Graeme Swann's retirement was a sad development for world cricket. Cricketers like Swann add a lot to the game, through their talent, attitude and their excellence at the Test format. Jon Hotten was right in saying that Swann is the player the rebuilding England side would miss the most, but it can be argued that the world game would miss him almost as much. With Swann gone, and with Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori having completely faded away, and with Saeed Ajmal and Rangana Herath not likely to last much longer, the next great - or even really good - Test match spinners are nowhere in sight.
Most fans of the five-day game would probably rate great fast bowling as the thing they like the most along with fine batsmanship. And it's no wonder that in most 'greatest cricketer' or 'my favourite player' lists, these breeds dominate. In my view though, spin bowling is what imparts a unique rhythm to Test match cricket and makes it so different from other sports. No other role in a team sport requires that mix of patience, focus, and determination combined with the ability to suddenly seize the jugular. My view is likely rose-tinted (and therefore biased) having spent my formative years watching the likes of Warne, Kumble, Murali, Saqlain and Mushtaq.
On the other hand, the top spinners since Swann's debut in 2008 - outside of those already mentioned - aren't names that command respect or awe - Ojha, Lyon, Ashwin, Shakib, and Rehman. All good, honest toilers, but none that you'd back to run through a side on a good batting wicket with not too many runs in the bank. Not one there to thrill or even inspire hope for the future.
The attitude of captains around the world has not helped much either. Nathan Lyon has been ignored in favour of names like Xavier Doherty and Ashton Agar who wouldn't make a second XI for an IPL team. India have recently resorted to picking Ravindra Jadeja as their specialist overseas spinner and England have picked Moeen Ali as Swann's replacement. South Africa, who've never had much faith in spinners since readmission, keep dropping Imran Tahir every time he goes for runs.
The recent World T20 tournament offered a glimmer of hope with spinners ending up as six of the top ten wicket takers (considering only Test sides). But it's hard to see the likes of Tahir, Samuel Badree, and Amit Mishra forging much of a Test career. The IPL as well has had spinners, legspinners in particular, doing really well but bowlers like Pravin Tambe, Karn Sharma and Yuzvendra Chahal will struggle to get into their domestic teams for four-day games, let alone the national team. It's ironic that the emergence of the shortest format led to fears of spinners becoming extinct but while they're thriving in T20, their future in the five-day format looks bleak.
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