A seasonal yet perennial turbulence now rages amongst local pundits regarding a spinner’s stock delivery in cricket. The main pitch of contention lies in whether a spinner is bowling off breaks or leg breaks, and if this definition changes depending on if the batsman, or the bowler is right-handed or left-handed. Yeah, it seems confusing, but cricket, unlike these pundits is rather simple.
Months ago, I wrote an informative exposé on the nostalgic and statistical definitions of terms such as good, great, and godlike, in cricket. It seems another exposé is warranted lest these so-called pundits and fans, confuse themselves and others with their willy-nilly, slapdash approaches to this ‘spins, turns, and breaks’ debate.
As a lecturer, I have come to grips that in the classroom certain terms have to be defined. The meanings of which have to be taken into context, and the historical underpinnings and their evolution have to be carefully assessed. If not, as Confucius said, “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.” However, it seems many of these self-proclaimed experts are losing their minds as well.
When you go back into the history of cricket, most of the early batsmen and bowlers were right-handed – duh – like 90% of humans on earth. As a result, a lot of the early terminologies used were synonymous with right-handed batsmen facing right-arm bowlers. However, these terms and their original meanings were inadequate, anonymous and ill-defined for left-handers. Henceforth, many of these terminologies evolved passed their discriminatory precepts and have also birthed more inclusive or specific terms and meanings. A few of these terms that I’ll shirttail are the Hypernyms: finger spin (off spin) and wrist spin (leg spin), and I’ll also dive into the dreaded and controversial Hyponyms: off-break and leg-break.
Bowlers who employ finger spin or off spin bowling actions are called finger spinners or offspinners. Offspinners can be right-arm off spinners (also called off-break bowlers e.g., Muttiah Muralitharan) or left-arm offspinners (also called left-arm orthodox bowlers e.g., Daniel Vettori). Their deliveries include the traditional off-break, the top spinner, doosra, carrom ball, back spinner (teesra) and the arm ball. The term orthodox for left-handers is because this bowling action (off spin) was the traditional or more common action of spin bowlers.
How the off-break delivery turns depends on if the bowler is right-handed or left-handed. For right-arm offspinners, such as Muralitharan, the ball will (turn from left to right or) break from the right-handed batsman’s offside to the leg side. This is how the term off-break came about since most bowlers and batsmen were right-handed (as I said approximately 90% of humans are right-handed). However, that definition for the off break has evolved to accommodate left-arm bowlers with the same mirrored bowling action. For left-arm offspinners, such as Vettori, their off-break delivery (usually called left-arm orthodox spin delivery) will turn from right to left, that is, it’ll break from the right-handed batsman’s leg side to offside.
Hopefully, the pundits have realized that finger spin or off spin is a conglomerate of very similar bowling actions or mechanisms, and the off break delivery is one such delivery produced from one of those similar bowling actions.
Bowlers who employ wrist spin or leg spin bowling actions are called wrist spinners or legspinners. Wrist spinners or legspinners are less common whether right-handed or left-handed. Right-arm legspinners, such as Shane Warne, are also called leg break bowlers while left-arm legspinners, such as Paul Adams or Brad Hogg, are called left-arm unorthodox bowlers or chinaman. A legspinner’s deliveries include the traditional leg-break, flipper, googly, slider, flicker ball and the top spinner. The term unorthodox for left-handers is because the leg spin bowling action was and is NOT the traditional or more frequent action of spin bowlers.
How the leg break delivery turns depends on if the bowler is right-handed or left-handed. For right-arm legspinners, such as Warne, the ball will (turn from right to left or) break from the right-handed batsman’s leg side to the off side. This is how the term leg-break came about initially since most bowlers and batsmen were right-handed (I need not give the percentages again). However, that definition for leg break has also evolved to accommodate left-arm bowlers with the same enantiomorphic bowling action. For left-arm legspinners, such as Hogg, their leg break delivery (usually called the left-arm unorthodox spin delivery or chinaman) will turn from left to right, that is, break from the right-handed batsman’s off side to leg side.
Similar to off spin, leg spin is a combination of very similar bowling actions or mechanisms, and the leg break delivery is one such delivery produced from one of those similar bowling actions.
How the ball turns or break depends on if the bowler is right-handed or left-handed and is not defined by the misguided or antiquated approach of the batsman’s off side or leg side.
So, to be clear to the flummoxed and prescient pundits, the definition of finger spin, wrist spin, off spin, leg spin, off break or leg break has to do with the bowler’s mode of action. That is, how he would normally move his fingers, or wrist in order to bowl his deliveries, and not primarily the direction the ball turned per se. The direction the ball turns or breaks depends on both the mode of action and which arm the bowler bowls with. However the definition of off break and leg break is NOT firstly dependent on the direction turned or what type of batsman (left-handed or right-handed) is facing the bowler. It’s firstly dependent on the bowler’s mode of action, from there how it turns will depend on which arm he bowled with. After it turns or not, you can define as you wish: off break, leg break, googly, doosra, etc.
To the technical linguists, anti-Darwinists, or so-called cricket pundits, I’ll encourage you all to embrace the fact that the Jurassic deficiencies of the past have been rectified with evolutionary adequacies. For God sakes, accept it! Your arguments simply have too many spins, turns and breaks.
Until next time…
Author : Zaheer E. Clarke is a sports columnist, blogger, analyst and statistician from Jamaica, West Indies who is madly in love with cricket.