Imran Tahir World Cup 2019
South Africa's Imran Tahir celebrates taking England's Jonny Bairstow wicket for a duck during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

Here’s a snap quiz. Who bowled the first over in the Cricket World Cup 2019?

It’s Imran Tahir, the South African leg-spinner. A leggie? Yes, a leggie. Not only did he bowl the first over of the tournament, he also took a wicket with his second delivery.

So what’s unusual? Well, can you recall the last time a leg-break bowler opening the attack? That too the first over of a tournament. I can’t. If you remember, please feel free to correct me.

True, spinners have shared the new ball in the past. One notable success was New Zealand captain Martin Crowe’s move to use Dipak Patel in the 1992 World Cup. Since then spin opening ceased to be a novelty. But most of the opening bowlers were finger spinners, more precisely off-spinners. Which is why Tahir’s success for South Africa in the inaugural game against England is a cause for celebration. It is proof of the efficacy of wrist spinners in limited overs cricket.

Leg-break bowlers have become an integral part of most teams, especially in the shorter formats. Therein lies the irony. Limited-overs cricket was once blamed for putting leg spin on the road to extinction. But Abdul Qadir, L. Sivaramakrishnan and Shane Warne showed us that quality leg-spin will thrive, irrespective of the format.

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The future of leg-spin

Warne’s retirement put a question mark on the future of leg spin. India and Pakistan continued to produce leg-spinners, but none of them managed an extended run of success. That’s why I am celebrating the resurgence of wrist spinners. The World Cup in England and Wales showcases some of the best leg-spinners in the world.

Like Imran Tahir for the Proteas, Adil Rashid showed us why he’s a potent weapon in the English armoury. Adam Zampa is one Australia’s attacking options. So is Yuzvendra Chahal and and Kuldeep Yadav (leg-arm leg- break or Chinaman bowler) for India. Shadab Khan has been a matchwinner for Pakistan. Rashid Khan played a key role in Afghanistan’s elevation to top-flight cricket.

So the leg-break brigade is back.

Why is leg-spin special? Unlike off-spin, which is spun with fingers, leg-spin employs the wrist and that makes it harder to control.

Can you bowl a googly? I can’t. I can send down a decent leg-break. I could even slip in a top spinner or a slider, but I could never get my googly right. I even tried dropping my left shoulder. It never comes out of the back of my hand properly.

Leg spin and its variations are not easy to master. Despite the long hours spent at the nets, even world class leggies are prone to sending down an occasional full toss or a short delivery. Which makes them costly. A luxury in one-day cricket. But leg-spinners take wickets. And they win matches.

That’s why they are back. Leg-spinners will certainly have a role in the deciding the winners of the World Cup. I’m sure. Are you?