Swann and Smiley’s Way – the Search for Lost Time

Graeme Swann is an old fashioned off-spinner.  His action as illustrated in the stills above produces lots of rotations on the ball giving a high probability of turn.  This allows him to aim the ball to pitch wide of the off-stump with the intention of letting any resulting turn challenge the inside edge of the right hander’s bat as this film of a Swann delivery to Ponting illustrates.

But this film also reveals a slight ‘wobble’ on the ball as it spins slightly out of the line of its axis.  Amercian quarter-backs reckon that this wobble helps their throwing accuracy.  

In cricket it also provides the bowler with random variations that affect the degree of resulting turn.   Depending on how much of the wobbling seam makes contact with the pitch, the ball’s sideways movement can range from the prodigious of the sharply turning delivery to the minimal of the ‘arm ball’ that skids onwards along the line of the incoming ball this time to challenge the outside of the right-hander’s bat.   Wobble also randomly affects the direction and extent of any drift, dip and bounce.

With a typical ball from Swann pitching a long way outside the line with off stump, a batsman finds it hard to control the ball with the sweep shot.  Subtle variations of flight deter him coming out of the crease to the pitch of the ball.  A lap towards cow corner is discouraged by a fielder placed there.  (A boundary fielder can be as much attacking as a short-leg.) 

Midwicket is positioned on a line with the bowler’s crease and a few pitch widths across from the wicket to stop any pressure relieving single.  The scoring option is a cover drive but this must be played against the rotations of the fast spinning ball. This is what Ponting attempts but fails to achieve in the YouTube clip.

These physical and tactical skills have taken Swann over a dozen years to hone – years exploring a lost art – a Search for Lost Time – as can be followed on these two further clips.  

In this winter’s Ashes series, Swann and England have tried to add the threat of a ‘Special Ball’ which moves away from the right hander because of the different direction of rotations to his normal ball.  Whether the England spinner has this delivery at Brisbane and, if he has, when he decides to use it will be the subject of bluff and counter bluff that makes Watson’s mental assault on Finn look as crude and thuggish as it is.

Swann and England’s psychological assault on the Australian batsmen, begun months ago with carefully leaked and indiscrete remarks about a ‘dousra’, is worthy of a John le Carre novel.

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