primary wicket-taking ball is the clean- bowled. That's the intent with which you have to bowl.

VR: So what was your intention when facing a bowler of Prasanna's ability?
IC: Well, in the end it was a battle of your brains and your wills. You knew there was so much thought going into what he was doing. The objective was to try and dictate terms. If you get to the point where you're dictating the spin bowler's field placings then he's in trouble. And let me assure you, it never got to that point with Pras.

I've always said if you're facing a spin bowler and you can late-cut and square-cut successfully, then not only does the bowler have a problem but the captain has got a problem. Because what's he going to do? Is he going to put one fielder behind point and one in front of point? If you've got a spin bowler who's got two guys close in, plus a slip, he's got three guys there. There's a hell of a lot of playing area now for only six more guys. So you have to try and dictate terms to the point where you're manipulating the field.

VR: Playing in the gaps…
IC: Yeah. using your feet properly. That doesn't mean always coming way out of your crease. You've got to be quick forward and you've got to be quick back. One of the best examples of that is VVS Laxman in his 281 against Shane Warne. I mean, he was coming three metres out of his crease and the part that I found incredible was that he was not [hitting] on the full but from the half-volley. On a pitch that was turning a bit he was hitting Warne wide of mid-on. I mean, I just looked at that and thought, "How can you do that?"

But he would do that and then Warne would go a little bit higher, a little bit shorter, hoping he would come out. And Laxman would be quickly onto his back foot, playing a pull shot. Now that makes life pretty difficult for a spin bowler, even one as good as Warne. To me that was the challenge of batting against good spinners. It was your brain against his brain, plus throw in the willpower.

A lot of people think it can be embarrassing if you're in trouble against a fast bowler. But I think it's much more embarrassing if you're in trouble against a spin bowler. You can mess around there for five-ten minutes and look really bad and everybody sitting in the crowd is saying, "Weird, why is he having trouble against a slow bowler?"

"As a bowler, the basic objective is to see that no batsman middles the ball" Prasanna

Whereas if it's whizzing past your nose at 95 miles per hour, the guys are saying, "Well, okay, I can understand why he's got a problem."

So luckily, I was taught properly from a very young age to use my feet. But I would have hated to not be a good player of spin because I can't think of anything more embarrassing than to be mesmerised and taunted by a spinner.

VR: The first time you played Prasanna was 1967-68?
IC: Adelaide, I reckon. He got me caught ten or 12 yards from mid-on. I don't know what I was doing. I was on the back foot and just hit it straight to the guy. I remember talking to my father afterwards and he said, "What the hell were you doing?" And I said, "Martin, I'm not really sure what I was doing."

I wasn't really sure of myself as a Test player. I made a lot of runs in Shield cricket and I made a lot of runs against Test match bowlers. But I hadn't convinced myself at that point that I was good enough for Test cricket. I then got 151 in the next game in Melbourne - with a little help from the Indian fielders. That sort of helped a bit, getting that hundred. But it wasn't until against England in '68 that I started to feel I was good enough to play at this level. So the guy Pras bowled to in '67-68 was quite a different player to the one who came here in '69.

VR: Would you rather face a fast bowler from one end and a spinner from the other? Or would that be more of a challenge than two spinners at the same time?
IC: I suppose it would depend where you're playing. Two spinners like Pras and Bish on that pitch in Delhi in '69… that was a handful because it spun right from the first ball. But let's say a pitch in Australia - if you've got a good quickie at one end and a good spinner at the other - as a captain I quite liked to do that after a break because even if a batsman is 50 or 60 and playing well, he's got to start again, and what you're doing is testing out his footwork. He's got to use different footwork against a quickie to the spinner. So you're sending him a pretty tough examination straight after a break.

VR: Was it a challenge to bowl on Australian wickets?
EP: Yes, it was not like Indian wickets, where you can turn the ball. One encouraging factor on Australian wickets was bounce. So you had to utilise that bounce. Australian cricket is a challenge because of their positive approach. They attack you. On their bouncy wickets, the basic thing was to get batsmen to drive.

