Swanny: "My
Top Ten Spinners."

Comment and Analysis | 2nd July 2010

Graeme Swann picks his top ten über spinners from a life spent watching fellows trying to get it off the straight…

10 Eddie Hemmings (Notts & England; 1,515 first-class wickets; 16 Tests)
His ball to bowl Azharuddin during Goochie’s 333 Test match at Lord's in 1990 [loopy offbreak that beat the drive through the gate] was a dream to watch and is easily my favourite way of dismissing any batsman. He also hit a four off the last ball of a one-day final at Lord's against Essex that I remember cheering for in my front room, little aware that Notts would one day be my spiritual home.

9 Narendra Hirwani (Bengal & India; 732 wickets; 17 Tests)
I can't even remember his first name, but the Indian leggie from the same series as Eddie wore some of the finest headbands ever seen on a cricket field. Not enough players before or since wear them, which is a shame because they are way cool.

8 Peter Taylor (New South Wales & Australia; 129 wickets; 13 Tests)
The Aussie veteran spinner who was brought in to play the final Test of the 86-87 Ashes down under. With the Ashes already gone, and his team 2-0 down in the series, he won the game for the baggy greens with his off spin, delivered with a twirling of the arms I'd never witnessed before. This obviously embedded itself into my psyche because I do the same thing when I bowl today, only without the geography teacher's moustache.

7 Phil Edmonds (Middlesex & England; 1,246 wickets; 51 Tests)
The most majestic and aesthetically pleasing spinner to grace the field in the modern age. His rhythmic run up, classical action and all round air of arrogance marked him out as a true boyhood hero. Tales from his contemporaries at Middlesex suggest that as he walked onto the field at the start of any day he would sigh and casually declare to any observer, “Well, I suppose I’ll bowl beautifully again today”. Brilliant, even if it’s not true.

6 Nicky Phillips (Sussex & Durham; 162 wickets)
The Sussex and Durham offie may not have set the world alight with figures, but he was one of the greatest lads I played against in my formative first-class seasons. His good nature, ridiculous pictures in the Cricketers’ Who’s Who and the fact that he’s an offie see him in my top ten. I once came in from fielding on the boundary at Chester-le-Street to bowl and mentioned to Nicky, who was at the non striker’s end, that there was a cracking looking blonde in the crowd by the scoreboard, only for him to go red and sheepishly tell me that it was his missus. I would have been shouting it from the rooftops. She was mint.

5 John Wake (Bedfordshire)
You are less likely to know John than anyone else in this list, but to me he is one of the most important men in my career. As the off spinner at Northampton Saints, my club side as a teen, and with an excellent amateur record in minor counties cricket, it was he who had the biggest hand in my development. Not so much in coaching, but from watching him every Saturday and picking his brains as he waited to bat. Most spinners I have played with or against over the years in first-class cricket are not as good as he was. John is still the head of cricket at Oundle School, he’s my old man’s best mate, and the first person to text me whenever I have a good day at the office. His downside? He supports Sunderland.

4 Tim May (South Australia & Australia; 439 wickets; 24 Tests)
The first off spinner I ever saw who really threw it out wide and ripped it miles, so much in fact that he used to end up with a bloody great hole in his finger. I loved how attacking he was and got a sick pleasure from seeing blood on his shirt. Only since suffering from similar problems with a ripped finger can I appreciate how much it hurts to bowl with this injury, which makes him even more of a hero to me.

3 Muttiah Muralitharan (Tamil Union Club, Lancashire & Sri Lanka; 1,366 wickets; 132 Tests)
I knew all about Murali years before any of you lot. As a 14-year-old playing in the Central League (made up mostly of teams from the Leicestershire/Northants/Warwickshire area), it was up to me to take on all comers every Saturday. One team, who I seem to remember were called Leicester Nomads, had an interesting Sri Lankan off spinner as their overseas player for a few weeks. Nothing was known about this little chap other than when he let go of the ball it made a fizzing noise so loud you started to physically tremble. His 5-75 from 27 overs was magnificent. At least 75 per cent of the runs were from edges that flew past the hapless keeper and slips. The game ended in a draw, everyone shared a pint or two in the bar, and that plucky little Sri Lankan trotted off into obscurity never to be heard from again. Apart from his 800 Test wickets.

2 Shane Warne (Victoria, Hampshire & Australia; 1,319 wickets; 145 Tests)
Controversial it may be, but the undoubted best spinner of all time doesn’t top the chart for me. Granted he made the most difficult art in the game seem like spotting unwashed geeks in a student union, and yes his first ball of his Ashes career was THE ball of the last century, but he will never pip my number one to the post. He just left too much of a sour taste in any Englishman’s mouth every time he ripped through our batting line up. A bit like Diego Maradona, I bow down to his genius, I just wish he’d been a bit crap every now and again against England.

1 Mushtaq Ahmed (Sussex & Pakistan; 1,407 wickets; 52 Tests)  
I love this man, although I freely admit that before I really knew him as England’s spin bowling coach, my knowledge of him was limited to four gut-wrenching bursts of hilarity per season when Mark Ealham would once again try to cut his googly and get castled. He is always happy, a personal trait I believe to be a true gift, and as a result I just wish I could’ve played alongside him, rather than watch him single-handedly win all those trophies for that south-coast minor county that Matty Prior and Luke Wright turn out for!

Graeme Swann is the guest editor of this month’s All Out Cricket.

Watch Graeme Swann and the rest of the England team take on Bangladesh at Trent Bridge on Thursday. Click here for tickets.

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