No matter how less the T20s and ODIs are offering for off-spin, Test cricket remains the same for the off-spinners. In white-ball cricket, when the batters take the initiative to attack the bowlers, it will always pressure the bowlers and ultimately lead to the leaking of runs, particularly the right-hand batters (RHBs).
But in cricket played in white flannels, the pressure is created by the bowling side as they bowl for wickets. The batters, who won’t be at the urge to score runs, will wait for the loose balls. Eventually, this leads the batters to depend more on their defence technique. These criteria give the off-spinners a great role by bringing the ball towards the RHB. It is considered a free wicket against LHB for off-spinners, especially on turning tracks.
Off spin has been an emotion for most cricket folklore, especially in the sub-continent. We must have imitated the greats like Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh, and Saqlain Mushtaq.
There were times when the right-handed batters found it difficult to face the ball that cut in towards them. Batting wasn’t ‘step and hit’ by that time, given the conditions. A batter with proper stepping down technique and sweep shot could play the off-spinners effectively. Since DRS wasn’t available, anything on the pads created jitters for the batters – made them hesitate to go for sweeps often.
As cricket evolved, T20s and its franchise-based cricket branch made the game more competitive. Every single move on the ground is being monitored and captured for analysis. As a result, improvement is needed daily; it is the only key to survival for any cricketer.
Off-spinners of present need to bowl in unusual ways to be successful as the normal angle in which the ball gets into the right-handers easily gets into the arc of the modern-day right-handed-batters. Sweeping has become so common, and the stepping-down has become the easiest way to get the game going for a batter.
With the DRS, it is very rare for an off-spinner to get the ball into the pads of the RHB effectively – either the impact or the hitting is outside in most cases. It comes down to cutting the sharp turn to get LBW, but it becomes easy for the batters to slog.
Moreover, since the RHBs are comparatively higher in numbers than LHBs, it becomes more challenging to be an off-spinner. LHBs, the only advantage for the off-spinners, are normalized by the distractions of the right-hand-left hand combination in batting.
Let’s look at how the current-crop-greats like Ravichandran Ashwin and Nathan Lyon deal with this evolution.
Even though they both are exponents in red-ball cricket, they couldn’t be as successful in the white ball as in the red ball.
But R Ashwin being innovative, brought in the carrom ball and other wide varieties which are only known for Ashwin to be on the battlefield. Also, he showcased his batting skills hither and thither to make a box seat booked in franchise cricket.
Nathan Lyon is not an adaptive person; his traditional off-spin bowling struggles to maintain the tempo required for T20s. Lyon feels wearing baggy green is precious, and he does it in style for the Aussies.
The rise of part-timers
In franchise cricket, where cricket is breaching its highest point, batters who can also bowl effective off-spin to contain runs are preferred over an off-spinner who cannot bat. Glenn Maxwell and Liam Livingstone are the best examples of this ongoing trend. They use their resources at their best to fulfil the current demands. Especially against the left-handed batters, they can produce what is required from an off-spinner.
At the same time, a leg spinner or a left-arm spinner are picked only for their bowling, while off-spinners are rated for their batting too. Or the tag ‘mystery bowler’ is needed to fit into any competitive side.
On the whole, it has come to a stage where off-spinners are picked purely on their innovation with their varieties and angles. And also, they had to be good with the blade, too, to be in the game of T20s.