VR: You bowled a fuller length in Australia?
EP: No, you have to bowl length everywhere. There is nothing like fuller length, shorter length and whatnot. As Ian explained already, if you are going to allow the batsman to cut or pull, whether the ball is keeping low or there is bounce, there is no value at all. So bottom line is, you have to bowl length. The Australian wickets encourage you to do that.

If you bowl length, there is always purchase. There is purchase because the batsmen are also counter-attacking. They are not prodding. They want runs. I bowled against Ian and Ian Redpath and Walters. They were always decisive, smothering and manoeuvring your bowling. They were always looking for runs. So it was an interesting contest between your approach to taking wickets and their approach to preventing that and getting runs.

IC: You've always been a great one for the higher you hit up the bat the higher it goes into the air, yeah?

EP: If you allow a batsman to hit the ball from the meat of the bat…

IC: It's going into the stands?

EP: Yeah, it could go anywhere. So either you hit the top of the bat or the bottom of the bat. That's why you need to control the bounce.

When a batsman attempts to drive on the rise, he can only loft the ball if there is nothing happening off the wicket. If the ball comes straight to you, you can loft it just like a golfer. If the ball deviates even a little, then it is difficult.

VR: On that tour to Australia in 1967-68 you took 25 wickets, and you took another 24 in New Zealand where the conditions were different.
EP: In Australia the wickets and the approach of their batsmen also helped, because they were trying to dominate. And I liked to dominate. So the equation was either you win or I win. Eventually they got runs and I got wickets too. But in New Zealand it was almost like English conditions. The ball was softish but turning viciously. And they were big sweepers. So anything that was pitched slightly away from the off stump, they latched on to. So it helped me because I had that ball drifting away and many people got the outside edge.

Prasanna:

Prasanna: "Without conceding runs you can't get wickets" © PA Photos

VR: Today even mistimed shots go for six. How would you tackle that? EP: Mistimed shots are part of the game. As a bowler, you have to accept that fours and sixes will be scored. Whether you attempt to bowl tight or not, runs will be scored. In many present-day matches, it looks as if bowlers are keeping it tight. But eventually after ten overs you'll see they have conceded 60 runs without taking a wicket. Whereas if I were to bowl ten overs I would be very happy to concede 50-odd runs if I can take three wickets. If I take three wickets, it won't be for 60 because one way of controlling runs is to take wickets.

So one can't worry about the mishit. What I worry about these days are bowlers who have a negative approach because they don't want to give runs. That is next to impossible because without conceding runs you can't get wickets. When you concede runs, you're making a batsman attempt a stroke, correct? Only when he attempts a stroke will you have a good chance of taking a wicket. So allow a batsman to make strokes but don't allow him to get easy runs. Let him use his intelligence.

IC: It was interesting in the first World Cup in England, in '75, at every press conference the English press would say to me: "Australia don't know how to play one-day cricket." They'd say because it's a containing game and you guys attack too much. And I'd say, "Mate, have you found a better way to contain than getting a batsman out? I've never seen anybody sitting in the pavilion and scoring runs. You send him back there, you're containing him."

That's why I like Pras' attitude. Particularly in one-day cricket in those middle overs, if you got a spinner who can get you wickets… I mean Peter Taylor was a very average offspinner in Test cricket but he was smart enough to realise that in one-day cricket these guys are coming after him and he would always take a couple of wickets in those middle overs, and that slowed the scoring. So all this bollocks that it's a game of containment… the best way you contain is to get fellows out.

VR: While we say modern bats are heavier, your career lasted about 20 years - so you too adapted to different conditions. The bats got better even while you were playing…
EP: Yes, bats got better. You had a batsman like Clive Lloyd - the first man to tour India with a bat with an extra-long handle. It weighed 3.8 pounds or something. But when I bowled at him I never thought of his bat with an extra-long handle or the 3.8 pounds or the fact that he was Clive Lloyd. No, my objective was to get him out. That's it. The moment you think you are bowling to XYZ, your body freezes and you can't even complete your action.

