"The one thing you don't want to be as a bowler is predictable"

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Talking Cricket

'If you go searching for wickets in T20, you're playing into the batsman's hand'

T20 spin bowling coach Samuel Badree on the importance of being versatile enough to bowl in the Powerplay and at the death

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Samuel Badree, the former West Indies wristspinner, made a name for himself as a Powerplay specialist in T20. His 96 wickets in Powerplays are the second highest in all T20 cricket, and his economy rate of 6.20 is second best among all spinners in Powerplays. Darren Sammy did not hesitate to open the bowling with him in both World T20 finals that West Indies won - in 2012 and 2016. Badree was picked by Delhi Capitals as their spin coach for the last IPL. Wristspin has become increasingly important as a weapon in T20 cricket, and Capitals had four purveyors of the specialty in their squad last season.

In this interview, during the IPL, Badree spoke about his art: the skillsets required to dominate batsmen in a phase of play when there are only two outfielders, the mindset needed to remain confident, and the things young spinners need to be wary of.

Is it easier coaching spinners on how to bowl in the Powerplay than actually bowling in that period?
It is my first time in this role. It is different from playing - two different mindsets.

My job is trying to get the spinners who bowl in the Powerplay to be brave and accept the fact that it is not always going to work out in their favour but to be prepared for that difficult task. It is about helping them understand, to be open, to be big-hearted, courageous.

You are possibly the first specialist T20 spin coach in franchise cricket. What exactly is your role?
My role is to try to prepare the spinners mentally, more than technically, for the challenges that T20 brings. At this stage in a guy's career and at this level, it is difficult to [provide] technical inputs. It is more tactical, more strategy, more about assessing conditions and field placements and plans in different situations players may encounter. Of course if there are some technical aspects I have noticed, I would bring it to the attention of the player, but I do not necessarily think that he should implement those changes during a tournament. It is more for them to work on after the tournament.

Why are wristspinners so successful in T20 cricket?
Initially there was a general feeling that spin bowlers are easy to score boundaries off and hit out of the park. When T20 first came about, there was heavy emphasis on fast bowlers and the fact that they can bowl at the death and bowl yorkers and bouncers that can restrict the batsman.

All of us spinners who have come through the T20 circuit know that spin bowling is more effective than fast bowling in this format. Not only wristspinners, there have been fingerspinners also who have been very successful. It's the element of doubt that spinners bring. If you can spin the ball both ways - whether it is the wristspinner or a fingerspinner with a carrom ball - you can bowl to both right- and left-hand batsmen. Typically, a traditional offspinner was seen as a huge risk bowling to a right-hand batsman, because the ball was spinning into the batsman predominantly. Similarly a left-arm orthodox to a left-hand batsman. Those spinners who can turn the ball both ways can bowl to any batsman, and that has been highlighted in T20 cricket.

"In a Powerplay, you can't afford to give any width and you can't be slow. In the middle overs, you should be looking for natural variation off the pitch. At the back end, you need to be under the batsman's bat so he cannot hit you for sixes"

How did the perception change?
The perception gradually changed based on the success some spinners had in the Powerplay and some even at the death. I remember Sunil Narine bowling some death overs even in the early stages of the IPL, and Gautam Gambhir used him as a death bowler [at Kolkata Knight Riders]. That changed the perception about where spinners can bowl. Initially they only bowled through the middle overs.

If you look at T20 cricket around the world, the most successful teams are the ones with quality spin bowlers who are dynamic and versatile, who can bowl through any stage of the game.

In wristspin, the variations are generally well known. Then why is it difficult to read?
I've seen a change in the type of legspinners. Initially they were classical, in the sense that they were up-and-over, looking for big turn. But now we see wristspinners who are not turning the ball as much. As a matter of fact, their googlies turn more than their legspin ball, and they are very effective because batsmen are still looking for the classical legspin and are not necessarily playing for the ball that is coming back in or the ball that goes straight.

I have spoken to many of these legspinners - they say all they need is one legspin delivery to turn to just bring that doubt in the batsman's mind. Otherwise most of their deliveries are either going straight or coming back in the opposition direction.

The younger generation of spin bowlers are not necessarily looking to turn the ball as much, but they are looking at getting more pace through the air and at accuracy. They bowl wicket to wicket, trying to get the lbws and bowleds.

