Mike Holmans December 29, 2009

The return of the fingerspinner

When a spinner is on and there are four or five fielders crouched round the batsman, you can feel the steam building up in the pressure-cooker - and these last few weeks, we have had gratifyingly extended views of batsmen being boiled like sponge

Graeme Swann is the second-highest wicket-taker this year© Getty Images

In the recent Australia-West Indies series, Suleiman Benn was the joint leading wicket-taker for the visitors. Nathan Hauritz took the same number of wickets as Benn, though he was outdone by teammates Johnson and Bollinger. As I write, the leading wicket-takers in the South Africa- England series are Graeme Swann and Paul Harris.

There was a theory floating round in the early part of this decade that the conventional finger-spinner was an endangered species, and that fairly soon he would be confined to Asian habitats. Wrist-spinners, and weird finger-spinners like Muttiah Muralitharan, would survive and even thrive elsewhere, but the common or garden tweaker was destined to die out. Yet here we are with series in Australia and South Africa with the spinners in rude health and doing very well.

And it's not as though these four are particularly special. Neither Swann nor Hauritz is a Jim Laker or Erapalli Prasanna, neither Benn nor Harris are a patch on Bishen Bedi or Derek Underwood. They don't have mystery balls, they don't turn it square, they don't try doosras. They are merely good bowlers, with Swann perhaps verging on the borders of very good by dint of having the wit to exploit what he has learned in a dozen years on the county circuit.

It is most heartening to see them being decently successful, especially since I have been watching these games on TV. When the fast men are on, you can perhaps see the keeper, first and second slip in the far distance and it is not visually obvious that the batsman is in serious danger, whereas when a spinner is on and there are four or five fielders crouched round the batsman, you can feel the steam building up in the pressure-cooker - and these last few weeks, we have had gratifyingly extended views of batsmen being boiled like sponge puddings. (At the ground, it is all too likely that the crowd of close catchers serves mostly to obscure one's view of the batsman and all you see of a wicket is a hand emerging from a heap of fielders, clutching an Excalibur which has suddenly become small, red and round rather than long and steely.)

The key is that those fielders are crouching round the bat. Harris and Benn are not really any better as slow left-armers than the likes of Ashley Giles or Nicky Boje who were plying their trade in the early years of the decade, but they have the benefit of captains who think they have a chance of taking wickets and give them the fields to do it with. You can generate all the bat-pad chances you like, but the wickets column will remain empty unless there is someone there to snaffle them, and far too often in the '90s and early '00s, perfectly respectable spinners were presented with fields which indicated that the skipper just wanted them to keep the batsmen quiet for a bit.

Mike Atherton was good player of ordinary, rather than extraordinary, spinners and therefore did not think that they would get anyone else out and set Phil Tufnell almost exclusively defensive fields.. Saurav Ganguly the batsman used to view slow left-armers much as a hungry man views an all-you-can-eat buffet and treated any of the breed unfortunate enough to be sent along to play for India with barely-disguised disdain.

Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith, on the other hand, have both had periods of being found out by spin bowlers and Ricky Ponting's inability to play more than an over of Harbhajan Singh without getting out is the stuff of legend. Captains who have had trouble batting against spinners are obviously more likely to repose their confidence in them as bowlers.

But it is still up to the bowlers to perform, and Benn, Hauritz, Swann and Harris - with the help of their captains – are doing a fine job of proving the doomsayers of a few years ago wrong.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on January 8, 2010, 8:38 GMT

    I have been watching cricket for many years and certainly one of things that these current batch of finder spinners are doing, is flight and getting the ball above batsmen eye line. Hauritz and Swann are great at bowling slowly and giving the ball air. There is so much limited over cricket these days where slow bowlers tend to bowl darts, so it is very refreshing to see these guys float the ball. sure they are going to get hit from time to time but they will be wicket takers and the challenge btween bat and ball is fantastic viwing. All young spinners and young captains should be watching Hauritz and co very closely.

