A question of spin

The recent crack-down on suspect bowing actions has caught several high profile spin bowlers, most notably Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine.

Among the cynics, there has long been a belief that it is (almost) impossible to bowl the doosra without straightening the elbow, and the recent suspensions perhaps support this point of view.

But are there other variations for the finger spinner?

It is very sad to see the mystery spinners being outlawed, as Ajmal in particular is a wizard with the ball in all forms of the game, but we have to assume that the scientists and biomechanists who measured his elbow flexion have got this right and Ajmal was indeed in breach of the ICC’s “15° rule”.  He is back in the game again, now, but it remains to be seen if he will regain his old mastery with a re-modelled action.

But with doubts re-surfacing about the actions of even the leading exponents of the doosra, spinners around the world might need to look for an alternative to their “other” delivery.

The teesra

I have written before about the teesra – essentially the flipper, delivered with under-spin (as opposed to top-spin) and intended to float further up towards the bat than it’s initial flight might suggest, whilst also (possibly) swerving in to the right-handed batsman and (perhaps) keeping low after pitching.


{n.b. in this picture, and all of the others, assume the ball is being delivered directly out of the screen, towards the viewer}

A devil of a delivery.

But with no-one in world cricket currently using it (or if they are, it is seemingly entirely unremarked), perhaps this is just a phantom?

The carrom ball

This one exists. I had the carrom ball demonstrated to me by a fellow coach last year, and I can now get my own carrom ball (bowled with a soft ball) to pitch roughly where I want it to and get a reasonable amount of turn, spinning it out of the front of the hand, between the middle finger and thumb.


I managed to fool a former first class keeper with the first carrom I bowled to him.

But – this was the very first ball I bowled to him, so he had no reference for the carrom as a variation. It was just “something odd” in a spinning competition. In a normal sequence of deliveries, I suspect it would stand out, if not obviously as a leggie then as something very different from the normal run of off-breaks and arm balls.

In addition to the movement of fingers and wrist, the entire arm action needed for the carrom feels very different to the off-break, and I suspect that it must look very different, as well.

Choosing weapons – building a suite of variations around the carrom

Watching Ravichandran Aswhin bowl, and Sunil Narine (before his suspension) in the IPL and CPL, I cannot work out how they spin their stock ball (or even if they really have one – Narine, in particular, sometimes appears to bowl 6 different spins each over).

Both seem to use the middle finger and thumb combination to impart spin, and some deliveries look like carrom balls to me.

They do both bring the ball into the right-handed batters (off-break), however, as well as delivering variations on both top- and back-spin and (especially for Narine) a variety of scrambled seam deliveries… but all with an arm action that looks very similar to their leggie (carrom).

So – how are they spinning the ball to bring it back into the right-handed bat?

Is it a thumb-middle finger “snap” – the flipper reversed, in fact, with palm to gully, the thumb moving up and over the top of the ball, and the middle finger down and underneath? This at least feels compatible with the “carrom” grip and action.

thumb-spun off-break

Or is the ball that comes back into the bat actually a version of Shane Warne’s “slider” – less an off-spinner, more a back-spinning, inswinging skidding delivery? Think carrom, but with the wrist rotated so the palm faces gully at the moment of delivery, thumb to extra cover, little finger to backward square leg.

carrom slider

Going even further “round the clock” with the carrom spin, so the palm faces extra cover, gives an extreme “carrom-googly”, but this seems to run the same risk as the doosra, with the elbow facing the batter at the point of release (and hence liable to flex). It must also be the most difficult way to impart off-spin!

The traditional approach

As Graeme Swann demonstrated, it is still possible to bowl finger spin, with great success, without possessing a mystery ball.

Swann spun the ball as hard as many wrist spinners (if the rev counter is correct), and used a curve-ball/arm ball as variation, to devastating effect against left handers, in particular.

Even this delivery has some mystery to it, if you listen to the commentators.  Was it an “arm ball” that “swings” back into the left-hander’s pads?  From the action, I don’t think so – Swann was a big spinner of the ball, and a seam up delivery would look very different at the moment of release.

 I think it is probably “just” an alternative release position, with the hand more “behind” the ball than “over the top”, and imparting more side spin and less overspin than the regular off break.

gyro ball

It worked, which is all that really matters.


I certainly have no answers, just lots of questions.

