Cricket: why the division between off-spin and leg-spin bowling?

I’ve been following cricket for twenty years and this question has never occurred to me until today. Why do spin bowlers limit themselves to one type or another? Why not merge the two and use whichever delivery seems most useful at the time?

Or maybe it does happen and I’ve just missed it? I don’t recall a single crossover delivery ever happening at international or Aust state level.

I understand that they require very different actions and grips so specialising will be better for most people, but the seeming non-existence of such spin bowlers is at odds with the presence of all-rounders, batting wicketkeepers, etc.

But they do. This is what a doosra (for off-spinners) or a googly (for leg-spinners) is, a ball that spins in the opposite direction from normal.

From my very limited understanding of doosras and googlys, they still require a variant of the off- or leg-spin action, respectively, so that they won’t be instantly recognised by the batsman. In a way, those balls illustrate the point in that an off-spin bowler will invest their time developing a doosra rather than bowl a standard leg-break.

Wouldn’t there be value in being able to choose leg or off-spin depending on the handedness of the batsman, the position of cracks in the pitch, etc?

Okay, I understand you now. I guess the different styles are just too hard to master so bowlers pick one in their youth and develop variations on it.

Having said that here’s a clip of Muralitharan bowling leg spinin a test against South Africa to show it can been done

I’ve never seen that before. Maybe Muralitharan should have bowled more leg spin - the batsman didn’t look like he had much idea.

I get that the two styles are very different and generally require specialisation but there are plenty of batsmen who bowl a bit of off-spin and a few all-rounders who bowl both medium pace and spin (Andrew Symonds, Mark Waugh). It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard for someone to become proficient enough in both types of spin bowling given the potential benefits.

What, 800 test wickets not enough for you?

I do seriously wonder if he could have been more effective without the arbitrary division between leg and off. It’s akin to a batsman deciding to only play shots on one side of the wicket.

At least switching to leg spin might have taken the focus off his action - his arm appeared to be straighter.

…what makes you think its easy to be both a world class leg spinner and a world class off spinner?

Hey, this is Murali we’re talking about…he probably could have been a world-class medium pace bowler if he’d put his mind to it.

I think a lot of the division, too, is muscle memory. I was an off-spin bowler during my short, occasionally decent cricket career and I learned how to bowl a sneaky doosra in the nets that fooled everybody. But out in the middle I just couldn’t do it. My arm wasn’t going to work that way in competition, and that was that.

Ideally it would be beneficial if a spinner could bowl both. Offspinners are more effective against left-handed batsmen, and legspinners have better records against right handers, as they can get catches off the outside edge. However, a bowler who can bowl well in one style will be more effective than one who bowls two badly. It’s very difficult to master a single type of bowling, let alone two. It’s especially difficult to bowl legspin accurately, there haven’t been many test-level legspinners in cricketing history.

Field placing is generally specific to the type of spin being bowled, as it will tend to dictate the half of the pitch that most shots will end up in. It’s not normally considered possible to set a field that will be fully effective for both - so an off-spinner who bowls the doosra, or (more common) a leggie who bowls googlies, will have the field set to cater for his stock delivery, and rely on the one that goes the other way not being read as such by the batsman. This isn’t possible if you bowl leggies and offies - the batsman will read the change in action before the bowler’s even let the ball go. A very few bowlers have bowled a mixture of the slow stuff regardless, but in the main, they’ve been occasional bowlers filling in with a few spare overs and often treated with respect by the batsman because, let’s face it, no-one wants to see off the top-flight bowlers and then get done in by a part-timer.

Gary Sobers could bowl orthodox or over-the-wrist with equal facility but, AIUI, usually concentrated on one during a particular spell. Similarly for Johnny Wardle, who used the chinaman in Australia because he couldn’t get his regular spin to turn. What also amused me one Sunday was watching a John Player League game in which Phil de Freitas, finding himself bowling on an absolute bunsen, cut his run-up in half and bowled offies instead of his usual fast-medium. He got huge turn and absolutely ripped through the Middlesex batting.

I was at the MCG when Murali was no-balled, and completed that over bowling leggies.

I’m a broken down park cricketer now but can and do bowl offies and leggies. About half the u16s team I coach can make a moderate fist of it as well. In the practice nets I sometimes bowl them alternatively. But I’ve never been asked by a captain to “mix 'em up”. I either bowl a spell of off breaks or very rarely a spell over the wrist.

Yes, setting the field is significantly different but the main problem is bowling a consistent line for the strategy.

With offies you are usually expected to keep it tight, leggies you are often buying a wicket
Adding a loopy leg break in an over of flat offspin releases all the pressure you’ve (hopefully) built up. Conversely an offie in an over of leggies would be bowling like flipper without top spin.
You sort of end up in the neither fish or fowl category. For it to work you’d need to be very good at both and history has shown they are very rare birds. Garry Sobers and SF Barnes and that’s about it.

That’s odd. I was watching it on TV when it happened and I don’t recall it, although it was seventeen years ago.

That makes sense if you’ve got a batsman tied down at one end for the whole over, but if you’ve got a left-right combination or a set batsman and a tailender and they take a single mid-over is there no value in changing style then?

Maybe not. People have raised some good reasons for why it isn’t done, I still suspect that convention is part of it.