  • testli5504537 on December 31, 2009, 14:20 GMT

    Really Swann is the best spinner in the world right now, and he will win many more games for england. England should be looking for a 3-0 win now considering their win margin in the second test.

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 23:16 GMT

    I'll agree with those surprised at Vettori's being left out of writing. Finger spinners and military medium bowlers are the most underrated sorts. Hauritz was written off in the press before the Ashes and got ten wickets in three tests, including Pietersen, Prior and Strauss. It's probably the surprise value they have, even if you know what's coming, or that the batsmen just get a little big-headed. It was good to see Hauritz and Swann get fivers.

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 19:32 GMT

    its really sad that people today forgot daniel vettori who is the certainly the best finger spinner for me in the world n it can be clearly identified by hvg a look at the rankings, he i s doing well in all forms unlike those who are good in only sm!!!!!

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 17:37 GMT

    Mike is right: captains can make spinners. Len Hutton, an opening batsman, thought pace bowling was what would win matches, and it took him a couple of seasons to realize he had a huge advantage in the great spinners (Laker, Lock, Wardle, Tattersall, Appleyard) available to him.

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 12:04 GMT

    If Test pitches were uncovered, you'd have tons of finger spinners, you can't compare the two ages of uncovered and covered pitches, Underwood and Chandrasekar were unplayable on tacky wickets, it would be interesting to see how Underwood would fare against Sachin on the front foot plonking flat decks in India and Pakistan today. Even Hauritz took his first ever 5-fer, and it was in a Test! Even Warne did not have a great record in India, and he was as good as it gets.

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 18:18 GMT

    My observation is that Swann and Hauritz are not necessarily the typical classical finger spinner like a Lance Gibbs or a Venkat for example. I find that they use subtle wrist movements.

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 15:18 GMT

    dear mike I still remember in one of the india austrailia series, left arm Maninder Singh bowling lured genius like Allan Border to come forward only to see the ball turning infrnot of him and finally being stumped by the wicketkeeper. Although maninder hadn,t get numerous chance to represent the country as he shd be, his spinning capability( from finger) was remarkable. SOme one rightly poonted out, why Vettori was left out from ur article. In the same fashion can we say, the Saqlain Mustaq was also left out from references?

    [Mike: My main point was that we now have a new generation of fairly ordinary spinners doing good things. Vettori's pedigree is excellent, but he was bowling ten years ago and anyway New Zealand virtually have to pick any bowler of Test quality. Two years ago, most of us had not heard of Harris, Swann, Benn or Hauritz unless we were following domestic cricket, yet here they are playing major parts in matches outside Asia despite not being all that special - although I'm beginning to revise that opinion with regard to Swann after his performances at Kingsmead.

    Saqlain was really a 90s bowler, but more importantly he was one of the first to use the doosra and I was specifically excluding bowlers who had speciality balls.]

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 9:55 GMT

    It would surprise many people that even the genius of Warne was not recognized by the Victorian coach as the blonde wizard could not hold a permanent place in the Victorian side for the first 2 first class seasons. It is a different matter altogether that he was still picked for the Tests by the selectors and created history thereon. Paucity of quality spinners only reflects the lack of understanding of the game by the Captains and their coaches. Spinner , any kind of spinner will always pose problems for most batsmen at any point of time. It is good for the game that despite the advent of T-20 and flat pitches all over the world the spinners even the finger spinners can hold their own. But for that to happen the think tank of a team should have the vision and it should cultivate an environment for it to flourish.

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 5:19 GMT

    You have written about four, five fielders crouching around the batsman. Are they there to really take the catches or create a pressure cooker situation and get the batsman out by other means as you have said. Chandrasekar, Prasanna, Bedi and Venkataraghavan were classic spinners a cut above the rest. But Solkar at forward shortleg, Abid Ali at backward shortleg, Wadekar at slip and Venkat at gully made them even more dangerous by taking half chances and blinders. When the batsmen went for the pull Solkar never turned his back, but instead would go lower down waiting for the miscued shot and that to without a helmet. They, were fielders, and you could call them close catchers. Not today's fielders.

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