And lots of experiments in the nets to look forward to.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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  1. Andrew, I should add one more thing about my off-break and why the index finger needs to be ‘curled back near to the thumb’. I think a lot of the extra rotational force is generated by an automatic snap that occurs just after the index and middle finger reach their furthest distance apart. At that point, the sinew between these fingers is ‘over-stretched’. It it uncomfortable to hold that position for more than a moment. A little more rotation and the fingers automatically snap back together, and due to their position on the ball, this is turned into rotation. The thumb does also add some force, but I think finger over-stretching is important. Let me know if you try it out!

  2. Hi Andrew. Interesting read. I’m fascinated by spin variations too, and have a few comments.

    Firstly, I think what you call a carrom ball should not be called a carrom ball. If you watch the game of carrom (for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isVJTAdfNms) you’ll see that the standard shot involves positioning the thumb and middle finger on either side of the disc, then imparting force on the disc using the index finger.

    You’ve described your ‘carrom ball’ as being spun by the thumb and middle finger, which I reckon is more usefully referred to as the ‘Iverson-Gleeson’ grip – see:




    I recently heard Geoff Boycott say that Gleeson was the hardest bowler he faced.

    I started playing cricket again this season after not playing for about 20 years. Years ago, I’d always bowled a combination of standard off-breaks that didn’t turn much and leg cutters. When I started bowling these in the nets this year, I was getting slogged and my accuracy was terrible, so I decided to go back to basics and follow the old adage that you should first learn to spin the ball hard before working on accuracy. So I experimented for most of the season before eventually working out a way to regularly put huge turn on my off-breaks, and I do it by what you describe as the ‘thumb-middle finger snap’ but in my case with my index finger curled back much closer to my thumb than in your photo. Using this grip, I can regularly bowl off-breaks that turn as much as any I can find on YouTube bowled by professionals (though probably delivered with a bit less pace – still working on that).

    Also after quite a few hours of practice, I can also bowl Iverson-Gleeson leg-breaks with virtually the same run-up, body and vertical arm action as my big-turning off-break, which is something I find impossible with a standard Warne-like leg-break action which seems to need a more diagonal arm and cocked wrist. I can’t get as much turn as with a Warne-like action, but I find it a lot easier to control line and length, and I find it fairly easy to rotate the wrist to bowl with a bit more side or top spin and even bowl a googlie. Probably a really good batsman would be able to pick the difference between my offie and the Iverson-Gleeson leg-break, but it’s been good enough to bamboozle most of the (lower division) club players that I’ve bowled at.

    I’d certainly recommend others to give it a go. It’s fun to watch batsmen’s reactions when the ball unexpectedly spins both ways.

    What I need to work on next is what you allude under your section called ‘the traditional approach’ where you show an undercutting ball that will land on the leather rather than the seam and skid through with less turn than a ball landing on the seam. Jeetal Patel uses this variation very well – see the comparison of deliveries about 3 mins into this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4CvA4cy6Yc

    I’ve seen a video of Graeme Swann also describing that undercutting ‘flying saucer’ ball, but saying that top class batsmen found it easy to pick, so instead he started to scramble the seam so that the ball will sometimes land on the seam and sometimes not, resulting in varying amounts of turn and the batsman having no way of predicting how much.

    You also mention Sunil Narine. I’ve been watching videos of him bowling and I think his two stock balls are:
    a) a double finger carrom ball (see 1:35 into this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR0hyCWDdVE) in which he holds the ball between the thumb and ring finger with palm angled slightly toward the slips, then imparts spin with an upward flick of his index and middle fingers, which produces a cross-seam leg break
    b) an off-break that he gets to turn more than a standard off-break by using two fingers either side of the ball (index and middle finger on one side, ring and little finger on the other). You can just about see this in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YeBoyqIzTQ at about 1:40. There used to be a video on Youtube of a young club bowler demonstrating this and getting huge turn which seems to have now been deleted, but it is described in the ‘Off-Spin using middle finger & third finger’ section in the first page that I gave a link to (the ‘planetnz’ one).

    Hope you enjoy some of those links. Thanks for the article.

    1. Thanks for this – lots to think about! I’ll take a proper look at those links, when I have more time.

      And good to hear from a fellow “scientist” – you really can’t beat getting into the nets and experimenting!

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