Tag Archives: Graeme Swann

Den Singende Swaen – Confessions of An Ex-Off-Spinner

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A cursory look at the word cloud on the right of this site will reveal Third Man’s frequent celebrations of the craft and professionalism of Graeme Swann.

TM was the first to write of the ‘revometer’ at Loughborough and the speed of rotations that Swann’s peerless and legitimate action got on the ball – rivaling those that many wrist spinners could achieve. 

In A Swann in Flight nearly four years ago he discussed the resulting mixtures of dip and turn he could achieve from either natural or deliberate variation of the position of the seam to alter the combination of dip and drift, and the quantity of contact the seam made with the pitch.

Last summer, Sky imported their own ‘revometer’ for the Ashes. Something puzzled Third Man. The new boy Agar was often getting the same rev count as Swann.  He put it down to the ‘theatre’ that a broadcaster may create from a liberal calibration of a ‘speed gun’ or a ‘rev counter’. But surely it was an early warning that Swann was struggling to get that ‘action’ on the ball that had made him so dangerous.

It is therefore very likely that the England performance team knew even last summer, but took a gamble on Swann’s elbow improving.  Certainly pre-tour preparations at Loughborough this autumn will have revealed a further deterioration.

The great mystery of the First (Gabba) Test was the complete absence of Swann’s drift or dip (neither of which are dependent on pitch or environmental factors). Graeme was a busted flush.  It is also likely that at sometime before the 1st summer Test at Trent Bridge, Australia had ‘clocked’ this and Lehmann’s instruction to his batsmen to ‘smash him’ was based not so much on ‘attitude’ but on ‘conviction’ that he no longer posed so great a threat and that Australia should play Swann version 2.013 and not Swann version 2.009.

When Swann finally announced his retirement, Third Man’s anger with the way this ‘servant’ of England and of the game had been treated boiled over in a ‘letter to Swann’ – They Shoot Horses Don’t They – People Are the Ultimate Spectacle

It is not for a professional cricketer to de-select himself.  That is the job of Management.

Yesterday (24th January 2014) Graeme Swann was asked on Twitter whether he was entering the UPL auction this year.

His reply was, “No mate, my elbow isn’t up to it I’m afraid”.

Today trailers of an interview with him for a Radio 5 programme to be broadcast tonight contained the admission that “Whenever I bowled in the past, I could always get a lot of revolutions on the ball, dip and trouble most batsmen I bowled at.

“But from the outset of the tour, in the warm-up matches, I just couldn’t do it. After my second elbow operation, I’ve never really got the same revolutions I got before it, but it just [deteriorated] and I really felt powerless to tie people down.

“In Adelaide, I was getting hit for six by a rabbit who bats at number 11. It gets to a point that you realise you are hindering the team. You are not helping them in any way.

“It’s a horrible feeling to come to terms with because you are playing for your country, you love playing cricket for England and it’s your life, but to actually come to that conclusion is possibly the most sobering decision I have ever had to make.

“It was horrendous.”

‘At the end of the Oval Test, I think “Why didn’t I just stop then?” I knew more or less that the time was coming up,’ he said.

‘But then I’d never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t come out here and given it a crack – we had the chance to potentially win four Ashes series on the bounce.’

England management sent two unfit ‘servants’ of the game over to Australia. There should be an inquiry into that and action taken.  Not solely because of the disastrous affect it had on the balance, the psychology and the capability of the touring party and the psychology of their opponents, but because of the dereliction of the duty of care that employers (the masters) have towards their employees (the servants).

It is an old fashion notion, this responsibility, but it is no less important for that.

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

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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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Alien V – Journey to The Terrible Place: Post Modern English Cricket

Mitchell Johnson star of Alien V

There were coincidences and coincidences.  They should have known. The BAe 1-11 taking them from the Mother Country to The Terrible Place was called The Nelson Nostromo. “Hey it’s a 1-11,” joked Swanny to Jimmy.

“Just leaving on the Nelson Nostromo, but I can’t find my cricket gear. Haha,” tweeted Ravi Bopara.

TM and the Squire were in the media room of the Great House, sitting on chairs and at a table commissioned from H.R. Giger.  They were watching Alien on the large screen. The Squire was using it to explain what was taking place Down Under and to England’s cricket generally.

