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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

David Hopps
David Hopps
Matt Prior tweeted a picture of England's spin twins in the dressing room after the game  •  Twitter

Matt Prior tweeted a picture of England's spin twins in the dressing room after the game  •  Twitter

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