Another important thing I must mention. I was able to succeed in Australia and New Zealand and many other places because I had a wonderful captain [Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi]. These days I feel sorry for spinners who have the talent but unfortunately are being used as stop bowlers. It is imperative that you have an understanding captain.

"As a bowler, you have to accept that fours and sixes will be scored. Only when a batsman attempts a stroke will you have a good chance of taking a wicket" Prasanna

VR: What happens if you're playing under a captain who doesn't have that understanding?
EP: Let me give you an example. One time Ajit Wadekar was the captain and Wadekar comes from Bombay. Bombay cricket has always believed in the defensive approach. If they bat first, they want to score 500 runs and let that 500 work on the opponents.

So we were playing against Tony Lewis' side in Madras [in 1972-73] and Wadekar gives me the ball and he says, "Bowl tight."

Now there were still one and a half days of cricket left and England had wiped out the lead. So if I had bowled tight, the game may have gone to the next day but we would have lost. So I refused. Then he got wild. I said, "Don't worry, leave it to me, don't tell me what I should bowl." He said, "Fair enough."

In the next seven overs, I took four wickets for six runs. They were bowled out. We won by four wickets.

IC: You bowled tight…

EP: (Laughs) Yes, just six runs in seven overs with four wickets!

VR: Given your style of captaincy, Prasanna would have been a spinner's dream.
IC: Any bowler who could get me wickets. I mean, any captain who doesn't think that way is a dope. If you're not playing to win the game, I don't understand what you are doing.

You know, there are many great things about Dennis Lillee but one of the most important things I'd say is that Dennis Lillee never asked me for a defensive fielder. It was always an extra slip or a bat-pad, it was always a fielder to try to get a wicket. Dennis Lillee didn't worry about his average or anything. It was, "How can I get a wicket?" As a captain you are happy as hell to have those folks.

VR: Who was the best spinner in your team?
IC: Ashley Mallett, by a mile. I'll never forget: Greg [Chappell] had just moved from South Australia to Queensland [in 1973-74]. So it was the first time we were playing against each other. And obviously Mallett and I, we had played with Greg a lot in South Australia. That year in Adelaide they thought they were running out of black soil, and they mixed this red clay dust with the black soil. Of course it didn't bind, so Ashley was happy as hell it was spinning.

Greg came in at No. 3 and Rowdy [Mallett] was bowling. And Greg went whack! bang! and he hit Rowdy over the top and took about 18 off the over. Then I thought, "Hang on, what's going on here? Greg doesn't play like this." And I thought to myself, he wants me to take Mallett off.

Anyway, the next three overs Ashley bowled to him was just magnificent bowling: three maidens in a row to Greg. And Greg had to fight like hell to stay in, forget about hitting him over the top. That night we were having a beer after play. I went up to Greg and I said, "Mate, you didn't expect me to do something stupid out there, did you?" And he said, "I was hoping you would [take Mallett off]." And I said, "Mate, no chance."

Mallett had the same attitude as Pras. He wasn't put off by someone attacking him. That made him bowl better.

As a part-time legspinner himself, Chappell, while captaining, was sympathetic to a spinner's needs

As a part-time legspinner himself, Chappell, while captaining, was sympathetic to a spinner's needs © Getty Images

VR: You were a legspinner yourself…
IC: Part-time.

VR: Did you bowl with a bowler's mind?
IC: Imran Khan wrote in one of his books that to be a good captain you had to understand bowling. It definitely helped that I had done a bit of bowling.

I thought Bill Lawry was a very good captain. I learnt a lot about captaincy from Bill, not just playing under him for Australia but batting against Victoria when he was captain. But I think the only spinner Bill had faith in was Johnny Gleeson. He didn't have a lot of faith in Ashley Mallett. Bill didn't understand you can bowl a bad ball without intending to.

I mean, Mallett's first delivery in Test cricket - in the fifth Test at The Oval in 1968 - he's bowling to Colin Cowdrey. He runs up, obviously he's a bit nervous, and he bowls. It wasn't a waist-high full toss, it was a low one, sort of down ankle height, and Cowdrey puts him away through midwicket for four. And Bill walks over to Ashley and says, "You bowl another ball like that and I'll kick you up the arse." I mean, the bloke's playing his first Test!

