Tuesday 31 January 2012

Why is the 'doosra' a wrong'un for English off-spinners?

With the horror of England's Abu Dhabi capitulation finally beginning to subside, a far healthier appreciation of just how impressive a display of spin bowling from both sides was afforded to the spectators has taken precedence.

It is difficult to be critical of England's spin duo of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, even in contrast to their Pakistani opposite numbers who, lest we forget, took 19 of the 20 England wickets that fell in Abu Dhabi.

Swann and Panesar bowled quite beautifully in restricting Pakistan to two sub-par, and what should have been losing totals, exercising exquisite control coupled with not inconsiderable purchase from a helpful if not raging turner of a pitch.

Saqlain Mushtaq - inventor of the doosra
In reply, the two frontline spinners of Pakistan - Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman - wove their own web of cunning and deceit, leaving England's esteemed batsmen looking little more dangerous than the proverbial trapped fly.

Chasing small fourth innings totals is often a case of mind over matter. In this instance, it is perhaps fair to deduce that the trickery of Ajmal in particular played a key subliminal role in laying waste to the English batting order. In fact, such uncertainty can probably be narrowed down to just one delivery; the 'doosra'.

The term doosra translates to "(the) second (one)" or "(the) other (one)" in Urdu; one of crickets more mysterious deliveries reportedly invented by former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq. A delivery that turns the opposite way to a conventional off-break, it is a formidable weapon within the arsenal of the modern off-spinner.

Why, then, is so little seen of this mystery delivery outside of the sub-continent?

Cricketing law states that a bowlers arm must not straighten beyond 15 degrees when bowling a delivery, a revision made in 2005 to replace the previous limit of 5 degrees which effectively outlawed the doosra in its entirety. Nevertheless, many an attempted purveyor of this enigmatic delivery has still fallen by the wayside; their actions called in to question and reputations left in tatters.

The list of those whose action has been referred to the International Cricket Council by on-field umpires is extensive. Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka, Shoaib Malik and Saeed Ajmal of Pakistan, Harbhajan Singh of India and Johan Botha of South Africa have all had accusations of 'chucking' their doosra levelled at them. Whilst Muralitharan and Ajmal have been cleared to continue bowling the delivery, the others have effectively been forbidden in its use.

Such controversy over this one delivery has led to the word doosra becoming almost taboo in many cricketing nations. Australia, for example, chose to ban the teaching of the doosra in 2009, with a summit held by Cricket Australia declaring that the delivery simply cannot be bowled legally. England has its own issues with the doosra. As recently as 2011 Maurice Holmes, a young off-spin bowler on the books of Warwickshire CCC, was suspended by the ECB after umpires reported a suspect action when Holmes utilised his own doosra. Despite weeks of remedial work leading to his action being cleared, Holmes was released by Warwickshire.

Holmes, during a recent interview with The Telegraph, says that despite his own struggles and controversy surrounding the legality of his action, he is of the belief that more English off-spinners should be encouraged and taught to bowl the doosra. “There are a lot of similar bowlers around the world and I don’t think that it should be discouraged,” says Holmes. “The doosra is a growing part of the game but I’m a rarity in England. As far as I am aware I am the only English bowler who bowls it.”

Former England off-spinner Peter Such is one advocate of incorporating the doosra in to the English game. “If someone wants to bowl the doosra you work with them,” says Such. “It’s an easy thing to coach but they have to be aware of the parameters of flex and straightening of the elbow that are permitted and they have to work within that.

It should be of little surprise that English batsmen struggle when confronted with this mystery delivery, then, given the paucity with which it is encountered at a domestic level. Former Warwickshire all-rounder Alex Loudon bowled his own version of the doosra with a less conventional but legal action, but retired somewhat prematurely to pursue other business interests.

Given Saeed Ajmal's recent torment of England’s batsmen, there is a possibility it will cause a re-think amongst the hierarchy of the ECB as far as the coaching of the doosra goes in England. Certainly, it would be a more than valuable addition to the repertoire of deliveries possessed by England's own off-break bowlers, but perhaps of greater importance is that it could go some way toward ensuring their batsmen don't read this delivery in the same manner they would a badly translated Mandarin Shakespeare script.

The doosra should no longer be deemed a wrong’un in English cricket.


  1. Marcus Naysmith - West Midlands31 January 2012 at 22:45

    Good read. I think it's 'English snobbery' that is the main obstacle. Embrace it. Teach it. Perfect it. Unleash it!

    1. Marcus, thanks for the comment. In essence I think you're right - there does remain a degree of snobbery embedded within the English game, perhaps dating back to the Gooch era in particular.

      It extends far beyond the doosra, too. Unorthodox batsmen are a rarity in the England Test side, as are unorthodox bowlers of any kind. Look at Lasith Malinga for example, could you imagine him making it through the English youth system a few years back? Not a chance.

      Thankfully, there are some positive signs coming from the current system suggesting that unorthodoxy has began to be nurtured where it occurs naturally in players, with coaches going on the proviso that an action should only be altered if it represents a considerable future injury risk to that player.

      You're absolutely right though, you get the feeling that we may be missing a trick by neglecting to experiment with the use of the doosra - and that feeling is certainly all the stronger after our recent debacle out in the UAE!