I’ve been watching cricket now for almost twenty years. In those twenty years, the cricketing world has almost always featured an array of incredibly dangerous spin bowlers. The first decade of me watching the sport was dominated by guys like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble – all fantastic spinners who now sit proudly in the top 10 test wicket takers of all time. As the years moved on those legends were slowly replaced at the peak of the spin world by guys like Saeed Ajmal, Rangana Herath, Ravi Ashwin and Graeme Swann. In more recent times, there has been an emergence of a different type of spin bowler – ones that are perfectly suited to limited overs cricket. I’m thinking of guys like Rashid Khan, Sunil Narine and Mujeeb Ur Rahman – all of whom are among the deadliest limited overs bowlers in the world today.
Of course, the last twenty years has seen great fast bowlers too. But in my opinion it’s the spin bowlers that seem to stick in the mind of the average cricket viewer a lot more. In fact, many of these viewers assume that spinners actually take more wickets than fast bowlers! But is that true? And if it is true, why? What is it about spin bowling that make it so hard for batsmen across the world to play? Why do spin bowlers excel in limited overs cricket, when it was once thought that the emergence of the T20 format would be the death of spin? These are the questions I’m going to cover in this post!
Do Spin Bowlers Actually Take More Wickets Than Fast Bowlers?
The short answer to this is ‘it depends’! If we added up all of the wickets taken by fast bowlers and all the wickets taken by spin bowlers in the professional game, the fast bowlers would come out ahead by quite a decent margin. However, this fact leaves out an important bit of context! In professional cricket teams, there is only usually one spin bowler per team. Most sides will have 3 or 4 fast bowlers in their line up, so it is natural that 3 or 4 fast bowlers combined will take more wickets than 1 spin bowler! In other words, fast bowlers collectively take more total wickets than spin bowlers because there are more of them per team – this is fully expected!
However, 4 out of the top 10 test wicket takers of all time are spin bowlers. In fact, up until very recently, all of the top 3 test wicket takers were spinners, before Jimmy Anderson went past Anil Kumble in the all-time list. So, from an individual perspective, it certainly looks like spin bowlers are more capable of taking more wickets over the course of their career than another random fast bowler is. Why is this the case? Let’s use a quick example!
Imagine India have just bowled Australia out twice in a test match. Ravi Ashwin took 8 wickets in the match – an impressive return for a spin bowler! But Bumrah, Shami and Siraj (all fast bowlers) combined to take the other 12 Australian wickets (by taking 4 wickets each). Technically in this case the fast bowlers have taken more wickets collectively in the match than the spinner. But the spinner individually took more wickets than any single fast bowler.
Reasons Why Spin Bowlers Take More Wickets
So, why might an individual spin bowler find it easier to take more wickets over the course of their career than their fast-bowling counterparts? Here are a few potential reasons:
- Spin bowlers usually have longer careers
- Spin bowlers are capable of bowling more overs in a match
- Batsmen take more risks against spinners in limited overs cricket
- They usually bowl more ‘variations’ than fast bowlers
- They can be equally effective with the new and the old ball
In the rest of this post, we’ll look into each of these reasons in more detail and examine exactly why they allow spin bowlers to excel.
Spin Bowlers Have Longer Careers
This one is pretty simple – bowlers who have a longer career in international cricket will usually end up taking more wickets than bowlers who don’t last as long. Spin bowling isn’t as physically strenuous as fast bowling is, so spin bowlers are a lot less likely to have their careers end early due to injuries and general bodily fatigue. This gives them a lot of opportunities to take plenty of wickets!
Spin Bowlers Can Bowl More Overs In A Match
This kind of ties into the point above, but because spin bowling puts a lot less stress on the body and doesn’t require as much energy expenditure, spinners can bowl longer spells during test matches and a higher total of overs during the match. A bowler who bowls 70 overs in a match is much more likely to take more wickets than a bowler who only bowls 30 overs because they have given themselves an extra 240 deliveries to take a wicket. Spin bowlers almost always bowl more overs in tests than fast bowlers, and this is especially true in the sub-continent!