I think Bill's attitude was - no one gives me easy runs when I'm batting, so we're not going to give them any. He certainly didn't get the best out of Mallett, although to be fair to Bill he used him very well in India when he got 28 wickets in the series. So he certainly had faith in him at that point.

It did help that I bowled a bit. Also in the South Australia side, I had not only Mallett but I had Terry Jenner. And they took a hell of a lot of wickets. I had played under Les Favell and I had seen the way Les used David Sincock, Mallett, Jenner. If David Sincock had played Test cricket under Favell or Richie Benaud, he would have been a lot better off. Bob Simpson did not understand his type of bowling.

VR: You were talking about the shoulder being the main thing in bowling. But offspin bowling these days is more about the arm.
EP: That's because everyone's intention is to restrict the rate of scoring. Everyone thinks that by bowling fast, they are curtailing the run rate. Adding insult to injury, the ICC have changed the rule, accommodating that 15 degrees [of flex]. So the utilisation of the shoulder has lost its bearing.

"When batting against spin, it's important to think along with the spinner and hopefully be one step ahead of him" Chappell

If the shoulder points one way, the ball will go that way. You can't bowl with the arm. Basically cricket is a side-on game. You can't throw a ball from the boundary with an open chest. It won't even go half the distance. It has to be side-on. Everything has to be side-on. The shoulder is the guiding force.

VR: So a lot of bowlers are not using their body fully?
EP: No, because they don't realise this is a side-on game. Some bowlers have succeeded with an open chest. But you've got to see the batsman over the left shoulder. Only then will the left shoulder drop and the right shoulder go up.

IC: Didn't you have a big swivel?

EP: Yeah. It's like putting out a cigarette butt. You step on it and then pivot your body. When you pivot you use a little bit of your waist and also your shoulder.

VR: Having watched you a lot, Pras, I think you also gained from a nice bounding run-up.
EP: The run-up is where you gather pace. You cannot land with your left foot parallel to the popping crease. Then you can't move. If you see Glenn McGrath, he used his left leading foot for direction.

For a spinner, when you pivot on your left toe… that force is the one that drags you into the follow-through. The amount of twist that you give at that point is the dragging force for your body to move forward. That is when your body is ready to take a caught and bowled.

If you observe Warne, he walked to the crease. But if you take the last segment of his bowling action, you'll see how the full effort was there. That helped him follow through.

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VR: There's a traditional thinking that an offspinner cannot survive today without the doosra.
EP: The doosra is also another form of deception, isn't it? Whatever you do, you need deception. Either you hit the bottom or the top of the bat.

IC: Admittedly I didn't face a bowler who bowled the one that went the other way, but if you ask me if I would prefer to face a good, traditional offspinner like a Prasanna, Mallett or a Swann, who bowled the one that turned and the one that went straight on, I would say I'd much rather face the guy who bowls the doosra. Now I can't pick Pras or Mallett or Swann when they bowl an offbreak and then they virtually bowl with the same action and it goes straight on.

But if you're making one spin the other way, you've got to do something different. And if I'm earning my living as a batsman and I can't see what the guy is doing to make it go the other way then I shouldn't be earning my living as a batsman.

The other thing about the one that goes the other way is, you've got to change your line. Because if an offspinner is bowling to a right-hander, however far he's spinning the ball, he's pitching the ball outside off so it's going to come back and hit the top of off. If he bowls the one that goes the other way in the same spot, I have no problem. So he has got to change his line, and even if you're a dope and you're not seeing something different [in his action], if he suddenly changes his line, a few alarm bells are going to ring, aren't they?

See Saqlain [Mushtaq] was a terrific offspinner for a while and then he just fell in love with the other one, and I reckon that ruined his bowling. I thought he was a terrific offspinner.

