The ability to bat against spin bowling has been a hotly debated topic amongst Australian and English cricket fans over the last couple of weeks. With Rangana Herath and Yasir Shah wreaking havoc upon both middle orders, the ability to counteract the slower bowlers appears to have deserted most international batsmen.
That is until the cricketing public were treated to a masterclass by Younis Khan in the fourth and, irritatingly, final Test match between England and Pakistan at the Oval. His 218 was a throwback to the Younis everyone has seen before, after his rather odd technique in the first three Tests of the series. His head remained still and as a result, he finally looked like a player with an average over 50 and 32 Test match hundreds.
This seeming lack of ability to play spin is even stranger given that we are currently in an era with no genuinely great exponents of the art. In the last 20 years the game has seen Shane Warne (for many the greatest bowler to have ever played the game), Muttiah Muralitharan (800 test wickets), Anil Kumble (India’s leading wicket taker) and England’s Graeme Swann to name a few. Both Yasir and Herath have the potential to be talked about amongst these illustrious names, but the batting standards in the game are contributing to their success.
Seeing Younis batting at the Oval reminded me of a story once told about one of the greatest players of spin the game has ever seen, Javed Miandad. Apparently he was able to negotiate runs from the spin bowlers almost at will with his stroke play. If a place in the field was unoccupied then Miandad would hit the ball there. The opposing captain would then change the field and the following ball Miandad would again score by playing the ball to the place the fielder had been moved from.
Having seen the troubles in England and Sri Lanka over the last few weeks this entire notion seemed rather fanciful. However, when Younis, who had by then made his first big contribution of the summer, faced up to Moeen Ali this exact pattern of play proceeded to be played out. First ball Younis smashed over midwicket for six. It was not a bad ball but was a statement of intent that Ali would be hit out of the attack. England immediately changed the field and the mid-wicket dropped to the boundary.
Next ball was delivered a little outside off. Younis had advanced a stride down the pitch to meet the ball on the half volley and simply nurdled it out towards mid-wicket. The batsmen ran two and as the camera panned on Younis’s face a little smile could be seen.
So simple yet so brilliant.
Here was a wily old fox toying with the English attack saying ‘whatever you bowl I can – and will – score’.
What makes it more galling is that the entire England side watched this and still Yasir walked away with five wickets in the second innings, lessons not learned even when demonstrated in front of them.
What Younis reminded me, and hopefully more, at the weekend is that batting truly is an art form. The modern myth generated that we need bigger bats to biff and thwack everything out of the ground is just that, a myth. The grace and skill that Younis showed was more aesthetically pleasing than anything else seen in a while.
He also demonstrated that spin bowling can be negated and can be scored off once more settled at the crease. The ability to manoeuvre the ball around to rotate the strike is the key thing that has been missing by Australian and English players. The constant desire to feel bat on ball is an addiction that costs players against the turning ball and must be controlled. Both sides visit India within the next calendar year and both will fail miserably unless they heed these lessons.
By Andy Hunter