Tag Archives: The Magnus Effect

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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A Swann in Flight

One of Third Man’s older memories is of lying in bed with his Christmas present of a new and, then, miraculously small transistor radio.  It is very early in the morning and he is listening to a live broadcast of the 1962/63 Australian tour from the Sydney Test.  Fred Titmus is exploiting the breeze across the SCG to make the ball drift away from the right hand bat.  He takes 7 -79.   

Jim Laker, no less, described Titmus as a master of away drift but reserved the accolade of strongest spinner to (the other) David Allen.

It is the Magnus Effect that couldexplain why Titmus got less turn but more drift than Allen and why Graeme Swann is number two in the ICC bowling table.

The Magnus Effect  is what causes the tennis ball struck with top spin to dip steeply.  It is what causes the sliced golf ball to swerve right and Beckham’s free kicks to bend left when struck with the inside of the right foot. 

It and not the breeze is what accounted for the apparent ability of Titmus’ off-spin to drift or fade away from the right hand bat and it explains a lot of what is happening to Graeme Swann’s fiendish deliveries.

There is a trade-off between the amount of turn you can expect and the amount of Magnus Effect.  To maximize turn the bowler would try to send the ball down with the access of rotation aimed at the batsman and the seam rotating either clockwise or anticlockwise.  But this would produce no drift or dip.

By propelling the ball seam towards the batsman with the axis of rotation going across the wicket would produce top spin and dip or back spin and keep the ball in the air longer than expected.

When the right arm off-spinner sends the ball down with the seam rotating towards leg slip there will be varying and unpredictable combinations of drift, dip and turn.

Dip allows the ball to be bowled higher so that it spends as much time as possible above the eyeline of the batsman, a less natural and therefore less accomplished point of view.

There is also a differential reaction to the surface of the wicket depending on how much of the seam strikes the ground.

Angling the seam with the bottom of the ball slightly forwards towards the wicket will then increase the randomness of the grip that the ball takes. Sometimes the ball will land fully on the seam, sometimes fully on leather and all combinations between producing differences in turn and the chance of the ball which lands on leather skidding on along the direction set by the forward momentum and the drift.

This thus maximises variation.

Swann puts something like 1,800 rotations on the ball.  The greater the revs the stronger the resulting motion perpendicular to the relative velocity vector, as well as the greater the change in pace and direction on impact.

Added to this he can vary his pace by as little as a couple of miles per hour.

Doing all this almost at will, he can put together subtle combinations and series of balls like a boxer setting up an opponent for a particular punch.

He aims generally at the right hander’s off stump (the attacking line) so that not only are both edges of the bat in play but also a missed ball is likely to hit the stumps.

The dip, drift and spin variations disturb the batsman’s timing and bring the catch from a mistimed shot into the equation.

Bowling round the wicket to left handers there is a tendency for the seam to tilt more towards the wicket and so an increase in both the extent of the drift and the chances of the ball landing on the leather and skidding through like an old fashioned arm ball.

Finally, Swann is confident and aggressive and communicates the intensity of the moment to batters and fielders.

How wonderful it would be to have the camera images that are possible today for the flight of bowlers such as Laker, Allen, Mortimore, Titmus and even further back to Verity and Rhodes.  (The wrist spinners can speak for themselves.)

AN UPDATE: Over in the Corridor of Uncertainty Jonathan Calder asks sagely, “is off-spin the new leg spin?’   In that revs are back in fashion and that English finger spinners are learning to use the javalin approach, they are indeed catching up with the innovations of the leg spinners and perhaps surpassing them.

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