Sri Lanka September 29, 2012

The next step in the evolution of the mystery spinner

Is the spinner whose deliveries are a mystery to him as well as everybody else

What's the most compelling sight in cricket? A helmet-less Viv Richards en route to the wicket, swinging his bat around his head? Jeff Thomson at the start of his run-up, preparing to unleash hell? Geoffrey Boycott's eyes widening as someone points out that his last comment wasn't entirely accurate?

And what about the moment when the mystery spinner makes his entrance? Watching batsmen face Ajantha Mendis for the first time was extraordinary. Professional willow operatives, men who'd released autobiographies; men who'd put their names to serious features in serious cricket magazines telling youngsters how to choose the right pair of batting gloves and how not to play the leg glance, were made to look like random Frenchmen who'd been handed bats and sent out to the middle without any explanation.

Perhaps that's how it was when the first devious rotter began flinging it roundarm instead of underarm. Suddenly the world was a shadowy, scary place, full of unfriendly bounces and malicious angles.

But the nightmare didn't last. Once you realise that the rabbit has been under the table the whole time, no one is impressed by that thing the magician does with his top hat. Mystery spinners are like Paris fashions, a dead salmon or a politician's apologies; you have to enjoy them while they're fresh.

Unless you count Adil Rashid, who is technically more of a missing spinner than a mystery spinner, Sri Lanka currently hold 66% of the world's mystery spin bowling resources. The latest graduate from the Lankan Academy of the Unorthodox is Akila Dananjaya, a wristy teenage stick insect with more varieties of offspin to his name than there are syllables to his name (27).

Sri Lanka seem to produce mystery spinners with the same frequency that the average professional cricketer produces Twitter spelling mistakes, so once Dananjaya becomes as easy to read as Mendis, they can chuck another new guy or three in. But this leaves a dilemma for other nations wanting to go down the path of mystery. Is it worth nurturing one of your own when their average career expectancy is about 18 months?

The solution is to take a leap to next stage of cricket evolution. From a mystery spinner with a sort of a plan, to a mystery spinner with no plan at all. Welcome to the era of the random spinner. For the many thousands of amateur spinners across the cricket globe, this could be our moment. After all, what could be more mysterious than a mystery spinner whose deliveries are a mystery even to himself?

No amount of video analysis of my action would have yielded any clues. And I had variety: more variety than a 24-hour variety telethon. Double-bouncing long-hops, deceptively wide legbreaks, waist-high full bungers that shape as though they are going to swing but don't, perfectly straight wobbly ones, yorkers that could just as easily have been beamers if I hadn't sneezed in my delivery stride.

I wouldn't want to play for England myself: I'm allergic to sports drinks and I don't look good in blue. But for a small fee, I would be prepared to serve my country as a consultant. I could certainly make that Graeme Swann more mysterious. Just let go your conscious self, Graeme, use the force, trot up to the crease, close your eyes, turn your arm over and see what happens. And if you get stuck, just do what Samit does.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on November 10, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    Kathy, It's a fun tool for kids to make art with weird noise and lights (although some come wuothit that but I couldn't find them). It reminds me of those spinner things that were at carnivals. I thought if you can use it on paper, you can use it on fabric.Ruth, Thanks! They are pretty neat.

  • testli5504537 on October 11, 2012, 13:55 GMT

    Andrew, your articles are great, but the captions on the pictures are usually outstanding. I know how hard it is to write a funny caption.

  • testli5504537 on October 4, 2012, 6:24 GMT

    "What could be more mysterious than a mystery spinner whose deliveries are a mystery even to himself?" Andrew u r a riot LOL!! How do u come up with gems like that? An absolute pleasure to read

  • testli5504537 on October 1, 2012, 9:52 GMT are just outstanding..You just made me fall off my seat laughing.. Keep it up and wishing ourselves many more of this!

  • testli5504537 on October 1, 2012, 7:06 GMT

    wonderful article . . .but no comments at all !! . .hope tat doesnt discourage u . . i eagrly wait for ur posts . .

  • testli5504537 on September 29, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    "From a mystery spinner with a sort of a plan, to a mystery spinner with no plan at all. Welcome to the era of the random spinner."

    I think that era has already come and gone. I believe the ancient Indian mystery spinner Bhagvat Chandashekhar, who was so possessive about his mysetry he held on to it till the end of his career, once said something like, "When I am going to bowl a ball, even I don't know which way it is going to turn: how then can the batsman know?"

  • testli5504537 on September 29, 2012, 18:49 GMT

    Put on your jamies and start dancing

  • testli5504537 on September 29, 2012, 17:33 GMT

    I think you mis-calculate the figure by saying that sri-lank has produced 60% of mystry spinner.Well, they've only produced 2 mystry spinners while pakistan in contrast have atleat 3 well-known spinners,similirly,india has been demolishing australia and england with spin.

  • testli5504537 on September 29, 2012, 16:17 GMT

    nice article,

  • testli5504537 on September 29, 2012, 14:42 GMT

    The new age mystery spinner must be one who spins one ball per over. All the others must be bowled dead straight. And the guy must be capable of giving a couple of press conferences about how he has strived day in and day out to develop his own 'mystery ball'-which would be nothing but a rank legcutter or a non spinning offspinner.

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