India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 4th day November 26, 2012

Hymn to England's spin twins

The performance by Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in Mumbai was one of the greatest slow-bowling double acts in England's history

There has arguably never been an England spin bowling partnership like it. Not in a single Test. Not where two England slow bowlers have shared the workload and worked together to pull off a famous victory.

Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, in dismantling India at the Wankhede, and returning joint match figures of 19 for 323, have between them produced the greatest England spin double act of modern times. Perhaps of all time.

This was only the fourth occasion that England spinners had combined to take 19 wickets or more wickets in a Test and the first time for 54 years since Jim Laker and Tony Lock teamed up to demolish New Zealand at Headingley.

Thanks to Swann, as garrulous as ever, there is even a wonderful quote to mark the occasion when Panesar, with reference to the fact they had bowled in tandem in seven previous Tests without success, told his spin-bowling partner before the match: "Come on brother, let's do it, let's win one."

It was Panesar who attracted most acclaim with his match analysis of 11 for 210 but Swann is hardly overshadowed by his own return of 8 for 113. They hunted together as so few England spinners have been able to do in the past. They hunted, too, as a perfect complement to each other: one left arm and one right arm, one intense and the other free spirited.

The English spin bowler is a put-upon soul, often forced to operate alone and, in England, in conditions alien to spin bowling: unresponsive pitches, chilly temperatures and captains who are always one ball away from losing faith and inviting another seam bowler on for a spell.

It is therefore perhaps appropriate that one of England's greatest spin bowling displays came from Tony Greig against West Indies in Port of Spain in 1973.

It was appropriate because he only switched to offspin out of necessity during the tour because his medium pace was in danger of getting a battering. Greig took 13 wickets in the match and, even though three specialist spinners - Derek Underwood, Jack Birkenshaw and Pat Pocock - added five more, it essentially felt like a single-handed triumph. It was a great England victory, but nobody could fairly sell it as a double act.

Talk of England spin combinations and attention rightly switches to Laker and Lock, the Surrey pair who along with Yorkshire's Johnny Wardle provided the slow-bowling craft during England's golden age of the 1950s, but it is possible to argue that when you consider the best match performance by a pair of England spinners in tandem even they have been outdone by Swann and Panesar's exploits in Mumbai.

When Laker and Lock took all 20 against Australia in 1956, Laker had 19 of them. If that really counts as a double act, there is no doubt that Laker got all the good lines. When they shared 19 wickets more evenly against New Zealand two years later, they conceded only 108 runs, statistically far superior. But that was during a mismatch of a series. Swann and Panesar won a Test for England in India when the chips were down.

The story of English spin bowling is a story of occasional triumph amid years of hardship. Swann, in the past few years, has challenged that perception. He now has a partner alongside him.

Enjoy it while it lasts because history suggests it rarely lasts very long. Who knows, it could even be over by Christmas. Were it to prosper enough for England to win the series, it would be remembered as long as cricket survives.

Six great England spin double acts

India v England, Kanpur, 1952

Malcolm Hilton 4-32 and 5-61
Roy Tattersall 6-48 and 2-77
Jack Robertson DNB and 2-17

Malcolm Hilton drew attention to himself at 19 when playing for Lancashire in 1948 he dismissed Don Bradman twice in a match. But he struggled to justify his overnight fame until he was called up with his Lancashire colleagues Brian Statham and fellow spinners Bob Berry and Roy Tattersall for a 1951/2 tour of India.

Kanpur was a dreamlike surface for a young left-arm spinner. Hilton, Tattersall and Jack Robertson, an occasional offbreak bowler for Middlesex, took 19 wickets in the match and Hilton and Tattersall, an offspinner, opened in the second innings while Statham had a rare day of inactivity. England won by eight wickets. A successful Test career beckoned but his control deserted him as the 1950s progressed and after he was chosen as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers Of The Year in 1957, his career faded.

England v Australia, Old Trafford, 1956

Jim Laker 9-37 and 10-53
Tony Lock 1-37 and 0-69 Alan Oakman 0-21

Jim Laker's Ashes summer in 1956 has passed into cricketing folklore. His offspin was at its peak and he demoralised Australia, with 46 wickets in the series and 19 at Old Trafford, where he took all ten in the second innings with half an hour to spare on a rain-hit final day. Never have pictures of sawdust-laden squares looked so endearing.

