As I write this the Pakistani leg spinner Yasir Shah is twirling his way through the England batting order at Old Trafford and watching him do it is a beautiful sight, even for a cricket loving Englishwoman. For top class leg spin is a thing of delight in a sport that is not short of them.
For the uninitiated let me explain briefly: leg spinners spin the ball from right to left as the bowler looks at it, with three main variations, the top spinner that dips in the flight as it hurries straight on, (think top spun forehand in tennis), the googly (known in Australia the Bosie after its inventor BJT Bosanquet) which spins the other way, and the flipper, a ball that doesn’t really spin at all but skids through, not bouncing much as it generally doesn’t land on the seam. And the batsman never knows quite what to expect. A good bowler will give nothing away in their bowling action. Leg spin is both sublime mystery and aesthetic pleasure.
Leg spin was considered a dead or dying art when I first got interested in cricket in the 1970s. But time has proved the pessimists wrong. Possibly the greatest bowler of all time, the Australian Shane Warne was a leg spinner. And he is 7 years younger than me.
The first great leg spinner I saw in the flesh was the Pakistani Abdul Qadir who sadly died last year. Qadir made bowling into theatre, each ball an act in a drama where he cried out in anguish as the batsman missed but survived, sank to his knees before the umpire imploring him to give the batsman out, glared contemptuously at batsmen who hit the bat and played him with their pads (it was much harder for spinners to get lbw decisions in those days) . It was attacking cricket, cricket played with style and panache. It was compelling.
What, you may ask, has this to do with personal growth? I think it is that there is a sense in which cricket has given me a schooling in life. For it is unlike any other sport in the way it combines simplicity with complexity, in its chronological expanse, in the way that context can make the mundane dramatic, in the literature it has inspired. The writer and critic Neville Cardus used music to illustrate cricket. The Trinidadian socialist CLR James in his book Beyond a Boundary (still the best book about the political and cultural connotations of the game) suggested that Cardus could also have used cricket to illustrate music. He saw cricket as art. The beauty of cricket has inspired me. The rhythms of the game bring serenity. The outcomes of the game tell me that there is more to life than winning. Learning abut cricket is the work of a lifetime. And playing, even at the level I once played at is a source of the small achievements that boost my self belief.
And that moment when the batsman fails to spot your top spinner hurrying through, plays back when he should be playing forward, when you know that the ball is about to clatter the stumps, sending bails flying, is a moment of catharsis. It is a moment in which you know that you can win at life, for winning at life is as much about little victories as big ones. The new batsman might hit you for six, there will be defeats in the battles that remain. But your name will be recorded in the score book. never to be erased.
A post for May More’s Personal Growth Matters meme. Click the badge below to see the other posts