They Shoot Horses Don’t They – People Are the Ultimate Spectacle


Dear Graeme Swann,

Thank you,

At a time when timid, short-sighted administrators allowed and even encouraged so-called finger spinners to chuck the ball, and violate one of the game’s elemental constrictions,  you almost single handed revived the noble practice of genuine, orthodox, legitimate off-spin BOWLING, for which the whole of cricket should applaud and thank you.

Where too many others have consciously and unconsciously exploited the naïve laws around biomechanics – which Third Man analysed in detail in a series of posts here, here, here and here – you took to the field with no more than a sideways action, a full 180 degree rotation of the shoulders, a high right knee drive, a snap of the wrist and a flick of the fingers (in pictures here) – and you did so with great style, to the delight of the connoisseur and casual spectator, alike.

These straightforward attributes, honed by hours and hours of practice indoors and out, enabled you to impart extraordinary numbers of revolutions on the ball during its wonderful pattern of flight towards the batsman.  It was these revolutions that triggered the Magnus effect and gave you what was once called drift but really ought to be called curve, allied with elements of topspin that brought the ball down sharply to increase the bounce of the ball. Subtle variations of the orientation of the seam allowed an element of chance to dictate how much of that seam and how much leather bit into the turf, foxing many a batsmen with its random effects and giving you the ability to attack both sides of the bat.

A keen cricketing intelligence, deep knowledge, shrewd field positioning and crafty manipulation of the batsman’s psyche made you a dangerous bowler with a lethal strike rate.

Cricket laws and conventions – as presently constituted are deeply unfair to legitimate off-spinners.  Besides discriminating against them by tolerating and advancing the hateful chuckers, the LBW law and the ruling on wides in limited-overs cricket discourage others from emulating your enriching skills.

The left arm ‘finger’ spinner bowls a beautiful delivery that whizzes past the face of the bat into the wicket keepers gloves, disturbs the batsman’s calm and is applauded by everyone.  The off-spinner does the same and is penalized. Obviously, when bowling to left handers the incidence of the injustice is shared by the left-amrer.

Nor can the off-spinner attack three stumps and, most vitally, the off-stump. Where the batsman would otherwise have to consider the danger of being bowled, LBW or caught behind, s/he can ‘play a shot’ and if struck outside the line of the off-stump go freely on, heart beat constant. Right-arm wrist spinners have a similar cause for complaint, but the outside edge of the batsman is always in play. For the off-spinner the batsman can play with half a bat (the inside half) with less fear and greater impunity.

So, BS (Before Swann), legitimate off-spinners were becoming the do-dos of the modern game, people to be consigned to the history books along with lob bowlers.

Off Spinners Before Swann

How Australians, used to the pre 2004/5 era of domination, laughed at the idea that their great batsmen would be troubled in any way by Graeme Swann.  How those laughs evaporated when faced by your immaculate dip, turn, bounce, variety and authority.

It was great to watch and hopefully an inspiring alternative to the chucking role models.

But this mechanical rigour took its toll on the body and surgery has robbed you of force and flexibility.

Bowlers, like itinerant defenceless blacksmiths of old carrying their valuable materials surround themselves in mystery and tales of dark arts to protect their vulnerability to attack – none more so than spinners who without these psychological defences risk humiliation. Robbed of the ‘mystery’ you were powerless.

In this state of impotence you were sent into the field when you should have been put out to grass – as much for your own dignity as for the success of the side.

Yours was yet another incompetent selection for this Ashes Tour.  With all the equipment, all the support, including Mishy’s wonderful advice, how did they miss (and perhaps you obscure) the simple fact that your rotations were down, way down.  There was no Magnus effect, no curve, no dip, no bounce.  Even in club cricket you would have been hoisted high and mighty over the ropes, let alone against Clarke and Watson!

In the long run does it matter?  Yes it does.  No individual need deselect themselves.  That is what selectors are for.  You were let down.  As someone who rescued a dying facet of the game you deserved better.

In return Cricket England should come out unequivocally and campaign vigorously to outlaw the chucking spinners. Send them off to play darts where they belong. Secondly, to lend their weight to a reconsideration of the automatic designation of a legside wide for balls that spin across batsman in one day cricket.

Let it also be hoped that you use your potential as a communicator and campaigner yourself to advance those changes.

Here, an almost full moon shines down – let that be how you are remembered: a silver disk, reflecting light, mysterious and profoundly pleasing to the eye.