Batsmen Take More Risks Against Spinners In Limited Overs Cricket
As I mentioned in the introduction, there was a time when it was thought that the introduction of the T20 cricket format would be the death of the spin bowler. Many experts thought that because T20 put such an emphasis on hitting boundaries and scoring quickly, spin bowlers would suffer because they bowled the ball a lot slower and were easier to slog. However, the opposite has happened!
Batsmen in limited overs cricket do see a lot of spin bowlers as easier targets because of the speeds that they bowl and how much they loop the ball through the air. These factors entice a lot of batsmen to play more aggressive shots against them. This does mean that spin bowlers can concede a lot of runs, but it also means that they increase their chances of taking wickets and getting batsmen caught out on the boundary edge!
The best spin bowlers in limited overs cricket are guys like Rashid Khan and Sunil Narine because they are able to subtly change their deliveries from one ball to the next so that the batsman never really gets comfortable timing the ball. This makes playing aggressive shots much riskier and means that they will pick up more wickets as a result!
Spinners Bowl More Variations Than Fast Bowlers
Most elite spin bowlers have a number of ‘variation’ deliveries at their disposal which they can bowl in order to trick the batsman. A variation will usually behave in a different way to a spin bowlers’ normal delivery. For example, a right arm leg spin bowler will usually spin the ball from right to left when bowling their normal leg spin ball. However, if the bowl a variation known as the googly, the ball will spin left to right instead. If they bowl a variation known as the slider, the ball will not spin at all and will travel straight towards the batsman.
If bowled correctly variations are incredibly hard for batsmen to spot, and as a result this can lead to a lot of dismissals for spin bowlers. If the batsman is expecting a normal leg spin ball but instead receives a googly, there is a large chance they could be out bowled, LBW or end up miscuing their shot completely. Fast bowlers also have their own variations like the slower ball and the bouncer, but there are more available to spinners. Additionally, most batsmen are much more used to seeing standard fast bowling variations like the slower ball and the bouncer and are therefore better prepared to play them.
Spinners Can Be Equally Effective With The New Ball & The Old Ball
By far the best time for a fast bowler bowl is at the start of the innings when the ball is hard and new. A newer cricket ball usually offers a fast bowler a decent amount of swing through the air, a good level of pace and bounce off the wicket and can also extract a large amount of seam movement off the pitch due to the pronounced nature of the seam. As the ball gets older it gets softer, tends to swing less and the seam becomes flatter. This means that as the innings wears on, taking wickets often becomes more difficult for fast bowlers.
On the other hand, spin bowlers are not impacted anywhere near as much by the condition of the cricket ball. When the ball is new it will produce a nice amount of bounce, and this is advantageous for spin bowlers who are looking to get the batsman to miscue a shot and get caught close to the bat or stumped. The new ball will also offer a certain amount of natural variation – some deliveries may spin significantly, and some may slide straight through to the batsman due to the shiny surfaces on the new ball. Natural variation such as this is incredibly tricky for the batsman to deal with because they will often end up guessing how the ball is going to behave – and no batsman wants to be in this position when they’re just beginning their innings!
As the ball gets older it may lose a bit of bounce, but the surface of the ball will often become coarser and drier due to repeated contact with the pitch and the bat. This means that there will be more friction between the ball and the pitch once they come into contact with each other, which leads to more spin for the spinner! Additionally, the longer the game goes on the more the pitch will deteriorate, which can lead to even higher degrees of spin for the spin bowler.
To summarise, the spin bowler can be effective when the ball is at its newest or its oldest, whereas the fast bowler will usually be resting when the ball is very old. This gives the spin bowler more opportunity to bowl with a dangerous ball on wearing pitches, which in turn opens up plenty of wicket taking opportunities for them.
I hope that the sections above have given you some ideas as to why individual spin bowlers have the opportunity to take more wickets than fast bowlers in the sport of cricket. Spin bowlers are a hugely important part of any cricket team, therefore any side that possesses a good one has set themselves up for success.
Here at Cricketers Hub I’ve written many posts about spin, which you can check out by looking in the bowling tips section of the site. For the batsmen amongst you, I’ve also put together a few posts about how you can combat spin bowling – like this one linked here.
Thank you for reading and I hope to see you on the site again!