Few would present this as a double act but Tony Lock, Laker's spin-bowling ally with Surrey and England, was exhausted enough to feel that it was. Lock bowled 69 overs in the match, a few more balls than Laker, and denied him all 20 by removing Jim Burke, who was as obdurate as they come, in Australia's first innings. He also caught Burke off Laker second time around. Without Lock, things might have turned out differently.

South Africa v England, Cape Town, 1956-57

Johnny Wardle 5-53 and 7-36
Jim Laker 1-65 and 2-7

Johnny Wardle was unfortunate that for much of the 1950s. England preferred the more aggressive qualities of Lock alongside Laker, but Laker was quick to remark that Wardle bowled some of the finest spells he had ever seen.

In a series where pedestrian batting was never far away, the charms of the Yorkshire spinner, purveyor of both left-arm orthodox and chinamen (the latter frowned upon at his county) were a blessed relief. Wardle dominated in Cape Town with 12 wickets in the match. Laker, though, played a part in history when Russell Endean, fending him off, became the first batsman to be dismissed Handled Ball.

England v West Indies, The Oval, 1957

Jim Laker 3-39 and 2-38
Tony Lock 5-28 and 6-20

Kennington Oval rarely felt more like home for Laker and Lock than in the 1957 Test against West Indies. It was over in three days and West Indies, bundled out for 89 and 86, were grateful to a 21-year-old on his first England tour who made 39 and 42. Even then it was apparent that Garry Sobers was going to become a helluva player.

The West Indies had been awarded five-day Tests for the first time but, unlike 1950, they failed to shine. Their spin pairing of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine had little success and by the time of the final Test at The Oval, it was Lock, shirt billowing and bowling his left-arm spin at a fair lick, along with the more elegant Laker who held sway.

England v New Zealand, Headingley, 1958

Jim Laker 5-17 and 3-27
Tony Lock 4-14 and 7-51

England won by an innings and 21 runs in a match where New Zealand could barely get the ball of the square in their second innings, crawling to 129 in 101.2 overs (an excruciating run rate of 1.26).

The weather was dreadful in 1958 and so was much of the cricket, as England won four of their five Tests at a canter, three of them by an innings. Lock had an unbelievable season, statistically, with 34 wickets at 7.47 runs each, but others found less pleasure in recollecting what was essentially a mismatch.

Sri Lanka v England, Colombo, 1981-82

John Emburey 0-55 and 6-33
Derek Underwood 5-28 and 3-67

When Keith Fletcher, England's captain, expressed fears that the pitch for Sri Lanka's inaugural Test had been excessively watered, The Times, in a memorable misprint, said that Fletcher made his observation when England arrived "for early-morning bets". These were more innocent times.

Sri Lanka's first innings had been rounded up by Derek Underwood's brisk slow left-arm but they conceded only a five-run first-innings lead as England lost their last five wickets for 23 on the third morning. Bob Willis lambasted his colleagues as they complained about a succession of dubious umpiring decisions. His exhortations initially had little effect, but Sri Lanka lost their last seven wickets for eight runs, the parsimonious Middlesex offspinner John Emburey taking five in 33 deliveries, and England escaped embarrassment.

And one that got away:

Pakistan v England, Dhaka, 1961/2

Tony Lock 4-155 and 4-70
David Allen 2-94 and 5-30

Lock and Allen shared 15 wickets, and all manner of bit-part spinners provided support, but England could not force victory in Dhaka. The main reason for that was the presence of Hanif Mohammad, one of the finest defensive batsmen in Test history, who made painstaking hundreds in both innings. Hanif is regarded by some as the originator of the reverse sweep but it is fair to say that in this Test he did not play it very often.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    @ Lmaotsetung on (November 28 2012, 01:54 AM GMT) - I can never understand why Monty isn't a much better fielder than what he is. I think he has the longest fingers in world cricket! BTW - I think most comments mistook the Heading Summary didn't mention greatest ENGLAND combination. Only once you get to the article is it more appropriate. I know when I saw the headline I was shaking my head saying when will the journos learn, then quickly saw that it was England specific.

