The greatest opening leg spinner in cricket

How Samuel Badree taught himself a method no one had before.

I have probably interviewed over 1000 cricketers in my life, and only one ever requested to do it in the written word. That was Samuel Badree. He gave me some of the tightest copies of my career, exactly what you would expect from a teacher.

There are so many ways that Samuel Badree is not like other cricketers. But let's start with the most obvious. He is still to this day the only leg-spinning opening bowler our game has had since the 1920s when that was still a thing.

It is 2023, and Samuel Badree was last on the field in 2018. And yet he still has the most balls delivered in a T20 powerplay by a leggie. Not by a little either. It's actually stupid how many times he has delivered in the powerplay compared to the next best leggie, Rashid Khan. He's double his output.

Worth looking at this too. Rashid has nearly 400 matches, and Badree nearly 200. So he has double the powerplay balls from half the games. That was just where he bowled.

Samuel Badree's overs slip away like he is a swing bowler with no death game. He either bowled up top or not at all. By the ninth over, he was basically a short third fielder for the rest of the innings. It was so incredibly different. But you may have seen that his real bump is in the first couple of overs.

So this is all the leggies with more than one first over. And he has a quarter of them. Remember when I said before he hadn't bowled since 2018? So he still has this record, despite the fact as there has been more and more T20, he's been in the commentary.

The closest bowler to him here is Max Waller, who is not really a leggie. By his own admission, he doesn't bowl many actual leg breaks. He bowls off-spin, knuckleballs and basically anything as he tries to trick the batters early on. So the number two position is not really a leggie.

Who was number three, Joe bloody Denly. A part-time bowler who most of his career didn't bowl at all. He was an ideal first over leggie because all his balls looked like they would spin and went straight on.

And because of that, Denly basically only bowled the first over. Once people worked out over a time that he could only do that one trick his leggies faded off a bit. But after England tried him out as well.

Denly had more of a classical bowling style than Badree, but they did the same thing. Skid the ball through. Yet a player as smart and experienced as Denly could only make it work for a couple of years, basically in one over upfront. Badree managed to have a 12-year career.

He also bowled all the way through the powerplay, doing it without any plus batting or fielding skills. He was a spinner who took the new ball and then all but sat down. But because of that he still has the tenth most balls ever delivered in the powerplay of any bowler. You won't be shocked to find out he is the only leggie on this list.

But this is him compared to all the bowlers in the powerplay with 2000 balls. To deliver this much you have to be a star. And let's take a little wonder around the world here.

Bhuvi Kumar was so good in the powerplay that teams decided not to try to score off him. Sunil Narine is here; despite the fact that for half of his career, he was learning a new method of bowling. Sohail Tanvir has bowled 4000 balls up front, which is a lot of time with two men out. Tim Southee is surprisingly poor up top, considering he was one of the world's leading swing bowlers for much of this time. When Dre Russ had knees, he was a top wicket-taker at the start. David Willey has always been fabulous up here and is usually criminally underrated. And Shakib Al Hasan's low-slung finger spin skids on perfectly with the new ball.

Then you have the two bowlers who stand out the most for having great averages and Econ. Mohammad Amir was a handful before and after incarceration with the new white ball. And next to this once-in-a-generation left-arm pace bowler is a Trinidadian leg spinner with an incorrect technique.

When we talk about the best powerplay bowlers of all time, Badree barely makes a list. Yet you look at this record, and you start to wonder why that is.

And it isn't like he was born to do it. The whole thing only happened because he played for a club at home that struggled with new ball bowlers, so he decided to try his wrist spin there. This was all an accident.

But the thing that wasn’t an accident was his success.

The first thing you notice about him is that he has no front arm. The best leggies usually have a powerful left arm that helps pull them through the crease and get momentum on the ball. Badree's basically doesn't exist. This means the ball is more likely to skid. And leg spinners don't usually skid as much. Because most of them get overspin. Badree skidded through like an off spinner, often hitting the stumps really low.

So yes he was a leg spinner, replete with a wrong'un that no one picked well. But his real skill was he was a leggie who behaved more like an offie from the topic. And the two melded together perfectly, skidding off the new leather and still spinning the ball both ways.

But remember Badree was also really smart. So clever that he was one of the first bowlers to use a cross seam, so batters couldn't work out which way he was spinning it. But it also meant that some balls hit the brand-spanking-new painted leather and skidded, and others hit the seam and bounced or slowed.

All of this was self-taught. Leg spin mentors were few and far between in the pace of obsessed West Indies. So Badree's Frankenstein monster creation came from him trying to emulate what he saw on TV, and getting it horribly wrong.

But because it was so different, and he was so smart, he used that to have a career that spanned a decade in the most absurd role possible and do it in a way that still is barely believable.

And Badree started in 2006. Before my database exists. But it was well before the leggie boom of T20. And also being from the West Indies was interesting, as they were pretty fast bowling obsessed. So Badree was a part-time cricketer and teacher who was left alone to work out his thing.

And it worked magically, except only in one format. He had an ok one-day record, but only ever played 30-odd List-A games. In first-class cricket, he took 14 wickets in 12 matches. But in T20, he was a golden god.

Weirdly none of this ended up with a proper IPL career. He couldn't get a look in like many overseas spinners who can't bat or field. So in 2013, he got one match. In 2014 he struggled to take wickets but had a sub-seven economy. In 2017, when his career was basically finished, he finally had a good long run of seven matches. He averaged 21 with the ball that year. And never played again.

In fact, for as good as he was, outside of at home he really wasn't a mainstay anywhere. He actually played the most games for the West Indies. A weird anomaly in an age where West Indians were making huge amounts in T20 leagues he appeared in a few, but despite some random experiences where he usually did well, there just wasn't much call for a leggie who opened the bowling without fielding or hitting.

Badree was such a weird creature that he was snubbed when he shouldn't have been.

And when you look at all the high-use bowlers in T20 cricket history, he has the second-best economy after his fellow Trinidadian Sunil Narine. That is an incredible record.

And maybe the most important number is two, the number of world cups he won. In the first final he took Kumar Sangakkara, which is a pretty handy wicket to pick up.

In the final against England, he took two early ones but also went at almost half the match rate on his way to 2/16 from four. He was a menace.

In Badree you had the world's first - and only - hand-made leg spinning opener that wrote grammatically correct emails on his way to an epic career with two huge titles. Samuel Badree was the teacher who taught himself how to be great.