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Traditionally, there are two types of spin bowling – leg spin and off spin – and in this article I’m going to look at the key differences between them.
Leg Spin vs Off Spin Bowling
The difference between leg spin and off spin bowling is the direction of the delivery. A right arm leg spin bowler will turn the ball from the leg side to the off side when delivering the ball to a right handed batsman. Meanwhile, an off spin bowler will turn the ball from the offside to the leg side.
For left arm bowlers and/or for left handed batters, the angles are reversed. For example, a right handed off spinner bowling to a left handed batsman will turn the ball from leg to off.
Differences Between Leg Spin and Off Spin
The most obvious differences between leg spin and off spin are those angles. Traditionally, off spin will go from off to leg while a leg spinner will turn it from leg to off.
When a leg spinner bowls, they are using their wrist to impart spin on the ball. This is why they are often referred to as ‘wrist spinners.’ An off spinner relies solely on their fingers and they are called ‘finger spinners’ as a result.
Another key difference can relate to the degree of spin. If a leg spinner gets their action right and the pitch conditions are in their favour, they can turn the ball much further than an off spinner.
The grips for the two styles of bowling are also different as we are about to see:
As a leg spinner grips the ball, they will support it in their palm while the bases of their fingers hold the seams on either side.
With an off spin grip, the ball is held in the palm of the hand. It’s similar to the leg spinner’s grip but this time, the ring finger and the index finger are split either side of the seam. The seam runs horizontally under those fingers.
2. Run Up
If you watch spin bowlers on television then you will notice that their run ups will vary slightly. This will largely depend on the individual and what they feel comfortable with. However, all leg spin run ups will come from just a few paces. The bowler will walk at pace or use a slow jog into the crease.
Once again, the run up will be down to the individual but don’t worry too much about pace into the crease. You need a fast walk or a slow jog from a few paces. This will get some momentum into the ball that will help with the spin.
As the leg spin bowler reaches the coil phase of their delivery, the bowling hand should be tucked in towards the face. This prepares the wrist to do its job.
As the leg spinner releases the ball, the bowler rotates the wrist and the ball is delivered above the ring finger. The spin imparted is anti clockwise which should aid the leg spin turn.
As the coil phase is approached, the off spinner’s bowling arm should be tilted back, away from the batsman with the ball tucked under the chin.
Spin is applied just as the ball leaves the hand. The wrist will firstly flick forwards and the fingers will rotate over the top of the ball. The action is similar to that of turning a knob to open a door.
4. Control and Accuracy
As the ball is delivered, a leg spinner controls the ball with the wrist. The arm comes over and the ball slides out of the side of the hand.
As the off spinner releases, the fingers control the ball which leaves the front of the hand. They have a tighter grip on that ball and accuracy is, therefore, easier to master than with leg spin.
5. Number of Turns
TV commentators will often talk about the number of revolutions put on the ball. There’s even a graphic shown in bigger test matches. This is the amount of times that the ball turns and more turns equals more spin.
For leg spinners, the rpm tends to be slightly slower but bowlers will want to aim towards around 1800 Revolutions Per Minute (RPM).
Off spinners give the ball more ‘rip’ when they let go so their RPM levels can be higher. A top quality bowler such as Graeme Swann consistently exceeded 2000 RPM.
Spin Bowling FAQ
Why is Leg Spin So Difficult?
Leg spin is more difficult to master because of a relative lack of control when compared to off spin. As the ball is released, the wrist is doing most of the work and the ball will literally slip out of the side of the hand.
With off spin bowling, the spinner controls the ball with the fingers which have greater mastery. When starting out, it’s extremely difficult for a young leg spinner to be accurate. However, leg spin can turn more prodigiously and be difficult for a batsman to face and that’s why more leg spinners are coming into the game.
How Fast Do Spin Bowlers Bowl?
The fastest leg spinners will deliver the ball at a top speed of around 100 kph which converts to 62 mph. For an off spinner, the figures are roughly the same although they may be a fraction faster.
In both cases, off and leg spinners will bowl at average speeds of around 75 – 95 kph.
Notable Spin Bowlers
Two spin bowlers currently lead the way in terms of most test match wickets. Sri Lanka’s off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is at the very top with an incredible 800 victims and 1347 international wickets overall.
Next up is Australia’s leg spinning sensation Shane Warne whose 708 test victims forms part of 1001 victims overall.
Other notable spin bowlers include leg spinners like Abdul Qadir, Anil Kumble and Richie Benaud. Leading off spinners of all time include Saqlain Mushtaq, Jim Laker, R Ashwin, Graeme Swann and Rangana Herath.