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The role of the modern-day spinner is one that changes by the season and Jigar Naik recognises that you simply have to adapt to have sustained success in the professional game.
The 29-year-old accepts that you have to bowl on surfaces that won’t always suit your game, and thinks that planning is a key part of that particular process.
To go alongside that, the rules and format of one-day cricket have changed over the years, and in 2014, bowlers will have to quickly adapt between cricket in the Liverpool Victoria=County Championship and Natwest T20 Blast given it is mixed together.
There is also the return of the 50-over competition in the form of the Royal London One Day Cup, which has subtle differences to the 40-over tournament. As a spinner, there is a larger middle period which you’ll be expected to patrol, for example.
With two new balls and more fielding restrictions in place in 50-over cricket and boundaries brought in to increase the excitement of T20, it would be understandable if spinners lost heart at times. But Naik sees it all as a challenge and actually sees greater potential for the slow men to have an impact.
He said: “I was fortunate that I bowled a lot of overs early in 2013, although I’m not sure it was fortunate for the team as spinners don’t tend to come into their own then! But you have got to want to bowl in every situation; whether it is turning or not, whether the pitch is green or not and so on.
“Sometimes you’re called upon and you have to deliver your job. Every spinner who takes those conditions and says ‘I’m going to stick to my plans and do my job,’ will learn every time they bowl. That is key to improvement.
“The change in format should not affect us too much. It all depends on what sort of pitches we’re going to play on really, and whether we’ll use the same T20 wickets or play on different ones. It has its pros and cons but as a spinner you have to stay one step ahead of the batsman on every given day and deliver your best.
“The 50-over competition is back and although that gives more opportunities to spinners, the rules have changed. So we have a new ball at each end and only four men allowed outside the fielding ring, which doesn’t really suit the spinners. The most the ball can get old is 25 overs old and there will always be one area that is unprotected.
“It isn’t designed to favour the spinners but if you look at the stats, in ODIs, spinners have actually been getting more wickets with the extra man inside the ring. So you have to be adaptable and take the positives, like with any sort of bowler. You have to stick to your plans, look at who you’re likely to bowl against, look at what the batsmen are trying to do and try to plan as best as you can.
“But it will always be about what you deliver on a matchday. And although it’s a sportsman’s game, it is also an entertainment game, so as a bowler we just have to come up with better plans and do our best to adapt.”
When Naik suffered a serious injury for the second season in succession, an opportunity arose for young slow left armer James Sykes. They say that one person’s misfortune can be another’s gain, and Naik thinks that Sykes coped well with the chance when it came along.
Naik knows that it was never going to be an easy situation for the young spinner, as he was in exactly the same situation when he was looking to make a breakthrough. But Naik was impressed with Sykes’ performances and also felt he batted well, which is another key string to a spinner’s bow.
He said: “It was difficult for Sykesy (James Sykes). We had Claude but he wasn’t around as much as he was in previous years as he got the coaching job with South Africa. He was thrown in at the deep end with the senior bowler being injured and I was always there for him. I knew exactly how he felt because it was the same situation as to when I first started.
“He did really well; some of the wickets and situations didn’t favour him but he gave it his all. His plans will improve the more he plays and I’m always here to chat. We have good cricket talks and I welcome that.
“It’s a huge step from being second spinner to the main spinner. I only really made that step up once Claude announced his retirement because I was then the senior spinner at the Club. It’s a massive step and it’s much easier for a spinner to ease their way into it. When you are thrown in, there are expectations to deliver and I thought that he handled it well.
“He’s very young and has time on his side. At Swansea, and even at Essex, we would probably have played two spinners and that would have helped. Being the senior spinner is a different situation and a tough job. Spin bowling is an art and it takes a lot of time to learn and perfect it. But all experience you get as a 21 year old will help in the future.
“He also did nicely with his batting and he’ll improve every aspect of his game as he gets the experience. Spinners have got to work and try to get the 7/8 spot in four-day cricket and if you have a spinner who is getting runs, it helps the balance of the side, especially if you want to play three or four seamers.
“At least one of those of those bowlers has to be able to bat and more often than not, the spinner is the one who does the batting. It’s a good thing to have in your armoury. You need to be able to bat as a spinner, particularly in the modern game. It also applies in one-day cricket. If you look at Swanny (Graeme Swann), he’s capable of coming in and putting bat to ball, which is a big boost to the team.”
* In the third part of the interview, Jigar looks towards the future.