AS I know from my own experience of purveying pies in minor club cricket, leg-spinners have an uncanny habit of taking wickets with poor deliveries.
Adil Rashid proved yesterday that even the best can strike with misplaced balls, ones that should really be hit for six or four.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s eyes naturally lit up when Rashid served up a rank long hop in the first over after tea on day two of the third Test against India in Mohali.
Pujura could have hit the delivery from his former Yorkshire team-mate practically anywhere he wanted, but he picked out deep mid-wicket, where Chris Woakes took a magnificent catch low to the ground.
It was the type of dismissal that we have seen so often over the years, where the bad ball, perversely, gets the wicket that contrastingly good ones are unable to summon.
Pujara rarely hits in the air, so it was only a rank bad ball that would have compelled him to do so and tempted him out of his cocoon of concentration.
Historically, leg-spinners have prospered in this way perhaps more than any other type of bowler, with batsmen often trying too hard to hit their long hops and full tosses into the middle of next week.
Leg-spin is cricket’s hardest art, with the bowler spinning the ball from the back of the hand, and it was one of those occasions when Rashid did not quite get it right only to come up smelling of roses.
Pujara’s wicket – the first of three to fall in 19 balls after tea as India slipped from 148-2 to 156-5 in reply to England’s 283 – turned the day and owed everything, of course, to Woakes’s fielding.
It was wonderful athleticism from the Warwickshire man, who dived full length running forward to clutch the ball inches from the turf.
“Imagine ‘Gatt’ (Mike Gatting) trying to get that after tea,” quipped Sir Ian Botham on the television commentary.
“Not a cat’s chance,” he added, dissolving into laughter.
Gatting, not the most mobile of men, might have struggled to get it at any time, never mind after a plate of cream cakes and scones – or whatever delicacies they serve up in the Mohali pavilion.
However, had the former England captain been batting at the time, he would no doubt have smashed the ball out of the park and taken the fielder completely out the equation.
After Rashid followed up with a brilliant ball to remove Ajinkya Rahane, who failed to pick a googly that hit him on the pad, there was an even better piece of fielding from Jos Buttler.
Virat Kholi pushed a delivery out to backward-point, where Buttler dived full length to stop it and, practically in the same movement, threw down the stumps at the non-striker’s end, with debutant Karun Nair stranded.
Gatting would certainly have been unable to do that, along with 99 per cent of those who have ever played the sport.
Kholi was at fault for ball-watching as he made to set off for the single, which was what deceived his partner into advancing down the pitch, or perhaps the India captain was simply transfixed by Buttler’s handiwork.
Whatever, it was an exciting period of play in which England fought back strongly after Pujara and Kholi had put the home side well on course for a sizeable first innings lead.
They may still get a useful one, having reached 271-6 at stumps, just 12 runs behind, but they caught something of England’s disease on day one by gifting too many of their wickets.
Surprisingly, on a good surface, no one has yet made a hundred in the match, with Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow coming closest with a splendid 89.
The old adage that you should never judge a score until both sides have batted is an old adage for a reason, and the match was intriguingly poised heading into day three.
There were plenty of people judging Rashid prior to this series and writing him off for a pastime – not least former England captain Bob Willis, a man with less credibility than Donald Trump.
But Rashid bowled well again yesterday en route to 3-81 from 24 overs, lifting his series tally to 16 wickets at 28.18, the most of anyone on either side.
Such has been Rashid’s progress that England captain Alastair Cook has increasing confidence in him, to the extent that he perhaps even over-bowled him yesterday.
Moeen Ali was entrusted with only nine overs and Garety Batty five, with Rashid easily the most dangerous of the spin bowling trio.
Rashid has already taken more wickets in a Test series in India than Shane Warne managed, while his total is also the best by an English leg-spinner in any series since 1959, when Tommy Greenhough took 14 at home to India.
Doug Wright’s 23 wickets in Australia in 1946-47 is the most by an English leg-spinner in one series, a record that Rashid is well-placed to beat.