An off-spinner's art is, it could be said, the hardest to achieve success with. Yet, there have a number of great offies in cricket history, a list which is topped by You-Know-Who, who requires no introduction here. Well, nor do most of the others!
Perhaps because leg spin cannot be delivered with a bent arm, and can be more aesthetically pleasing to watch, it has been seen as the pinnacle of the art. However, we currently live in a golden age of offies with the three leading names in the world - Saeed Ajmal, Graeme Swann and Ravi Ashwin - all masters of their game. This should undoubtedly spur us to cherish this craft as highly as the much praised sibling.
Perhaps the oldest name in off-spin legend is that of Englishman Willie (Billy) Bates, whose career was cut short by a straight drive hitting his eye during the Australian tour of 1887-88. He was the first offie to manage 50 wickets and he did it an average of 16, though this was not a freak statistic for his time.
Hugh Trumble, the medium pace spinner, was quite easily the biggest name in off spin until the advent of Jim Laker and the South-African Hugh "Toey" Tayfield, although there was Ian Johnson as well. The careers of those two ran concurrently, though Laker managed to have a bowl in 25 more innings than Tayfield with a return of merely 23 more wickets, albeit at a much better average and strike rate. Tayfield, though, took more wickets per Test match (4.59) then either Jim Laker or Lance Gibbs (4.19 and 3.91). Tayfield wasn't as big a turner of the ball as Laker, who along with Lock (and sometimes Wardle) had a very successful partnership. Tayfield, too, had Goddard in his corner as support. Of Laker's action, it is said that he was a classical bowler, starting the English tradition that was later followed by Allen, Titmus and Swann. Roy Tattersall is an honorable mention during this period, although he played just 16 tests for England bur managed 58 wickets @ 26 and SR of 72. It is said that, Quoting cricinfo, "A tall man, Roy delivered his offspin with a high arm action, allowing generous fight and producing bounce. He did not impart much spin on the ball, and got his wickets through accuracy and variation of pace."
The mantle was then passed on to two maestros, who couldn't have been more different than one another if they tried - Lance Gibbs and Erapalli Prasanna. Gibbs had a springy, loopy style, all from a very chest-on action. Prasanna, on the other hand, had a beautiful, side-on, drama-filled action. Gibbs relied as much on bounce for success as spin, while Prasanna was the master of flight and deception in length. During this time, there were also Mallett, Illingworth and Venkatraghavan.
After this period, came a barren 80s, In the 90s though, two superstars came to the fore in the form of Saqlain Mushtaq and You-Know-Who. Saqqi became a premier bowler during the late 90s and introduced the 'doosra', which he used to execute with a remarkably clean looking action, unlike the furor it has created for others of his ilk. In the one-day game, Saqqi was the front-runner for quite a while, being the fastest to get to a 100 wickets, and ended up with 288 wickets @ 21 and econ of 4.29. His decline was followed by the rise of a young Indian named Harbhajan Singh, who scripted a historic win against the great Aussies in 2001.
Off spin has long ceased to be the Robin to leg spin's Bruce Wayne. Off spinners are long haul bowlers who have as much cunning and craft as the next spinner, and who can create opportunities on dead beds where the leggies may give up hope. And the list of great offies should be enough to rate them as equals. For now, who do you think is the greatest of the rest?
For everybody who came here to write You-Know-Who's name, you are welcome to do so