Amelia Kerr, leg-spin is more important

Amelia Kerr first came to notice as a 14-year-old leg-spinner. That in and of itself is quite something. The video on YouTube has over 135,000 views and shows a precocious talent, flighting her leg-breaks, and ripping a few googlies in the domestic T20 final in New Zealand.

Three years later, she was a 17-year-old starting to break into the New Zealand team. There’d been some notable successes: New Zealand’s joint leading wicket-taker at last year’s World Cup, bowling Meg Lanning with the first ball she bowled to her, as part of an ODI five-for. Then came Ireland, 232 not out, records, plaudits, media attention, success as a batsman.

It’s easy to forget that after doing that and having a nap between innings, she then went out and got 5 for 17, her best ODI figures and first international five-for.

So what’s going to be her strongest suit in the future? Will she do a Steven Smith, and increasingly bat in the top order and bowl less and less? Will that innings against Ireland end up a on-off as she becomes one of the best spinners in the world, with some useful lower order hitting?

Or will she become the spin bowling version of Ellyse Perry, the women’s game’s version of Shahid Afridi, a big hitting, leg-spin bowling, dynamo all-rounder?

It may be selfish, but it’s the leg-spin I’m most excited about.

*******

There are some very effective spin bowlers in women’s international cricket. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched enough of it to have a truly informed opinion, but Sophie Ecclestone is supremely effective for England, Poonam Yadav has beautiful flight for India, and various other spinners have impressed me at times (including the much missed Holly Colvin)

What there isn’t, is many bowlers who spin the ball big. There’s more power and pace than ever before, but not more spin. There could be a number of reasons for this, one of which could be the ball being difficult to grip and rip with smaller hands; the idea of a smaller ball has been proposed, to which I’d add an emphasis on spinners finding unorthodox grips that give them a better chance to rip the ball.

Perhaps if there was more (and for most teams any) Test cricket, and some domestic multi-day cricket, there’d be more of an incentive for real wicket-taking, big spinning bowlers to come through.

Still, there’s not many around right now who spin the ball significantly, except Amelia Kerr.

*******

New Zealand batted first in the Women’s Tri-Series final and put up a below par total, Kerr coming to the crease with the score at 97 for 4, and saw two more wickets fall before she’d got off the mark. She got lucky (maybe) with a run-out call that was too close to call, hit Shrubsole over cover for four and dragged her team to 137 for 9 with the lower order.

But what of her bowling?

It’s the ninth over of the reply when she comes on, with England cruising at 73 for none and immediately there’s a different tenor to her spin. Leigh Kasperek bowled the previous over, the cries of ‘slide it through’ coming from the ‘keeper as she ambled up and bowled something between medium pace and off-spin, front on and quick.

Amelia Kerr spins the ball. initially unnoticed by anyone commentating (as will happen if you commentate from a pod on the mid-wicket boundary) she bowled slower and with more rip than anyone else on either team. Four runs off the over, applying some pressure which Suzie Bates benefits from, taking a wicket at the other end with her brand of fast off-spin/medium pace.

Second over, a stifled LBW appeal, nothing going. Tension, just a little bit of tension in the air. Even when the ball doesn’t spin, the drift is evidence of the rip. Even when one is dragged down, it spins and can’t be dealt with. She ends the over with a googly spinning past the inside edge, and a leg-break driven to cover. It’s too slow to hit say the commentators. She’s ripping it says I.

The audacity of youth, the adventurous spirit that made 232* in an ODI, that’s what makes Amelia Kerr rip and flight the ball in a game where everyone else pushes it through.

If I was captaining New Zealand, she’d come on at the end of the powerplay, or the first over after it. New Zealand needed wickets, and she could have got them.

Third over, and the rip and spin is recognised. Talked up and then hit up and over the circle and into the waiting hands of long-on. The commentators are cooing now. Only 17, and such control. Two in two now, a googly that rips and bowls Sarah Taylor. So control, many rip, much variations. Amaze.

Fourth over. They’re scared of her now. 20 needed off 35 balls now. Just play her out. A full toss down the leg-side and England need 16 off 34. They’re on the cusp, and only Amelia Kerr can stop them.

It was always too late. England were well in control before Kerr got to bowl. Four overs, 2 for 22, still not quite good enough.

Please, Amelia Kerr, don’t become Steven Smith. Leg-spin is more important.

Photograph via YouTube

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