Even in Delhi Capitals we have three different type of legspinners. Sandeep Lamichhane is a more bustling type of legspinner who bowls quickly through the air. Rahul Tewatia is more of a roller of the ball, does not get much turn but is quite accurate. Then we have the more traditional Amit Mishra: looks for more turn, is more up-and-over. A quicker spinner like Lamichhanne can bowl in the Powerplay, the middle overs and even at the death. But for Mishra, it is difficult to bowl in the Powerplay.

"Sunil Narine bowled some death overs even in the early stages of the IPL and Gautam Gambhir used him as a death bowler at KKR. That changed the perception about where spinners can bowl" © BCCI

What are the key elements necessary to be a good wristspinner in T20?
For me, the first thing is control. And you must have variety or some variations. If you are a one-trick pony, it is only going to last for a short period of time. You must have those variations that will come into play in different situations, and you must be able to assess [situations] quickly, because in the IPL you play at different venues that provide different challenges. In Delhi, for instance, it is a dry, slow pitch, so the spinners come into play more. If you go to Mohali, where there is a tinge of grass, the ball comes onto the bat.

When I talk about control, what I mean is, you want to bowl the ball in a certain area where a batsman can't easily get under it, but at the same time he can't go on the back foot and pull. In addition, you need a little bit of versatility because you can be called upon to bowl in the Powerplay or through the middle overs or at the back end - you can't be doing the same thing at three different stages of an innings. It requires three different types of strategies and different [ways of] execution.

You cannot teach these things to a spinner, can you? You can only share your experience.
Definitely. I can speak from my own experience, what I did in different situations, and give them ideas. I am a new coach. I am learning from them as well - what are some of the things they go through, some of the things that they come up with on the spot. It's about being able to assess the situation and the conditions quickly. For instance, if we need to get wickets, it's a different type of delivery you are going to bowl, a different type of field you are going to have, as opposed to if you are trying to contain or defend. These things have to be learned in the heat of the battle.

How important is constructing an over?
Having bowled so many of my overs in the Powerplay, it is always important to start the over well and finish it well.

Just like a batsman?
Just like a batsman, because sometimes you come against a batsman or a team who targets the first delivery of an over to put pressure on the bowler, which is a good strategy, because if the bowler is under pressure then he doesn't necessarily have that confidence to bowl his best delivery. If a batsman takes me on in the first couple of balls, it changes my mindset as to what type of a delivery I want to bowl next. However, if I start the over well, I can experiment a little bit more through the middle and then finish well.

"In T20 cricket you can't go searching for wickets. Batsmen have to come at you. That will create opportunities in itself"

When I talk to spin bowlers, I always tell them to try to bowl their best delivery early in the over, so you create doubts in the batsman's mind as to what's going to come next. Bowling, just like batting, is in partnerships, so if you want to keep a particular batsman on strike, or if you want to give a particular batsman strike in the next over, all of these things come into play. I might just want to finish off the over with a single to get that same batsman on strike for my partner to bowl at.

I say to the guys: assess the situation, assess the conditions and try to figure out who is your best option to bowl to and construct the over like that. And bear in mind the partner you are bowling with.

What about calibrating the pace? What are the factors there?
Again, it comes down to assessing the condition of the pitch. If am I bowling on a slow wicket, say, for instance, on the Delhi pitch, I will try to bowl into the pitch and let the natural variation take over because some balls will go straight and some will turn. I will try to bowl a little bit faster on a slower pitch and a little slower on a more docile pitch.

If you go to Mohali and the ball is coming on quickly, I will use my variation and pace because the ball will just come on to the bat if I bowl at one pace.

You don't want to be robotic in your pace because batsmen can line you up. And that is one thing you don't want to be as a bowler: predictable. You want to be as unpredictable as you can, you want to be varying your pace as much as you can but with control, that little bit of guile and that element of surprise. Especially as a wristspinner, you have the googly, the sliders and the traditional legbreak - you have to use them judiciously while keeping the batsman guessing.

What about bowling in dewy conditions?
That has been a challenge for bowlers, for wristspinners more so, because when the ball becomes wet, I always found it difficult to bowl the googly with the grip I had. The wetter the ball, the more difficult it was for the variations. You are then limiting yourself with the tools you have and it becomes easier for the batsman. The ball slides onto the wicket a bit more. I tell spinners to try using variations in pace a little bit more then.

In Jaipur [in April 2019], the ball was wet even in the first innings, so it was difficult to grip the ball. We tried variation in pace and in length. We weren't too full. We pitched it a bit back, but the batsmen were not able to necessarily go on the back foot and pull because there was more pace on the delivery.

