Mr Classic: Cashing in on stock option
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When Graeme Swann bowled Gautam Gambhir on Thursday, he joined Jim Laker on 193 Test wickets. He added three more as the day wore on, and became the leading wicket taker among all of England's off spinners, past and present.
All four wickets were achieved with off breaks – the one to Gambhir didn't really turn, but kept low and defeated an ill-advised attempt to give himself room and force the ball through the off side. An off break bowled Sehwag, sneaking under his sweep; an off break dipped on Tendulkar and turned, causing an attempted loft over mid on to balloon in the air to deep midwicket; an off break ripped off the dusty Motera wicket and bowled Virat Kohli through the gate.
Swann doesn't use the classical off spinner's grip – he squeezes the ball between the top knuckle of his index finger and the middle knuckle of his middle finger – but his methods are genuinely classical. He spins his off break hard, and looks to defeat batsmen in the air with drift and dip before turning it off the wicket.
The spinner's most used variation is a slider that drifts away from the right-hander (or, more devastatingly, towards the left-hander's front pad) and skids on along that trajectory. He doesn't bowl the doosra or the carrom ball, feeling no need for a ball that turns the other way.
In this, he ploughs an almost lone furrow in world cricket, dominated by the likes of Ajmal, Ashwin, Mendis and Narine. Everyone else is under pressure to bowl a ball that turns from leg to off. Nathan Lyon, for example, has reportedly learned to bowl the carrom ball.
In April, Shane Shillingford took 10 wickets in a Test match against Australia in Dominica, with off breaks heavy on top-spin that dipped and reared at the batsmen's gloves. Old-timers saw something of Lance Gibbs in him. But under pressure to include Sunil Narine in the Test side, the West Indies dropped Shillingford after just one more Test match. He hasn't featured since.