EP: Too good. He was probably the best at that time. When he was bowling offspin, he was bowling good length all the time. The moment he started bowling the doosra, he was slightly shorter. So then, whenever he wanted to bowl the offbreak, he couldn't bowl that shorter length. That's where he lost his basic confidence. But he was a terrific bowler.

"A sweep is a desperate shot. A good batsman will never sweep. He'll smother the spin and play in the gaps for twos and ones" Prasanna

VR: You had a ball that swung out?
EP: An offspinner must aim to bowl to the fourth stump. You want the batsman to come forward and to reach out. You make the ball drift away to create doubt in the batsman's mind.

IC: What Pras is saying about deception is interesting because I've heard Richie Benaud say it thousands of times: "It's the subtle variations that are most important." When the ball doesn't quite arrive at the same time or in the same length as you're expecting - that comes through the subtle variations. The subtle variations are not easy to pick - if they're pickable at all.

VR: Who were the batsmen who were a real challenge for you?
EP: Ian challenged me all the time. Doug Walters is another. I always felt there was a good chance of getting Doug out within 20 runs because he was studying you all the time. After 20 runs, god help you, because as Ian said, he could cut and pull any time.

There was Ian Redpath. Players like Garry Sobers, Vivian Richards. There was no way you could back out. You attack, they attack, you win or they win.

In my first Test against West Indies [1962] as a second-year engineering student, I was the youngest player in the team. I was asked to play in Jamaica because quite a few players had injuries, and looking at the wicket, quite a few didn't want to play.

I had to bowl against Frank Worrell, Easton McMorris, Rohan Kanhai, Sobers, Joe Solomon, Conrad Hunte… My captain, Nari Contractor, gave me the ball and said, "You think you can bowl?" I said, "Why not?" I bowled and I took three wickets. My intention, even at that time, was to get batsmen out.

Prasanna:

Prasanna: "When Saqlain was bowling offspin he was bowling good length all the time. The moment he started bowling the doosra he was slightly shorter" © Getty Images

So the bottom line is, you've got to have a big heart. If I were to be 35-40 years younger, with these heavy bats, I would have still bowled the same way. Somebody asked me how I would have bowled to Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag. I said, if I were to play against them - and I am not trying to boast - I think I would have done okay.

IC: Who was the better player of spin bowling? Tendulkar or [Brian] Lara?

EP: I think Lara.

IC: Seriously, I felt the same. I loved watching the way he played spin bowling.

EP: Tendulkar was a little impetuous; he wanted to kill you right away. Lara allowed you to bowl and also he could get runs.

IC: Lara's first Test century, 277 in Sydney - 38 fours, no sixes. He just hit the ball along the ground into the gaps. Lovely footwork.

VR: What's the most critical thing while playing spin?
IC: I think to be able to use your feet is critical. I hate to think I have to play a spinner pinned to the crease. But it's no good saying to some 25-year-old who's come into Test cricket, when he's about to face Shane Warne or Graeme Swann, that you've got to use your feet. If he hasn't learnt how to use his feet properly, they're going to knock him over.

You've got to be decisive. You've got to use your brain. I remember the first time I faced Intikhab Alam, a pretty decent legspinner, and it was '71-72 when he was playing for the Rest of the World. He bowled about ten overs to me, went through his whole repertoire. He started working me over around off stump, then moved to middle and then went to leg and then he went back again to all three. I was aware of the fact that he was changing his line, and I got through ten overs.

He never got me out again in my career. And I faced Intikhab quite a lot. I think those ten overs were the reason why he never got me out, because he tested everything I had and he didn't get through. And I think I won the psychological battle.

As a batsman, particularly against spin, you've got to have a pretty fair idea of how the guy is trying to get you out. I saw Kevin Pietersen batting against Shane Warne and Warne got him with the one that went straight on - I think he played with a gap in the middle and it went through and bowled him. And I saw Pietersen in the second innings and I thought, "Mate, you haven't worked out how he's trying to get you because he's trying to get you out the same way again. And I don't like your chances." So, batting against spin it's important to think along with the spinner and hopefully be one step ahead of him.

