Devendra Bishoo flights the ball down the line of Steve Smith’s off-stump. Smith advances to drive back past the bowler. The ball pitches feet in front of where Smith was expecting it to, grips and turns past his wafted bat. The ball careers into Ramdin’s gloves and the keeper completes the stumping before Smith can even turn to try to regain ground.
Bishoo floats a ball under Brad Haddin’s nose, as it descends it swerves to his legside. Haddin is waiting to lean on the ball, killing it dead. But the ball zips past his outside edge and clips the top of off stump.
Two of Bishoo’s wickets in the first Test at Roseau – archetypal leg-spin dismissals.
Bishoo is a very typical leg-spinner. He’s short, slight, loose of limb and can look vulnerable alongside his towering teammates and heavily padded, big bat waving opponents. He turns the ball just the one way and even when bowling well, as he has against Australia, on a helpful pitch, he offers long-hops, full tosses and batsmen are not intimated into staying in their crease. He is a risk-reward bowler: 4 for 177 in the first innings of his previous Test against England.
Just over twenty years ago, Shane Warne’s career took off. With it, we hoped would come a revival of leg-spin bowling – certainly in those parts of the cricket globe where it was dormant. In many respects, Warne managed that feat. Leg-spin bowling was attempted by thousands of children who may only have wanted to bowl fast, if play cricket at all. It was a positive, aggressive choice.
Yet all the imitators have failed to mature into emulators of Warne’s achievements. For years after his retirement, Australia struggled to find a spin bowler, let alone a leg-spin bowler. Was Warne a case of the best being the enemy of the good? Warne wasn’t an archetypal leg-spin bowler. He combined the control of an off-spin bowler (Test career economy rate of 2.6 rpo) with the big and unpredictable turn, flight and pace of a leggie. Maybe he set the bar too high.
Bishoo is a bowler that leg-spinners at all levels of the game will identify with: mixing unplayable balls with deliveries that batsmen can stroke at will to the boundary. He seems to have an equanimity about being bashed for four or six that is an essential part of the leggies’ make-up. Not for them the standing with hands on hips, before ordering a close fielder out to sweep the boundary that’s just been breached. Successful leggies simply challenge the batsman again, this time with a little more flight, or a slight change to the angle of rotation.
Legs-spin bowler, Adil Rashid, sits on the verges of the England Test team. Another typical leggie risk-reward bowler – although mitigated a little by his batting. Can the England selectors find space for this attacking option in the team? Coming off a Test series with New Zealand, when runs were conceded at over four per over, I think it unlikely. All the more reason to appreciate Bishoo – certainly on days like today when he foxed the best of Australia’s batting, but also on days when the pitch doesn’t help, the outside edge isn’t threatened and his major mode of dismissal is the other typical of leg-spinners: caught at deep midwicket.