Spin bowlers December 14, 2009

Slim pickings

A pop star, a freak show, and one who couldn't take time off work. Spin bowlers have been an eccentric and endangered species in South Africa

Time was when a sentence containing the words "South African" and "spin bowler" didn't look as awkward as a pair of hungover one-night standers shocked awake by a bleak dawn. Trouble is, that time was long ago.

Ernie Vogler was, by the measure of many, the world's finest bowler in 1907. And there were three more where he came from on South Africa's tour to England that year - Reggie Schwarz, Aubrey Faulkner and Gordon White. All were legbreak and googly exponents.

Schwarz, a Londoner, learnt the googly from Bernard Bosanquet, the dastardly delivery's self-acknowledged "proud parent", and South Africa became the fulcrum around which spin bowling turned.

Briefly, that is. Schwarz and White were killed in World War I, while Vogler rapidly lost his mojo. His career dwindled to a damp demise in the leagues of England, Scotland and Ireland. Faulkner became a respected coach, but after his retirement he took himself off to London to establish the Faulkner School of Cricket, Ltd. What might have been had these four bowlers of the apocalypse for many batsmen been able to impart their knowledge and experience to succeeding generations?

Instead, South Africans can only imagine a way of cricket in which spinners are scheming wicket-takers feared for their slow poison. Around here, spin is a desperate measure taken only when the quicks lose the plot, or an afterthought before lunch, tea, or the close, or a way to squeeze in an extra over, or what happens to medium-pacers who discover they're really not much good at bowling medium pace.

Containment is the magic word in too much of the cricket played in South Africa. Consequently, most captains don't understand how to deploy spinners, or how to set fields for them.

Groundsmen couldn't give a damn about the blokes who are dealt an unfair hand if the surface does not deteriorate. The public's appetite is for runs hit hard and wickets taken emphatically. Subtlety? That's another way of saying boring, isn't it? Given all that, it is hardly surprising that South African spinners often regard themselves as the kid with the bursary.

So there should be no surprise that those of high quality are as few and far between as fence posts in the Kalahari. In fact, after Vogler and Co, the next big South African spin thing whizzed onto the scene in the 1930s, when Cyril Vincent fought a losing battle with his bosses to be allowed time off to play in the Currie Cup. Then, in the 1950s, came Hugh Tayfield. Another decade or so later, Alan Kourie and Denys Hobson arrived, and after them came Paul Adams. Tayfield and Kourie were orthodox and understated, while Hobson, who retired in the summer of 1984-85, was the last legspinner of genuine ability that South Africa have produced.

That Adams, a blinking neon advertisement for the lunatic fringe of what might constitute bowling, was able to survive his first formal coaching session, not to mention carve out an international career in a mentally laagered society like South Africa's deserves to be toasted at every opportunity. Still, there aren't many others to drink to. We present the contenders for our South African all-time XI.

Hugh Tayfield
His career marked the last time a South African spinner was considered as valuable to the cause as any fast bowler. An efficient reaper of wickets. Good-looking and debonair, a pop star before pop existed.

Paul Adams
Wild thing, he made South African hearts sing. Orthodoxy went out of the window when he twisted himself into his bizarre action. But the ball tended to pitch on target and turn sharply.

Cyril Vincent
Played just two Currie Cup matches, due to work commitments, in a first-class career that spanned 22 seasons. Was nonetheless selected for 25 Tests. An immaculate left-arm spinner who could bowl all day and knew how to hold a bat.

We'll be publishing an all-time South Africa XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your spin bowler click here

Telford Vice made his Test debut as a cricket writer in Barbados in 1992 - the match that marked the end of South Africa's isolation

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ruan on December 16, 2009, 21:04 GMT

    This is easy to make in some areas. 1. Barry Richards 2. Bruce Mitchell 3. Jacques Kallis 4. Darryl Cullinan 5. Graeme Polluck 6. Mike Procter 7. Mark Boucher 8. Hugh Tayfield 9. Shaun Pollock 10. Peter Pollock 11. Allan Donald 12th Man J. Rhodes or H. Gibbs

  • Reynold on December 16, 2009, 14:31 GMT

    Clearly Tayfield.Although his strike rate was only ordinary,his economy rate was excellent and the fact that he had so many five wicket hauls in a short career indicates he was something more than just a containing bowler.

  • gitAcArya on December 16, 2009, 6:04 GMT

    After all reading about him, who else except Tayfield? Ta(ke)y and Field him in the eleven


  • Bennett on December 15, 2009, 3:39 GMT

    Tayfield takes it. Cricinfo has it right. There must be variety as these AT XI's are to be competing in as much varied situations as possible. These are to be battles in our imagination against all teams, eras, wickets, conditions, hot weather, humid....you name it. Tayfield and Faulkner, a very decent spinning combo to give the pacers a breather and the captain some options.

  • Shiva on December 15, 2009, 0:34 GMT

    What about Robin Peterson??

  • shafeen on December 14, 2009, 23:50 GMT

    @shwa - i agree with you about the role of the spinner as a stock bowler, but the point is (and Xolile was getting at this, too) - would you really need the extra bowling capacity to bowl, if your pace bowlers were all A-class? Murali and Warne are exceptional in that they were PENETRATIVE almost at any time. virtually every other spin bowler in history needed conditions to be just so before they moved from 'deserving respect' to 'lethal'. Tayfield's case is easier - as a bowler who didn't turn the ball much - I don't see how he could have been penetrative at all! - that he was (even given his high strike rate) makes me think I've missed something. I can't imagine a spinner who didn't turn much but was very accurate and pitched it up tempting the drive being too threatening. I'd have loved to have seen him and make up my mind about it - as I would Bedsar and Tate (medium paced strike bowlers), and Barnes and Lohman (their figures defy modern watachers analysis)

  • Darren on December 14, 2009, 23:47 GMT

    Why would you even pick a spinner in an all time SA XI. It is almost criminal to leave out the quality of allrounder to make way for the spinner. If the numbers of positions were not limited would a spinner even get consideration Spin has not been SA's strength pace and quality allrounders has so i say go with your stength.

  • AMREESH on December 14, 2009, 22:53 GMT

    Paul Admas was Ok, once batsmen got used to his unusual style he was not much of a problem. And the other 2 bowlers, I am not sure. I guess judges should have added pat symcox also. he was a very clever bowler and a good batsman too (played superbly against shoaib and waqar)

  • Johannes on December 14, 2009, 16:57 GMT

    What about xen Balaskas. Short but not uninteresting career. Was the cause of our first victory in England (only victory of the series) and gave the ausies some strife too. 22 wickets in 9 tests before the wars.

  • Warren J on December 14, 2009, 16:38 GMT

    tayfield was definitely SA's best spinner, although Dennis Hobson may have been there if he had any international exposure.

  • No featured comments at the moment.