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Beware the finger spinner

Nathan Hauritz, under fire for his second-innings failures, celebrates fiercely Getty Images

Graeme Swann, Paul Harris, Nathan Hauritz, Harbhajan Singh, Daniel Vettori - even Omari Banks. How quickly things change. Not so long ago, the orthodox finger spinner was used as a pause button during a Test match; now sides are built around them.

Countries who couldn't cope with the excitement of wrist spinners used to put finger spinners in their sides for two reasons. The first was so they could say they had a balanced attack. They didn't actually want a balanced attack, but they wanted to say they had one, and picking a finger spinner allowed them to do this. The second reason was so that quick bowlers could have a bit of a breather without anything really happening while they were doing so. The finger spinner's aim was to make nothing happen and allow nothing to happen.

You can imagine captains issuing rallying cries such as: "For God's sake, don't do anything wrong." The bowler would then deliver his full repertoire: the quicker one, the dart, the one that goes straight on, the arm ball. Occasionally they might try and turn one, at which point the captain would put a friendly arm around their shoulders and ask them what the bloody hell they were playing at.

Now those days are gone. Bowlers like Swann have many roles. They still have to pause the Test match at times and they have to bat a bit as well, which is another hangover from that bygone age, but they must also take first-innings wickets and spin sides out on the final day. The finger spinner of today needs the guile and showmanship of a legspinner combined with the aggression of a fast bowler.

"Paul Harris' approach has more to do with patience. He basically just makes thousands of sandwiches and waits for the batsman to burst"

Not that anyone's told them this yet. Vettori's added stubble to the glasses, which is a start; Harbhajan can get pretty bad-tempered; Swann looks far more serious on the field than off it. But what about Nathan Hauritz? Rumours that the baggy green features testosterone stitching have been disproved by the offspinner. While it's a bit offputting for batsmen that his face occupies so little of his head, as an intimidatory tactic it's hardly up there with Merv's moustache - and it's hardly deliberate either. But despite this apparent lack of aggression and despite confidence that he conceals even from himself, Hauritz is thriving. Why should this be?

Quite simply, international batsmen have been told how worthless finger spinners are for so long, they've completely lost respect for them. The consequence of this is that when one comes on to bowl, batsmen aim a drive at anything, assuming they'll middle it. They can't help themselves. Failing to attack the finger spinner is like an admission that you aren't a proper batsman.

Batsmen see buffet bowling, but they aren't selective. They eat eight pieces of chocolate cake in two minutes flat and then throw up. Buffets are for grazing. You have to pace yourself.

That's not to devalue the contributions of the bowlers. Their strength has been to recognise the situation and adapt to it. Rather than firing in flat ones at leg stump - the buffet equivalent of cheese on a stick - they've instead worked on making their deliveries more tempting, stuffing them with spin and garnishing them with flight. Well, most of them have. Paul Harris' approach has more to do with patience. He basically just makes thousands of sandwiches and waits for the batsman to burst.