Media Room at The Great House

“The thing about this genre of film Third Man is that in all the crew there is only one person capable of sensing the danger – the rest are just complacent air-heads.”

“Wasn’t The Nostromo a commercial towing machine?” asked Third Man suddenly alive to the ‘Team England as Commercial Towing Machine’ metaphor.

Then there was Flower’s first team talk back at, Loughborough. “OK guys, our mission is straight forward.  It is to turn Australia into a place where English cricketers can thrive for eternity. ”

“We’ve the stats from Planet Zog.  At the end of our pre-mission training programme here at the Hyper Performance Centre the  staff are confident you’ll all fit their model to a T.”

“England have been relying on the old dialectic between man and machine trope,” explained the Squire. “That’s a universe at once disturbing – like now – and sublime.”

“Like three years ago?”

“The cocoon that  Flower has carefully constructed at first  seems a safe place, but (once the killer penetrates them) those mental defenses that promise to keep the killer out  become the walls that keep the victims in.”

Michell Johnson Thru English Batting Visor

Space Ship Australia – The Terrible Place!

“I want my mummy.”

It just slipped out of TM: “I want my mummy.”  The distress call.

The environment and the killer are one.

“How do we get out of this, Your Grace?”

“What you don’t do is listen to the on-board computer or trust that cute sounding Robot with the feminine voice.  There is no mother here to help you, TM.  This is grown up cricket.  They’re using a corky.”

“If it’s like in the movies, England have to bat like The Final Girl.”

The Final Girl pace HR Giger

“Eleven Final Girls, TM.”

“Just as Lehmann has connected the Australians with their folk memory, England have to find …”

“Their Mary Poppins!”

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Why No One Needs to Worry About the Contents of Swann’s Magnus Opus: India v England 2nd ODI, Dheli

The Breaks May Be Off, but it’s unlikely that anyone in the England cricket camp is reading the thoughts of their ebullient off-spinner.  They are having enough difficulty reading the games they are playing against India to get to grips (ho,ho) with Swann’s deadly prose. This may come as a surprise but it should not. 

A central text in England’s five Test matches in Australia last winter was their ability, thanks in large part to their Antipodean bowling coach David Saker, to read the wickets of his homeland, and for Flower and Strauss, armed with those interpretations, to select the appropriate strategy for the conditions.

This skill is even more important in one day cricket where the side batting first has to construe and continuously revise judgement on a target score and the tactics to use.

It is the ability to read the situation ball by ball, as one would a thriller sentence by sentence, that marks the good sides from the mediocre. And the larger the array of prose styles tactics that a side has at its disposal the better they will be, especially in limited overs cricket.

So, England’s inability in the ODI series that followed the Tests ‘Down Under’ to read the conditions correctly and their sluggishness in responding to those conditions was a large factor in their failure – a failure masked to a large extent by the euphoria induced by their Test successes.

That weakness is again making itself  legible two matches into their compressed ODI campaign inIndia.

It did not take much talent for lip-reading to infer the scale of Jonathan Trott’s disappointment and frustration when he edged his 37th ball to Dhoni.  Trott with 34 runs already on the board had looked imperious, threading drives to the boundary over a fast outfield.  He was batting just as Virat Kohli was to do a few hours later when India were making their reply.  And that is high praise, for Kohli batted like a Prince.

Those who bat as Trott and the unselected Bell do (enough said?) dream of being able to express their wonderful talents on such wickets as the one drafted by the groundsman in Delhi, which come rarely even at international level.  They hate it when self-inflicted error closes the book on that pleasure.

Trott knew that he had missed out big time.  It was one of those wickets on which timing comes easily – in stark contrast to that of the first match. Was that it? Were England still scrutinizing the text from the match in Hyderabad rather than this one ?

On this wicket power was not necessary to score effectively.  In fact the use of power induced unnecessary risks.

Cook slashed at his fourth ball from Praveen and was caught in the gully and Kieswetter, when it was already obvious that Vinay Kumar was getting a degree (literally) of away swing, drove with tight hands at a ball just short of a length and was comfortably caught behind to leave England clueless on 0/2.

It was time to adapt and Trott and Pietersen did so.  Pietersen, clipping a straight delivery behind square leg for an early boundary, pointed the way that Kohli was later to explore so successfully. Yet England like power crazed addicts persistently attacked the ball as forcefully as they could (excepting Trott).  Pietersen copied Kieswetter word for word as a look at the scorebook will reveal.