See, the Englishmen, if they're up against a wristspinner, they're trying to pick him off the pitch. Well, good luck! You might survive but you're not in position to deal with the slightly loose ball, and even the good ball. I'd hate to be making my decisions once the ball is pitched, because I'm not sure if it's going this way or that. As the ball leaves the wristspinner's hand, you've got to know what it is.

You see, if I was playing against Warne, I would try and score on the on side because Shane left gaps there. He was trying to invite you to score there. Now I remember Gooch was playing his legbreaks - just playing them without scoring - and as soon as he bowled a wrong 'un he went bang and hit it for a six.

And one of the Englishmen in the press box said to me, "Well, Gooch is playing Warne well", and I said, "Yeah, good for Gooch but no good for the team." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, he's hitting Warne for six, you think that's going to bother Warne? And more importantly, who's he bowling to next ball? He's bowling to Gooch." But if you can get singles… Ask Pras. If I'm facing Pras this ball, and the next ball he's bowling to Ian Redpath, and the next ball he's bowling to me, it's much harder for him.

I've got to find a way to score, and off the really good bowlers that may mean I'm just trying to score singles. And the thing about scoring singles off Warne - sooner or later, he's going to get frustrated. That's when he's going to try a few extra things, and that's when you will get some fours.

"I'd hate to be making my decisions once the ball is pitched. As the ball leaves the wristspinner's hand you've got to know what it is" Chappell

VR: You always set your own fields…
EP: Yes, 99% of the time. I'll give you one example from the Test we won against West Indies in Chennai [in 1974-75]. I had taken four wickets already and the right-handed Bernard Julien came in at No. 8. He looked very tense. I was about to bowl over the stumps but I stopped. I didn't even look at Tiger Pataudi, our captain, and asked Eknath Solkar at forward short leg to go five yards away from the on-side umpire - because if Julien lapped the ball, it would go there.

"What are you doing?" Tiger said when he saw there was no close-in fieldsman on the on side. I expected this because he was a staunch believer in not wasting time when it came to tailenders. I said, no, I'll go around the stumps. He ran up and swore at me. For the first time in my career he gave me the dirty Tiger look.

Anyway, I bowled round the wicket. I knew Julien was trying to get off strike, so I bowled a beautifully flighted ball and went towards short mid-on. He tried to hit me through there and I took the caught and bowled. Tiger came all the way to me and said, "Genius, what did you do?" I said, "This is what I do."

You've got to be authoritative. If you know your bowling, you will know how to set a field.

VR: You liked bowling to batsmen who swept you?
EP: A sweep is a desperate shot. A good batsman will never sweep. He'll smother the spin and play in the gaps for twos and ones. Someone who sweeps is not sure what he wants to do.

I never had a deep fine leg. I had a squarish one because I was bowling on the fourth stump at a good length. From there if a batsman wants to lap, it won't go fine, it will go square.

VR: Ian, what do you think of batsmen who sweep?
IC: I didn't sweep much early in my career, but as you get older and your legs don't work quite as well, I swept a bit more. I also swept [Derek] Underwood a lot because he was too quick to come down the track to and he was damn hard to score off for right-handed batsmen.

Chappell on Laxman in Kolkata, 2001:

Chappell on Laxman in Kolkata, 2001: "On a pitch turning a bit, he was hitting Warne wide of mid-on" © Getty Images

EP: You heard him? He said, "It was difficult to score off his bowling." And he swept him in desperation - that is the word, basically. He wanted to change the rhythm of his bowling.

IC: And Underwood hated being swept. That was the other reason. Also Phil Edmonds - I only faced him once or twice but he was quite easy to sweep. He bowled outside the off stump and when I swept from there, it went in front of square leg. And for some reason he always had a guy behind square.

As a batsman you've got to have an understanding of why a spin bowler has blokes in certain positions. I remember as a young guy facing Tony Lock. I was only 18 or 19, and Locky was a pretty accurate bowler and I worked out that I am not going to be able to hit a lot of fours off this guy. So I've got to work him around and get singles. And I noticed he always had a guy at deep-backward square leg for me. And I felt that's interesting because I didn't sweep, not at that stage. And I felt that's a bonus for me because that's one totally wasted fielder.