With great respect and good wishes for your future,

Third Man



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6 responses to “They Shoot Horses Don’t They – People Are the Ultimate Spectacle

  1. growltiger

    Hear, hear! Agree with every word. The vanishing of Swann’s drift this winter was what made it possible for the Australian batsmen to make such a concerted attack. If he had still possessed the necessary revs, it would have been they who perished (like Pietersen, of vanity, in the deep).

    In a way, it is pleasing to see that the art survives, in Lyon’s excellent bowling this winter. Without Swann’s example, there would otherwise not be a single genuine off-spinner amongst the dart-throwers. Long may he continue.

    Swann’s long sweep of the arm will always remain an image to savour, on a par with that little clip of Laker, filmed from sideways on in 1953.

  2. Thank you for mentioning Lyon, GT. His ‘vigil’ at the sacred well was indeed in TM’s mind when he wrote this.

    Laker? There is also the still image of him with his right need high in the drive-through. Classic forms in cricket deserve a blog.

  3. I am glad to hear that yu are turning against the dart-throwers – I thought you approved of the ICC regs on elbow-extension, but maybe I misread you. I was heartened by Ashley Mallett’s blog-post naming Swann as 3rd against Prasanna and Laker as a classical off-spinner. Poor Tom Goddard is forgotten! But spinners are products of their ages. For me, no off-spinner has ever approached the subtlety of Fred Titmus, but I admire the resourcefulness of Illingworth, Tim May, Venkat. One man should be recalled simply for longevity and the sheer majesty of his partnership with Gary Sobers…. how many batters were out caught Sobers (standing about 4 feet from the bat just behind the popping crease) bowled Gibbs. That was in the days before the Cowdrey lesson of pad-play had really taken hold, so that backward short-leg was taken out of the game. Some of those catches by Sobers beggared belief. i recalled the quote from JM Barrie after APF Chapman had taken a catch – maybe at Lords in 1930 – “how do we know that the ball caught by Chapman was the ball hit by ? (sorry i do not instantly recall)

  4. Diogenes, good to hear from you with your wealth of ideas and memories.

    For two hundred years TM has been a strident campaigner against the chuckers in any role but particularly among tweakers. Witness the series linked to above.

    Bio mechanical evidence exists that could be used to formulate a law that allows for natural hyper extension, but which outlaws a ‘throw’ which is a distinct and different action.

    It is plain politics that inhibits them from doing so. All the more reason to celebrate legitimate spin bowlers who toil day after day to bowl within the spirit of the game . Where is cricket’s Sebastian Coe?

    TM has a vivid memory of Sobers fielding with his right foot actually on the return crease – just try it next time you take the field.

    The Squire insists on hearing carols sung at the Abbey, Bath later this afternoon, and has journey hither from World’s End. TM is with him operating the new portable apparatus for blogging and commenting. A more considered reply including Laker’s estimate of Titmus, Allen etc must wait until they return to the Great Library with it’s peerless archive.

    As finger spinners say, Have a great ‘knees-up’ this holiday.

  5. thanks 3rdMan. I think I know Laker’s views on his rivals and successors. Mortimore was the master of flight and angles (till David Hughes tonked him in the Filette Cup in 1970?), David Allen was the biggest spinner of the ball, but Titmus was the real deal. He was even at the other end when Boycott made his England debut as an opener in 1964.

    Laker was also a big fan of Pat Pocock, very unfairly treated by the selectors until his renaissance on the Gower tour of India.

    I never read or heard his views on his real rivals – Tattersall, Appleyard, McConnon, and Don Shepherd. But he was a reticent man. After his stalwart efforts on the disastrous 58/59 tour of Australia, where he performed above requirements until his finger got too arthritic to take the pain, I think St PBH May marked him down. It is about time that someone dismantled the PBH May shrine. But then we have to wait till the Gubby shrine gets dismantled. At least most people now know what a self-serving hypocrite Pelham Warner was. And there are signs that Surrey might recognise that Leveson-Gower was tainted goods.

    • man in a barrel, TM thinks this comment may be a continuation of your views at the Goblin Footfall post, so he has placed a link there back to this.

      Thank you as always for the detail your bring. These were indeed the Lakerian assessments that TM had in mind.

      John Wardle has commented here in the past concerning his father and the treatment he received from May.

      One thing is clear about Monty’s bowling on the fourth day – it would have been far better had his Captain shown confidence in him. They way he was treated was scandalous and destructive.

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