"I wasn't a big turner of the ball, but I was still successful, so it is not about how much you can turn the ball, but about being as smart and accurate as possible" © BCCI

Batsmen speak about reading the ball from the spinner's hand. How do you read a batsman? Are there any cues you look for?
I kept looking at a batsman's feet long into my delivery stride. For certain batsmen you can pick up cues. And that is where technology comes in - having a good analyst is important. You can pick up cues of what a batsman does just before he leaves the crease. Some guys, when they move their back foot, instead of moving back and across, they move it back towards the square-leg umpire when they are coming down the pitch. If you have that sort of information in advance, you can use it to your advantage.

I have always said to a very consistent guy like Axar Patel that he should keep his eye on the batsman as long as he possibly can, so he can see that initial movement. If he can see it, he can adjust the delivery to suit his plan - whether to bowl a little bit wider or pull back the length if the batsman is advancing.

Can you force the batsman into doing something?
It's difficult. Sometimes, based on the field you have, they can predict what you want to do, and then maybe you can bluff them. For instance, if I have a slip to a left-hand batsman, he is going to expect a googly, so maybe, at that point, a legbreak is a good option to get him bowled or lbw because he is looking for the ball going away. But T20 cricket is so fast-paced it's difficult to get the plans in place [all the time].

You bowled predominantly in the Powerplay in T20s and had a phenomenal economy rate of six per over. How did you manage that consistently?
The key was consistency and being able to react to what I thought the batsmen were going to do. Also, the fact that a lot of batsmen took a very long time to realise that I don't turn the ball very much. Even when they did realise it, because there is so much muscle memory involved in batting, the moment you see someone doing wristspin, you automatically think the ball is going to leave you as a [right-hand] batsman. So even though the batsman knows the ball is coming in [in my case], because of so many years of practice, he makes up his mind to go through the off side. That worked in my favour. Many of my deliveries came into a right-hand batsman but they always set up to hit me through the off side. By the time they realised [what I was doing], my spell is finished and I have gone for 20 or 25 runs in four overs. And they come back and keep doing the same thing over and over.

I see that happening even today. A guy like Imran Tahir doesn't spin the ball that much, but he is quick through the air and he bowls straight. A lot of batsmen are still opening up to try to hit him through the off side when the ball is coming back in. The batsmen know what the delivery is going to do, but somehow they don't seem to mentally adjust and react to that. That worked for me throughout my career. I wasn't a big turner of the ball, but I was still successful, so it is not about how much you can turn the ball but about being as smart and accurate as possible.

"The most successful teams are the ones with quality spin bowlers who are dynamic and versatile, who can bowl through any stage of the game"

Control, accuracy, line, length, pace, guile - how did you perfect those skills?
I started quite young for Trinidad & Tobago in the early 2000s, bowling with the new ball, so it has been part of my growing-up years. It took years of practice and being given the role and responsibility in the team and being able to assess conditions and the situation. I was never a traditional legspin bowler who looked for turn.

Was your strategy the same while bowling in the middle overs and the death?
No. It was very different. The cushion of having more fielders in the outfield [outside of the Powerplay overs], you can experiment a bit more through the middle overs. Batsmen have to take greater risks to clear the boundaries. It gives you a mental cushion so you can try your variations even more. A spin bowler who bowls predominantly through the middle overs and is not versatile is not something I really like, because it is an easy job bowling overs seven to 14. You want bowlers who can give you an over in the Powerplay and even one at the back end. If you can't do that as a spinner and you don't have that versatility, you are seldom selected. That is why guys like Tahir, Narine and Lamichhane are so in demand.

The mindset is different in a Powerplay. You can't afford to give any width and you can't be slow, because a batsman can choose where he wants to hit the delivery. In the middle overs, you certainly can afford to be slower through the air. You should be looking for natural variation off the pitch. At the back end, you need to be under the batsman's bat so he cannot hit you for sixes.

If a batsman attacked you, how did you respond? What was your most expensive over?
I think I went close to 30 in couple of games when I first started to bowl in the Powerplay. In the IPL I went for 26 [25] off an over, being hit by Sunil Narine. What happens then for me is to get the batsman off strike and bowl to the one I am more comfortable against. I have always found it more difficult to bowl against a left-hand batsman, so whenever a left-hand batsman comes on strike I will try to bowl where he will tap for a single. I will set my field accordingly - maybe have two guys behind square, leave the midwicket open and just try to get him off the strike. Chris Gayle, for instance - just get him off strike and bowl to the right-hand batsman. And when that guy comes on strike, try to squeeze in the field, force him to go over the top or try to bowl as many deliveries at him as possible. I am not necessarily trying to get that batsman out initially.

