Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Finger flickin' good

Published (slightly edited) in The Wisden Cricketer of October 2008, page 10 - titled 'Mendis: the new Barnes'.

It is early days, but looks as if Ajantha Mendis might have the technical potential to be the next great spin bowler. As well as conventional off-breaks, Mendis flicks the ball with his middle finger and can impart top-spin or turn in either direction.

Contrary to popular opinion and standard nomenclature almost all spin bowling is 'wrist spin'. Off-spinners and orthodox slow left armers both depend on the wrist to impart rotation, which is why can only turn the ball in one direction. If they had to bowl in a wrist brace they would barely spin the ball.

Pure finger spin is very rare indeed, because it depends on flicking the ball with a finger. It is unusual to posses fingers with the length, strength and stamina to flick a cricket ball repeatedly.

The best finger flicker was SF Barnes of England (1973-1967; 189 Test match wickets at 16.4). Barnes stock delivery was a leg break, which seems (from photographs) to have been flicked with the ring-finger, but he could also bowl off-breaks without visible change of action.

Barnes is a candidate for the greatest-ever bowler - perhaps Mendis could be in the same league?