Devendra Bishoo is another leg-spinner who makes me (wrongly of course) feel like I could be a Test bowler. Bryce McGain and Pravin Tambe made me feel like I had time left, that not being in age group sides, or even playing a great standard of club cricket was no barrier to eventually playing Test cricket (or the IPL). Devendra Bishoo makes me feel like being a 5’8” bag of skin and bones is no barrier to top level cricket. It is of course, and despite appearances, Devendra Bishoo has more spinning talent in his fingers than I do in my whole body (plus more muscle and fitness etc.)
It’s been a long road back. Bishoo’s first year of Test cricket brought him the ICC Emerging Player award, after just five Tests in four months. That might have been premature, but his figures up to that point of 21 wickets at 35.42 don’t do justice to the overs he bowled, long spells at home against Pakistan and India, and the promise he showed against quality players of spin.
Soon after that award, he picked up his first five wicket haul, against Bangladesh at Dhaka, but a difficult tour of India meant that after one further Test at home against Australia, he was jettisoned. He had three years in the wilderness, bowling domestically, learning and growing.
This is the second Test match of Bishoo 2.0. The first was a long slog for a four wicket haul against England. This was a joyous celebration of everything leg-spin can do. He got all of the leggie classics. The edges to slip, off balance, beaten in the flight, dismissed by the spin. Steven Smith, comprehensively stumped, the fleet footed Aussie dancing past the lure, pulled back half-way down. He saw you coming, mate.
Then the coup de grâce: twenty-two years to the day after the Ball of the Century, Bishoo produced his own version. Of course, he’s not Shane Warne, so replace Gatting with Haddin, take away about a foot of spin and note how poorly the Aussie wicketkeeper played it. Still a great ball though.
He secured his five-for with Samuels catching Mitchell Johnson on the sweep, then secured his Mitchell two-for (and sixth wicket overall) when Starc swung over the top of a leggie from around the wicket for the easiest clean bowled you could think of.
He could be even better. Either adding the googly, or sorting out his seam position – which is generally more scrambled than it could be – could add another dimension to his attack, with either extra spin or the ability to threaten the inside edge.
The one big thing he has to work on his his knuckles. Most leggies gets problems with the first knuckle on the ring finger because unless you’re gripping the ball loosely like Warne used to, you’re going to get cuts and blisters on it which make bowling painful. He went off the field for treatment on it just after his sixth wicket, and actually missed a Test in the England series because of it.
The only way to get past the problem is to bowl and bowl and bowl, creating a callous on the finger which hardens and stops blisters developing. That’s a minor problem though. He ended up with 6-80, the best innings figures by a leg-spinner since Danish Kaneria took 7-168 back in 2009. In fact, in the last five years, only five leg-spinners have five wicket hauls: Kaneria, Bishoo, Imran Tahir, Yasir Shah, and Jubair Hossain. Not a great list, a match-fixer, the bowler with the worst match figures ever, and
Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Anil Kumble spoilt us for leg-spin, over a fifteen year period where we also had Murali as the leggiest offie of all time. Things have changed now. There are no great leg-spinners around, none even threaten to be great. We have to live within these reduced parameters. You never know, there might be a future great out there, developing, bowling, gestating even, but for now Devendra Bishoo is good enough.
Originally published 5-June-2015