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 2:03 GMT

    @getsetgopk on (November 28 2012, 09:16 AM GMT) - Swann gets prefered to Panesar for a number of reasons, I would say "...wasn't english enough..." was NOT one of them.1. Statistically as a bowler Swann is Monty's superior (although I think for whatever reason Monty is better in Indian conditions). 2. Swann is a very handy tail end batsmen, he is probably only just shy of allrounder status. 3. Swann is a very very good slipper, which is an important position (catches win matches), Monty is fairly poor in the field. So as @jmcilhinney suggested, when you have a general policy to play 3 seamers & one spinner, a selection between Swann & Panesar is fairly easy. I think everybody involved in English cricket (fans, management & players), deeply regret not playing Monty for the 1st Test! I would hope they don't make that mistake again!

  • Naresh on November 28, 2012, 23:45 GMT

    INDIAN cricket is in bad shape at moment. I dont think there is any test playing nation that likes us. BCCI needs to change this image. Also we as indian fans have had enough of "TALK BUT NO ACTION" from the captain,team, selectors, BCCI. There is a need of shutting the mouth and enjoy the game and play well. You win some and you lose some. Indian fans also fuel this hatred. Pakistan and SL never open their mouths at all.

  • John on November 28, 2012, 18:59 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster on (November 27 2012, 19:35 PM GMT) To be fair , the author is just listing this as a great performance and listed the stats to compare against.And also the lines "Enjoy it while it lasts because history suggests it rarely lasts very long. Who knows, it could even be over by Christmas" suggest the author is not getting too carried away.

  • Ray on November 28, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster: I tend to agree with you that the English media can go over-the-top after one, albeit very good, win. However, one possible reason for animosity towards Indian readers can be seen in the post by @PiyushD 08:45: If ever, there was a time for Indian posters to be humble I'd suggest it was now.

  • Owen on November 28, 2012, 13:37 GMT

    @Danyel Amjad - eh???!!! @frontfootlunge - stop trolling, you're giving us a bad name. @Cpt.Meanster - I reckon Swann might go down as one of the 'great' English players, he filled a gaping chasm in our line-up when he arrived and has consistently been one of the top 2/3 spinners in the world since. A couple more years of this sort of thing and he'll be up there.

  • Amjad on November 28, 2012, 9:16 GMT

    @jmcilhinney: I would like to think that I'm not mistaken about SL. If Eng loosing is how you judge a bowler then Swann played in all the matches in UAE and Eng lost all of them so we should drop swann, seems a mere excuse. You cant drop a bowler for having one bad game? I'm aware of this Eng tendency to rely on pace rather than spin as they mostly play on pacy wickets but here in asia, playing three seamers is a very unproductive exercise. No good is going to come out of playing 3 or even more seamers unless you are a wasim akram or waqar younus or have outright pace of shoaib akhtar. In asia atleast, Eng will have a much better and realistic chance of winning with 2 specialist spinners. A spinner might have an occasional off day but if you hold it against him by dropping him, you'll suffer!

  • John on November 28, 2012, 8:54 GMT

    @Dhirendra Singh on (November 28 2012, 05:18 AM GMT), you're just making things up. Swann dismissed Pujara twice as well as Gambhir, Kohli and Yuvraj. If they're tail-enders then India has a mightily long tail.

  • Piyush on November 28, 2012, 8:45 GMT

    Wait for next match and see Panesar running for cover.

  • John on November 28, 2012, 6:29 GMT

    @getsetgopk on (November 28 2012, 05:12 AM GMT), it's not that the ECB have anything against Monty specifically. It's just that they are extremely conservative and, given that spin bowling hasn't been a strength for England for a long time, they find it very difficult to pick a team that seems to be going away from their strength. I think that UAE did teach them something but you're mistaken about SL. They played Monty in the first game and lost and then dropped him for the second game and won. I think that that cancelled out the message from UAE and caused them to make the wrong decision at the start of this series. Hopefully they've relearned the lesson here. England has no more Tests in the subcontinent for some time after this series though, so we may not see Monty in an England shirt again after Nagpur.

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