"What I like about Mishra is, he is one of the classical legspinners who looks for turn and has a good trajectory" © Getty Images

The other thing is, a lot of time spin bowlers go searching for wickets. In T20 cricket you can't go searching for wickets. There are times in the game when you can, but it is about creating pressure. Batsmen have to come at you. That is the format of the game. They have to score runs. They are, by their very nature, coming after you and that will create opportunities in itself. If I go searching for wickets then I am playing into their hands and I can give them free deliveries to score of. So as a group, one of the things we talk about is: let's not go searching for wickets. The wickets will come once we create and sustain the pressure over a couple of overs. Sometimes that pressure can just be two deliveries.

What happens when spinners lose confidence in their bowling? Did it ever happen to you?
Confidence is more mental. It is about getting back that confidence through practice, going in the nets and working on that consistency and just trying to get your mind around it. Confidence is all about whether you can execute under pressure. I don't necessarily subscribe to spot bowling. To me, that is a waste of time. Sometimes I chose the most difficult batsman to bowl against - so if I am with West Indies, I want to bowl against Gayle. I want to challenge myself against the best in the nets. Having done that, I can get my confidence back.

Among Capitals' wristspinners, Mishra is the senior-most and the second-highest wicket-taker in the IPL. What are his strengths and what are the kind of things he opened your eyes to?
Being the second highest wicket-taker, I imagine 150 wickets [157], is not an easy feat, especially in a tournament as competitive as the IPL. What I like about Mishra is, he is one of the classical legspinners who looks for turn and has a good trajectory. A lot of legspinners now, including myself, have a very flat trajectory. Mishra is more up-and-over. He can go for runs because of that since batsmen are looking for that little bit of flight, but he is also someone who can get wickets. The more you can take wickets in this format, the more you are likely to win games. That is why guys like Rashid Khan, who take wickets regularly, are so successful.

Mishra is more of an attacking type of legspinner, in terms of his wicket-taking ability, because of the revolutions he imparts on the ball. He is a big spinner of the ball, much more than the other legspinners I have seen currently in the game. It may work in his favour and sometimes may also work against him. It's a call the captain needs to make: do I need wickets or do I need someone who can contain? If you need wickets, Amit Mishra is your man, and if you want to contain then Lamichhane or Tewatia or Axar Patel are the people you turn to.

"As a wristspinner, you have the googly, the sliders and the traditional legbreak - you have to use them judiciously while keeping the batsman guessing"

What about Rashid Khan? Clearly, he is faster through the air and does not spin the ball much. In the last IPL, he was not among the highest wicket-takers, but he continues to make an impact with his defensive spells. Against Capitals in Delhi, he gave away only 18 runs.
He is an exceptional talent, for sure. And he is quite young. What is phenomenal about him is the fact that he can bowl both the legspin and the googly at good pace. It is difficult to bowl a googly at the pace at which he delivers. The fact that he is so quick through the air does not give the batsmen much time. What batsmen and teams did in this IPL against him was try to negate the amount of wickets he took.

To me, whenever that happens, it brings into the equation the other bowlers, because if a team is not attacking Rashid Khan, they are attacking someone else. And if that someone else can get wickets for the team then that complements Rashid. So in as much as you have Rashid, you need other good skilful bowlers as well to try to help him.

What are the bad habits that a wristspinner can pick up?
I mentioned before in terms of hunting for wickets. That is a bad habit because in doing that you can relieve the pressure on the batting team. You are looking to try too many things and give away bad deliveries. It puts pressure not only on the bowler but also on the captain and the team.

Another bad habit is when you look to deliver the variation more than your stock delivery. I have seen some spinners bowling their googlies more than their legbreaks. So the variation has now become their stock delivery. That might work initially, but the moment the opposition teams and batsmen realise it, you are going to struggle. Sticking to your stock delivery and using your variation as a variation is something we are not seeing. There are bowlers who bowl only the googly. For example, this year Shreyas Gopal's stock delivery became the googly over legspin.

Is there a rule you'd like to change in T20 cricket?
If a bowler delivers a maiden over, five runs should be deducted from the batting team. How often do you see a maiden over in T20 cricket? That gives an incentive to bowlers to attempt maiden overs. They should get some reward for it.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

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