So I was wondering whether he had that field placing for me or if that was just a standard field placing. We were playing New South Wales a couple of games later and Doug Walters was about the same age as me, and so I went and sat next to Doug and started talking to him. I said, "When you're playing against Locky, does he have a guy out for the sweep?" Because I knew Doug didn't sweep, not even later in his career. He said, "Yeah, he does." So immediately I knew that it was a standard field placing for Locky. It tells you a little bit about the bowler.

And another thing. Lance Gibbs came to play in South Australia in '69-70. And I played one club game with Gibbsy for Glenelg. I was the captain of the side, and Ashley Woodcock, a South Australian opener who was a very good player of pace bowling but not so good against spin, was batting. So I said to Gibbsy, mate we're going to have a silly mid-off, we're going to have a bat-pad, and Gibbsy said, no, no, we'll have a guy at 45. I said, no mate, if this bloke is not confident against spin, we've got to have those fielders close in. But he said no.

So that told me Gibbsy wasn't keen to have guys around the bat, which was very handy when I played him a few years later at the Queen's Park Oval [in 1973]. The ball was turning and there was just one guy around the bat, and I was thinking, he's got no chance.

VR: What was your favourite mode of dismissal?
EP: The bowled. The rest is a batsman's mistake. My credit is only the bowled.

IC: So the one that curves away and spins back, that's the one?

EP: Yes, when people are committed already and the natural reflex is for the bat to go towards the ball. That's enough.

VR: What about the batsman trying to drive you on the off side and getting caught at short leg?
EP: Same thing. When you're inviting a batsman, you've got to get him to drive. Whether it's a cover drive or an on-drive, he has to reach for it. The greatest ball is the one when you invite the batsman to cover-drive, when he's halfway through the stroke and realises it's not there yet.

VR: And that's a dreadful feeling…
IC: It's not a very good sound - the sound I heard at the Brabourne Stadium in 1969.

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

 

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  • POSTED BY Voleti Srinivasa Bhanu on | March 19, 2017, 13:44 GMT

    Excellent piece. Really interesting one. I am quite fortunate to watch Pras in a Ranji tie at Visakhapatnam, bowling with lot of ease. He is a class of his own.

  • POSTED BY kiran on | November 2, 2014, 2:30 GMT

    Wish I saw Pras bowl live. Beautiful conversation. Thanks for posting this

  • POSTED BY Pranav on | October 28, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    Loved the interview. So much insight , especially, the science behind it.

  • POSTED BY AR on | October 26, 2014, 11:11 GMT

    I never thought that cricket can be discussed at such length - greater than a fine art! That's 'fine' art indeed!

  • POSTED BY Deepak on | October 24, 2014, 5:26 GMT

    I never seen prasanna bowling, but Everyone say's Prasanna is one of the best spinners. His Strike Rate is 75.9 /wicket. Even for the spinners standard is not a little high(Kumble/Harbhajan in middle 60's)

  • POSTED BY Raghavendra on | October 23, 2014, 12:19 GMT

    Great perspective from legends...a must read for all spinners and batters who want to be good players of spin

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | October 21, 2014, 16:21 GMT

    Great read......it is all about length, loop, revs and good knowledge of aerodynamics....

  • POSTED BY Sayed Imteyaz on | October 17, 2014, 2:25 GMT

    I just soaked in this interview... Whao!!!!!!!!!!

  • POSTED BY Ramachandran on | October 14, 2014, 17:36 GMT

    Beautiful article with so much insight. You can understand so much about their personalities just from the way they think and their competitive spirit.

  • POSTED BY Vijay on | October 9, 2014, 18:03 GMT

    An amazing interview. Joy to read, full of insights. Should be a must-read for young wannabe spinners. It was such a pleasure to read two technical geniuses discuss spin bowling. Kudos to Ramnarayan for asking the right questions and not interjecting himself in every answer, just allow the greats to express themselves. Felt great to read this.