At about 16, a young Wanindu Hasaranga was a seam-up bowler and had the responsibility of opening the bowling for Richmond College. But destiny had something else in store for him. He witnessed a demonstration by his coach on how to bowl leg-spin and decided to follow in his coach’s footsteps.
He also had the belief and willingness to learn the nuances of a craft that demanded years of investment. His coach too believed in his protégé, and it didn’t take long for the duo to have an everlasting bond.
“When you become a fast bowler, you need pace and strength. Reason I wanted to convert Hasaranga into a leg-spinner was because of his great arm-speed. I had the belief of converting him into a great leg spinner,” Hasaranga’s coach Lakmal de Silva tells Cricbuzz. “When I did a demonstration on bowling leg-spin – since I was a leg-spinner myself – he believed, ‘if my coach can do it, why can’t I?’ So as time went on, he became consistent with his lengths and lines and developed variations.
“First impression and later the realisation of Hasaranga was that he loved taking on challenges. He has a lot of self confidence and learns quickly, that’s what made him stand out at a young age. The fourth ball he bowled bowling leg-spin went over the nets but he didn’t give up or quit,” he adds.
All the investment in the pace-to-spin bowling transformation workshop worked for the young prodigy as he succeeded in a local tournament. “At the age of 17, he played an Under-17, 50-over tournament and took 28 wickets in six games and that gave him huge confidence,” observes his coach. But such is the bittersweet nature of sport that initial success can be followed by a slide. In the case of Hasaranga, with time, batters began to decode his bowling in the nets and played him without much of a problem. So he put in the hard yards and developed a googly with a three-finger grip. Just that he ended up using so much of his new variation that he lost his ability to bowl the leg-break.
“As time went along, he bowled in the nets to some good batters and they played him easily. This prompted him to learn more variations. So he tried a googly or a wrong-un, which basically consisted of a three-finger grip. So, as he bowled more and more of the googly, he lost his ability of bowling his stock ball, the leg-spinner.”
With his pupil paddling through marshy waters, his coach acted as the guiding force. Lakmal based the structure of the young spinner’s development by trying to improve his muscle memory. That is to enhance ‘muscular movement’ through practice and repetition. So the practice arena was again Hasaranga’s room of evolution as he kept repeating the same method time and again to develop muscle memory.
Hasaranga’s coach also passed on the knowledge of using a scrambled seam grip for his googly. The foundation of the idea was based on how the legendary Indian spinner Anil Kumble used to operate.
“I had to develop his muscle memory. What I did was I told him to try the googly with a scrambled grip. This was inspired from seeing Anil Kumble bowl for India. Using these demonstrations, he got an idea on the grips he should use to bowl his stock ball and the variations.”
There was another hurdle for Hasaranga to conquer. He had to find a way to prevent the batter from deciphering the difference between his googly and the leg-break. So the coach laid out a plan of action where he had to bowl every ball with a scrambled seam.
“He eventually mastered the googly. But after that the biggest challenge came since he used different grips to bowl his leggie (first, second and third finger) and the googly (thumb, first and second finger). As time went along his teammates at school started to differentiate the googly and the leg spinner very easily. Hasaranga asked, ‘what should we do about this?’ I said – we’ll first try every ball with a scrambled grip. Eventually, he started mastering the art of bowling leg-spin.”
There are a few other essential features of Hasaranga’s bowling that make him a potent force in limited overs cricket. One of them is that there isn’t a significant difference in relation to release points of his googly and the leg-break. Another trait of Hasaranga’s bowling is he mostly bowls a stump-to-stump line and brings the batter forward. So the batter has to worry about every mode of dismissal when he attempts a shot against the spinner.
“Coming to Hasaranga’s biggest strength – which is his googly – compared to other leg-spinners, there isn’t a huge difference in release points of his googly and leg-spinner. Normally, when you bowl a googly, your hand position is higher than your normal delivery, but that’s not the case with Hasaranga. What makes Hasaranga standout are his speed and his consistency for a leg-spinner; he gets a great loop and dip when he bowls the googly. His wicket-to-wicket bowling, which is a combination of his lengths and speed, always prompts batters to play him off the front foot.”
Over the last five years, Hasaranga has vindicated his coach’s belief in him by picking up truckloads of wickets in international cricket. Not just as a bowler, but he is also well-known for his useful batting and fielding skills. Hasaranga’s all-round skills also caught the attention of quite a few bidders at the recently-held IPL mega auction, with RCB buying him for a whopping sum of INR. 10.75 crore. The spinner is repaying the trust shown by the Bangalore franchise as he is their highest wicket-taker in the ongoing IPL 2022.
But among all the accolades and accomplishments of his pupil, the one moment that stands out for his proud coach is Hasaranga bagging a hat-trick on his international debut versus Zimbabwe in Galle.
“The most unforgettable moment I have of Hasaranga is when he took a hat trick on his international debut in 2017 vs Zimbabwe in Galle. I was there at the stadium watching and I felt very happy since Galle was Hasaranga’s home ground since he played most of his games there for Richmond College.”