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The Younis Khan way of playing spin
A masterclass on how to play spin like Younis Khan

The Younis Khan way of playing spin

Playing spin is an entirely different skill as compared to facing quicker bowling. When facing someone bowling at 145 clicks, footwork becomes limited with very little time on offer. But against spin, batters need to put in more effort and be more dynamic. Be it using forward press, getting lower in your set-up to pick up length better and other things, the movements in this case are very different. Getting back to Younis Khan as the title suggests, what made him a stand out player of spin bowling? Here is a list of few elements (technique wise) which he did to find success against spinners.

Employing the forward press

Forward press is simply a half-step forward taken before the ball is released which makes the final forward movement a bit smaller. On turning tracks, batsmen can employ the press so they are killing the spin instead of taking a big step towards the ball all at once and imparting energy on the ball which then brings in the close in catchers into play. If the ball is shorter in length, batters can then 'push off' the front foot to transfer their weight back.

 Getting into an athletic position. see the left foot pressing forwards

Getting into an athletic position. see the left foot pressing forwards

The key to getting the press right is the timing of it – pressing way too early would kill the rhythm and going too late wouldn’t be great as well. The other thing to remember is to be able to move again after the half step forward and be in an athletic and attacking position. Younis had employed the forward press from the start of his career but the ‘timing’ of the movements changed a bit over the course of his career. Just to explain it further, let’s take an example from one his innings against England in the UAE in 2012.

 Younis Khan and the good old forward press

Younis Khan and the good old forward press

As we can see from the images, he starts off with an open stance and takes a step forward and across [in a state of press] just prior to ball release [middle frame]. As the ball is tossed up and slightly fuller in length, he makes another movement into the ball and defends it with soft hands. With the forward press, the sweep shot became a bit easier for him as most of the movements required to play a certain shot are eliminated.

Maneuvering the bat face to rotate strike

Controlling the bat face is one of the key elements in batting. Batsmen who can work out the angles well can find ways to rotate strike against spinners. Players can sometimes alter the position of their hands slightly to adjust to control the bat – Alastair Cook’s example comes to mind straightaway. He used to hold the bat a bit higher on the handle and struggled to control the bat face as his swing felt a bit whippy. Later on, he altered the position of his hands in his grip, going lower on the bat handle which gave him more control in his defence against spinners.

I’ve picked some examples of Younis Khan as to how he controlled the bat face by getting into great positions [comes down to alignment as well] and then either dropping the ball with soft hands or with slight force.

As we can see below, keep an eye on how he waits for the ball for a split second longer and then turns it just past the short leg fielder.

 Turning the face on impact against Panesar

Turning the face on impact against Panesar

Another example, where he gets a bit trapped on the crease but adjusts well by just opening up the blade and dropping the ball through cover point.

 Dropping it on the off-side

Dropping it on the off-side

Keep an eye below on how he opens up his front foot after closing off initially to align himself to find the gap on the leg-side. Gets on top of the ball and then turns the bat face on impact to get the ball past short leg fielder.

 Realigns his shape to access leg-side

Realigns his shape to access leg-side

The sweep shot

How many runs would have Younis scored with this shot? I assume there will be plenty. As I explained the forward press above, Younis would take a step forward prior to ball release [or in this case a fraction later], and then take another step to get down on one knee and putting the bowler’s off their lengths. The first movement was very important to him [remember taking movements out of the way].

 The sweep shot

The sweep shot

As we can see from the images above, Younis is proactive in his movements and puts off Nathan Lyon off his length. The ball has clearly landed on the perfect spot as any spinner would like but he’s used his reach to a great effect. One of the side-on captures of Younis show how his chest used to come so close to his front knee – decimating a spinner’s good length ball.

 Younis Khan's sweep from side-on. Keep an eye on his reach.

Younis Khan's sweep from side-on. Keep an eye on his reach.

Hitting over the top without stepping out

If you watch Younis Khan’s Test hundred on debut, he took on the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan which is not an easy job to do. Murali could spin the ball a mile and his doosra was extremely hard to pick. So, to step out against a bowler who can spin the ball the other way (away from the right hander) is a very risky option. Younis, in one of his interviews had admitted that he would back himself to hit over the top without running down the track.

“I believe that I can generate enough force staying in the crease rather than charging down the track,” he said in his interview in 2017 published on Cricinfo. This is something which Graham Thorpe did against Muralitharan in 2001, as Duncan Fletcher [England coach at that point] questioned him [Thorpe] as to whether he could push the mid-on and mid-off fielders back on the fence by hitting Murali over the top from the crease.

The key in adopting this kind of strategy is to be able to pick length correctly. If it is really tossed up and in the slot, you can take a step forward and launch the bowler back over his head. If the length isn’t quite there, you can get into a bit of trouble with the rough outside off-stump (assuming a right-handed batter in this case).

However, having watched Younis bat over a longer period, he did use his feet to come down the wicket against spinners. The interesting part was when he did want to come down the wicket, he stood still for a bit longer and the timing of the press changed [in some cases, it wasn't there when charging down]. This might be an instinctive thing to him.

Hitting on both sides of the wicket

How many times you’ve heard commentators say: “Oh that was a great shot but he struck the ball against the turn there”. Well, this is something which all the best players of spin do. So for example a right arm off-break bowler is bowling to a right handed batsman, there will be less fielders on the off-side as compared to the leg-side. Off-spinners would then try and land the ball into the rough [outside off] which can be driven through covers provided you are close enough to the pitch of it to kill the spin.

In case of hitting through the off-side [off-spinner against right-hander], the batsman is using the full face as more part of the ball [spinning in] and more bat face will come into contact – something which Duncan Fletcher termed as ‘hitting into spin’ rather than against it. This is more illustrated in a post by Elite Cricket Performance Academy [cricket biomechanics academy based in London].

 ©Elite Cricket Performance Academy

©Elite Cricket Performance Academy

The image below shows Younis creaming a drive off Nathan Lyon, keep a closer look at his bat face.

 Younis plays off the front foot, hitting into the spin

Younis plays off the front foot, hitting into the spin

Exceptional back foot play

The basic principle of playing spin is to be able to play fully forward or fully back. Rarely we see world class players getting caught on the crease against spin bowling. Something which a lot of Australian players do is they lunge forward and then are unable to ‘push off the front foot’ quickly and transfer the weight back.

Young batsmen are instructed to get forward against spin which is fine but the problem is that they miss out on so many scoring opportunities off the back foot. Best players of spin like Younis Khan are quick to pick length and push quickly onto the back foot if the length is slightly on the shorter side.

 Clearing the front side to access the leg-side

Clearing the front side to access the leg-side

As we can see from the pictures above, keep an eye on his footwork patterns and how he opens up his front side after that initial forward press. The front side opens up to allow the bat to come through and then a strong wristwork follows up.

The writer tweets at @WaqasZafar11