Swann puts new spin on ball of the century

Farhat falls to perfect off-break that evokes memories of Warne's leggie to Gatting in '93
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The Independent Online

An awful lot can happen in the next 89 years or so, it is true. But if Graeme Swann's dream-like third delivery at Edgbaston yesterday does not remain a qualifier for ball of the century, then a fair amount of the action will need to be out of this world.

With Shane Warne and Mike Gatting – two men who were themselves involved in something rather memorable at Old Trafford in 1993 – among those present as England pressed for victory in the second Test, Swann conjured up a dismissal that will live long in the memory. And, most probably, give Imran Farhat nightmares for the rest of his career and well beyond.

Going around the wicket to the left-handed Pakistan opener, Swann was on the spot with his first two deliveries. But Farhat, reasonably well entrenched with 29 runs to his name, had not seen anything yet.

The next ball drifted across the batsman's eye-line and, as he moved onto the front foot, landed an inch – or maybe even two – outside leg stump. Then came the real magic as the ball bit and spun sharply the other way to hit off stump while Farhat made contact with nothing but fresh air.

"That's the best one I've ever bowled," said Swann. "You are not going to bowl too many that pitch outside leg and hit off stump, so I'm over the moon with it."

When Gatting was bowled off stump by Warne's ripping leg-break to launch a thousand headlines, another England batsman – Graham Gooch – joked that the ball would never have got past his usually hungry mate if it had been a cheese roll. But, for Farhat, there was nothing but sympathy from just about everybody. Well, everybody with the possible exception of Geoff Boycott, who, wearing his batsman's hat, told listeners to BBC Radio's Test Match Special programme that the Pakistani had been naive.

Farhat, reckoned Boycott, should have been expecting plenty of turn after the way the tourists' own off-spinner, Saeed Ajmal, had performed the previous day while picking up five wickets.

Still, even Boycott conceded it was a cracking delivery. And no one would have argued with that assessment – or begged to differ with the view that while England's off-spinner is of the orthodox variety (in that he does not possess the doosra, which turns away from right-handers) he has become a wonderful bowler.

Despite having the happy knack of striking early in many a spell, patience is not the least of Swann's qualities. And just as well, really, considering he had to wait nearly a decade between first going on tour with England (1999) and winning a first Test cap (2008).

By Swann's own admission, though, he was nowhere near ready for international cricket – either temperamentally or technically – when Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain took him to South Africa as a junior member of their first squad.

It was in India, nine years later, that the Northampton-born player started to come of age. In his first over as a Test cricketer, Swann dismissed Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid. Now, 21 matches and getting on for 100 wickets later, he has become England's Cricketer of the Year and reached third place in the International Cricket Council's rankings for Test bowlers.

Both achievements are pretty remarkable for an old-fashioned finger spinner. The real hope, though, is that, at the age of 31, Swann's best – with the possible exception of yesterday's magic ball – is still to come. And maybe this winter.

Although Swann's 14 wickets during last summer's 2-1 win over Australia cost 40 runs apiece, he took four in an innings at both Lord's and The Oval to help bowl England to their victories.

Swann's performance at Lord's included the dismissal of Ricky Ponting, who was bowled between bat and pad by a fizzing off break – itself a candidate for one of last summer's champagne moments. But, as Farhat can now confirm, it is against left-handers that the spinner looks especially dangerous.

Of Swann's 14 wickets during that Ashes series, eight of them belonged to top-order southpaws. What is more, his victims – Simon Katich, Mike Hussey and Marcus North – are all still members of the Australian line-up.

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