Leg spinners or wrist spinners are often considered as two-edged swords. They are natural wicket-takers but there is always a possibility of leaking runs. This is the reason why you hardly see two wrist spinners in the same playing XI. For years, Shane Warne carried the baton of leg spin in international cricket. The legendary Australian spinner picked up 708 wickets in 145 Tests to go with 293 wickets in 194 ODIs. The only other leg-spinner who came close to that record was India’s Anil Kumble, but he hardly used to spin the ball and was more dependent on the bounce.
Once Warne and Kumble hung up their boots, there was a scarcity of leg spinners at the highest level. In 2011 ODI World Cup, there were only two leg spinners in the top 8 international teams: Piyush Chawla from India who played just two matches in the tournament and Imran Tahir from South Africa who was playing second fiddle to Johan Botha back then.
Yes, there were Cameron Whites and Shahid Afridis in between but, they were never big turners of the ball. The tournament was dominated by the likes of Graeme Swann, Harbhajan Singh and Muttiah Muralitharan, all of them finger spinners. It almost looked like that the art might be forgotten with no quality names emerging. But, things have changed in last 12 months.
The ongoing India-Australia series is the prime example of the damage that wrist spinners can inflict on the opposition. Even the most experienced Aussie batsmen have struggled against the spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal (6 wickets) and Kuldeep Yadav (8 wickets) as India extended the lead to 3-0 on Sunday. To watch the batsman getting deceived as the ball is tossed up by a leggie is one of the most beautiful sights in cricket, and we have got enough chances to witness it in this series.
While the Indian duo has brought this revival to light, the work was on for a while. Imran Tahir and Amit Mishra have been grabbing the attention for last few years with their match-winning performances, both at the international level as well in the Indian Premier League. The 38-year-old Tahir has picked up 132 wickets in 78 ODIs so far and is probably the best leg-spinner among the current lot.
In the shorter format, West Indies’ Samuel Badree is leading the art. A T20 specialist, Badree has picked up 52 wickets from 42 ODIs at an incredible economy rate of 5.79. He was one of the star performers in West Indies’ two T20 World Cup triumphs. Then, there is Adil Rashid of England who despite going for a few runs, finds a way to pick up important wickets.
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 21, 2017
With the emergence of Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, the future of leg spin also remains in safe hands. The 19-year-old rose to fame by becoming the first Afghan player to play in the league and responded exceedingly well by picking up 11 wickets from 14 matches, at an extraordinary economy rate of 5.5.
However, what Virat Kohli has done by fielding two leg-spinners against Australia is that he has shown other captains a new way. The message is clear: In modern day cricket, bowlers will get hit. So, they better get a couple of wickets in the process.