The Indian bowlers kept up the temptation, very rarely straying onto the stumps and when they did so that tightness of grip made their opponents prone to misread the line.

England’s 3,4,5,6,7 cruised into the thirties and forties, yet blind in these conditions to the superiority of timing over power, none reached fifty.

India in contrast only needed four batsmen to overwhelm their foe’s inadequate 237 in 48.2 overs – two of these scoring 112 and 84.

Kohli and Ghambir’s record breaking 209 run third wicket partnership was pure pleasure for them and for cricket lovers everywhere, but it was aided and abetted by England’s failure to learn from the Indian batsmen who flicked with ease anything straight (and almost everything was) to the legside boundary.

How India bat and what they like in the way of bowling is not a tale of mystery and suspense.  How they bowl at England wouldn’t for a minute maintain the attention of a reader of detective fiction.  Both could not be more easy to decipher.

It is off to Mohali and a new page for England to try and read, if that is they can get beyond an airport novel.

ODI 2: England 237 were beaten by India 238/4 

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Among the Ruins

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down …*

An archaeologist at work at the Oval yesterday surveying the third day of the fourth Test match between England and India would have seen a single wall, upright and unscathed by anything that time had thrown or bowled at it, evidence of the considerable skill and craftsmanship of a great civilization.

About the base of the wall he would have noticed fallen columns, single capping stones, dismantled steps, smashed arches and overturned cornices littering the ground; evidence of the destruction wielded against that civilization by some invading storm of vandals.  

This was not another find of the remnants of the Indian bowling, but the relics of the once great cultural expression of cricket which was Indian batting whose lyric verse no cricket lover can have ever tired of enjoying.

Rain took nearly four hours of time out of the day’s play but this forced England to declare at 591 for 6.  Bell had reached his first ‘double’ in Test cricket before perishing to the sweep against Raina for 235 (in 487 minutes and 364 balls).  Morgan had damaged his Test match reputation a little further and Bopara had done all that was required of him in personally testing circumstances.

India sheltered in their dressing room throughout the delay in play, either recovering from the pummelling they had received in the field or in dread of the pummelling they were about to receive when batting, or both.

England in contrast manifested their testosterone when going through their full pre-match preparations on the drying outfield.

Once again the Indiam batting line up had to be altered as Gambhir recovered from a concussion acquired when thumping the back of his head very hard as he stumbled backwards in a failed attempt at a catch the day before.

This necessitated Dravid opening once more, but it should not necessarily have necessitated VVS Laxman batting at number three again, but inexplicably it did.

Sehwag taking first strike untypically watched a couple of deliveries from Anderson go down the off-side before hitting the next two to the boundary in a more typical Sehwagian fashion.  All hearts were raised by the hope of witnessing this special batsman lead India’s counter attack against the Vandal horde, but Anderson was setting him up for the one that comes back and he was duly trapped LBW like a novice.

Laxman was accordingly sacrificed like some gambit with a pawn.  Who exactly is responsible for squandering the potential of this great middle order batsman against the new ball?

Tendulka arrived to another standing ovation as the crowd, keen to the history of events, willed him to the rather artificial milestone (or millstone) of a hundred international hundreds. 

This giant of all-time was all-care and all-attention but he was twice struck ducking under balls that were not that short, once on the helmet and once in the ribs.   It was an uncharacteristic awkwardness and discomfit, but he met the blow to his head with an embarrassed smile and then a perfect on-drive for four.  All might be well, thought the historically minded crowd.

But an all-or-nothing sweep him off his length approach to Swann, who came on to bowl salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs, was fraught with danger.  He must have calculated that the risk was worth it.  It revealed the Indian estimation of the wicket and the threat that the off-spinner presents, but the odds were always against it answering the destructive challenge of Swann the Terrible, and it was not long before Sachin bent his knee again and gloved the ball over his head to a waiting slip.

All who slaver are not fools.

Raina’s humiliation continued with a 40 minute duck that showed him confounded by movement and then lured by flight to over-balance and be stumped by a quick handed Prior, the batsman’s toe finding only a precarious perch on the line.

