Continuing our series tapping into the minds of the country’s most skilled technicians, it’s a man with more than 400 wickets for his country: England and Nottinghamshire’s irrepressible twirler Graeme Swann. Here, he compartmentalises his craft into bite-size chunks and talks us step-by-step through the routine that has made him the world’s leading traditional finger spinner.
When I was growing up my spin coach at Northampton, Nick Cook, always said that you should bowl as quick as you possibly can on a wicket while still getting turn out of it. That makes sense to me, but of course it changes depending on which batsman you’re up against.
If you’ve got a rank tail-ender who you know is going to try and hit you for six, you bowl as slow as possible. You don’t mind him hitting you for one six but if you keep throwing it up there he’s going to hit one up in the air. But if a good player is looking to use his feet, you’ve got to have more pace on the ball and more dip so he’s not getting to the pitch of it.
My pace is pretty constant. It’s normally about 52 or 53mph, at times a little bit more. I only go on what the scoreboard says; I’ve never videoed myself, recorded the pace and thought, ‘Right that’s the pace I want to bowl’, but that’s what works for me. Sometimes Matty Prior behind the stumps will just say to try and slow it down a bit or fire them down a bit quicker. That’s just a feel that you get for individual batsmen.
1. MARKING YOUR RUN-UP
Your run-up should be the optimum distance and number of steps that give you the momentum you need. I walk back nine spaces and then take three steps to the side. It’s a rough science though. Sometimes you’re running up hill, sometimes down, so it’s on feel on the day. Some spinners have a lot shorter run-up and tend to walk to the crease but I need that momentum.
I’ve got this weird thing that I do with my hands that my teammates take the mickey out of me for. I don’t know why I do it. It’s just a habit. Then I spin the ball in my hands a couple of times, just to get a feel of the ball. Sometimes balls are a bit tacky, sometimes they’re dry, sometimes they’re wet; it just gets you used to how it’s going to feel at the crease.
3. THE RUN-UP
There are a lot of coaches who say you should work in dead straight lines. Nonsense! The worst thing that a spin bowler can do is work in dead straight lines – it’s dreadful. If you want to be a decent spinner don’t listen to that. If you run up in straight lines you won’t spin it very much or you’ll need a very dry wicket to spin it. That’s why I take the three steps to the side when marking my run; you need that angled run to create the torsion in your action that you need to spin the ball.
4. THE RELEASE
For me, it’s all about getting side on. You’ve got to get your left shoulder round the front so you’re looking back over your shoulder and automatically that’s going to bring your foot across and your whole body has to pivot over at the point of release. That will give you the torsion you need to get spin, drift and then it’ll turn. Then I just land it exactly where I want it!