Dear Graeme Swann,
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.
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,