England took 5 Indian wickets in two hours (including a nightwatchman). Fifteen therefore remain to be demolished and reduced to rubble by England in two days. Swann’s figures are 10 overs, three maidens, 3 for 27.

The Wall remains 57, the only lasting evidence of a shattered civilization.

* extract from “The Ruin“, an 8th-century Old English poem from the Exeter Book by an unknown author.

N.B. The Squire has been called to Town and Third Man’s valeting services are required.  His Grace has not revealed whether this journey is in response to a call from the Governor of the Bank of England, a secretive someone in Downing Street or Duncan Fletcher, but further morning reports of deeds at the Oval will not be forth coming.

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Start-rite – An Ashes Album Page 1

The modern ritual of Test cricket allocates two half days to each side for pre-match preparations at the venue.  This keeps the sides apart and gives each, for a while, exclusive use of the territory. 

At the Gabba, over the years, this has most often been the only time a visiting side has experienced such a sense of ownership.

Here at the start of this winter’s Ashes series, Team England in its entirety of more than two dozen meet the Gabba which when empty looks like a random piece of mosaic but when full can take on the daunting qualities of a bear pit.

All but a couple of the squad are dutifully summoning the positive through joy, a mental technique advocated by Andy Flower.  Only Swann (far left) allows his mind to wander towards the camera, like a schoolboy who finds it hard to concentrate on teacher.  While is that Anderson behind them, out of the union, surveying curator Kevin Mitchell’s handy work?  

Having won the toss and chosen to bat, Andrew Strauss revs onto the field swinging his bat, briefly obscuring his partner Alastair Cook.

The old comrades touch gloves before the enforced parting known to openers, who must each ultimately face alone their cricketing destiny.

Strauss misjudges the width of the third ball of the series when England have yet to score and, cramped for room and off balance, he slices upwards rather than cuts downwards the delivery from Hilfenhaus. 

He shot a Kookaburra in the air

It fell to earth he knew not where

For so swiftly did it fly, his sight

Couldn’t follow it in its flight.

Like a heat-seeking missile, the ball locates the solitary life-form in a huge expanse of the Gabba behind square, the solitary Michael Hussey, who clutches it in the amazement a hermit shows when encountering an unexpected pilgrim.

England’s toppled leader strikes his helmet with an opened gloved hand and in self-chastisement solicitis an explantion from himself, “What have I done?”

Note: The images are supposed to take on the dream-like quality of fading memories.  If you are looking at this in a year’s time they may have disappeared or transformed themselves entirely.

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Of Seizing Stumps and Submissive Smiles

First, those stumps.  Six trophies were on offer at Adelaide as England, literally with the field to themselves, celebrated their victory and divided the spoils amongst themselves.  

One for Pietersen.  One for Cook.  One for Swann.  One for Anderson, whose two wickets in the first quarter of an hour secured the match, if not yet the Ashes, if not quite yet the series.  Which leaves two to be assigned.

Third Man thinks that England in their present frame of mind and Australia in theirs will take for granted that they are England’s to bequeath – that is, to give by their will and their will alone. 

One for their Field Marshall, Andy Flower, remembering that the only day that England may be judged to have lost so far in this series happened when he was absent.

And one for their fallen comrade, Stuart Broad, who Team England will do all they can to cuddle through the next twelve weeks of lonely rehabilitation for his muscle tear.

Secondly, the smiles.  

There is more than one kind of smile.  There are the smiles of happiness, of love, and of pride.  The smiles of genuine pleasure, the insolent smile and the shivering smile of determined vengeance.

But there is also the submissive smile of the Beta Male to the Alpha Male.  The smile of genuflection, with knee bent to the ground, eyes lowered and forehead foremost.  This has been the Australian smile, time after time.

From before Brisbane, Australia have communicated only DOUBT in themselves.  From early Shield and tour matches, from the 17 squad selection, from pre-match, mid-match and post-match interviews in Brisbane and in Adelaide, from the kicking of turf, the hunching of shoulders, the burying of necks in shoulders, the cursing, the being rattled – with every muscle they have screamed their disbelief.

Most matches are won before a ball is bowled.  They are won in the minds of those who compete.  They are won before the aptly named ‘boundary’ is crossed.

Australia once taught England the great lesson: start with the mind, for power comes from the will.  Over the last month or more they have bequeathed supremacy to England.

“Thanks mate.”

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