Mujeeb-ur-Rahman carrom-flicks Bangladesh into misery with a three-fer

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman is classified as an off-spinner. He corrects the assumption in self-introductions. “Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, mystery spinner from Khost, Afghanistan,” was how he described in an intro video for his previous Big Bash League team. In another interview, with the Sunrisers Hyderabad channel, he wonders why he is categorised as an off-spinner and asserts himself: “Call me a carrom-ball spinner.”

It’s an apt description, for he primarily bowls carrom ball and purchases most of his wickets with this finger-flicker. There is no more a compulsive carrom-ball practitioner than Mujeeb either; there are few better executors of the ball either. Most bowlers employ it as a variation, or a change-up or a novelty ball. But Mujeeb uses this all the time—not because that’s the only ball he bowls but also because that’s the best he has. Just like a googly-bowler—as his teammate Rashid Khan is often referred to—or like an off-spinner or a leg-spinner, why not term him carrom-ball bowler?

Needless to say, two of his three wickets that stalled Bangladesh, consigning them to a three-wicket defeat, were carrom balls. Even his run-up is so different from the norm. It’s a walk of a man wriggling past vehicles in an Indian traffic signal. But it’s what comes out of his right hand that confounds the batsmen.

The first was the left-handed opener Mohammad Nasim, who perhaps, assumed that he was indeed an off-spinner pushed at the ball from the crease. But to his utter horror, he saw the ball gliding (than spinning) and sneaking through the wide gulf between his bat and pad.

You could pin the dismissal, notwithstanding the clumsy technique, to poor homework. For, against left-handed batsmen, he mostly bowls just the carrom ball. Bangladesh batsmen know it more than most because he has often been their nemesis. Any reel of Mujeeb’s best balls would feature a carrom ball that flummoxed Shakib-al-Hasan, the Bangladesh talisman. Naim can’t be fully blamed, for even Shakib himself did not learn from the old mistakes as he was yet again terminated by his carrom-ball in an identical manner. Pushing at the ball and bowled through the gaping gate.

Not that he is just about carrom-ball. He has a deceptive wrong’un too, but that’s mostly served for the right-handed batsmen. Like how he flummoxed Anamul Haque, who was expecting a carrom ball but was nipped off by the wrong’un that spun back into him. More luminous right-handed victims include Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. He had really relished the Kohli dismissal, talking about how he carefully observed Kohli’s feet movement before he went wide of the crease, and slipped in a lovely googly that hoodwinked the intended cover drive to mess with the stumps.

In short, Mujeeb works on the inverse logic that batsmen are troubled by the balls that come back into them and not leave them.

What confounds the batsman most is that he has a similar grip for both carrom ball and wrong’un. He holds the ball between the index finger and the thumb, with the middle finger under the ball like a cushion, before it propels the ball in anti-clockwise direction. The fundamentals are the same for the wrong’un, only that the release is from the back of the hand. There are other minute clues too. The wrong’un tends to be floatier, and hence turns more prodigiously than the carrom ball. He also bends more and the release point is a fraction lower too. But most batsmen watch his grip for clues and they find nothing.

There are more variations that he sparingly uses like the under-cutter, a reverse under-cutter, and an in-swinging yorker that he bowls with an angled seam and a slightly quicker action. On how he has developed all these variations he once explained in a Brisbane Heats video: “My first coach is Youtube. I learnt the carrom ball by watching Ashwin, Narine and Mendis bowling it. Then I would try those a thousand times at home or when playing with my friends. Then I began to experiment with different grips and different releases, and automatically mastered the variations,” he says.

And when he met Ashwin at the IPL a couple of years back, he learnt the off-spin carrom ball that the Indian spinner was working on then. It must have been some sight: two experimental bowling scientists trying this and that at nets. But whichever variation he develops in his bowling lab, he reproduces it in a match only when he has acquired utmost control of bowling it.

Little wonder then that his quest for experiments is matched only by his accuracy. He rarely bowls short or full, or even on the leg-side; rather he always looks to land the ball on off-stump or just outside it. That the Bangladesh batsmen could not punish him for a single boundary captures the precision of his bowling. This is a deadly blend—accuracy, aggression and variations. The irony is that the only delivery he—an off-spinner— does not bowl is an off-break. Call him then a carrom-ball spinner.

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