Three bits of cricket related stuff to chat about. First, Graham Swann has retired from Test and first class cricket with immediate effect, pulling out of England's tour to Australia. That was a shock, although looking at his performances in the last two Tests, it now seems obvious that his body wasn't up to it. It brings to an end a 60 Test career in which he took 255 wickets.
How good was he? Where does he sit amongst England's spinners from history. Well, it's probably fair to say that the likes of Laker and Underwood were better, but honestly, he's probably only a step or two down from that level. He was the no.1 bowler in the world at one point, after all, and the cutting edge of England's attack for several years. Swann spun it more than any other orthodox finger spinner in his prime, and he had the happy knack of taking early wickets. Yes, he was probably helped a bit by the development of DRS, which showed umpires that deliveries they would previously have given not out were in fact out, but Swann still had to be good enough to capitalise on it.
To some extent, that's just down to when his career was, but that's true of a lot of things. Former England fast bowler Steve Harmison made the point that Swann is probably the last world beating orthodox finger spinner we'll see, and that's largely a matter of timing too. Swann came up in a world where Muralidaran and Mustaq were starting to create a more wrist-spinning type of off break bowler. He ended his career in one where Jack Iverson's pet delivery of the 1950s has been rebranded the 'carom' ball and is an essential part of the new style off spinner's skill set. For any young bowler not to have it in future will be a failing, even if they don't fancy the risks Murali's doosra poses to the action, so Swann is likely to be the last major offie not to have at least some form of disguised leg break.
Since his retirement speech said nothing about T20 cricket, I assume that there's still a chance we'll see Swann doing the travelling cricketer bit for a few years. Which is the second thing. I've been watching the Big Bash in Australia, and it's like all my favourite players from yesteryear have been brought together, cricketing old age notwithstanding. Brad Hogg is still bowling his left arm wrist spin at 42. Brett Lee, who retired from Tests years ago, is still firing them down (even if it's ten mph slower than his 95mph best). Murali is there, which seems quite amusing in a country where he was repeatedly called for throwing in his Test career. Even Shane Warne is around somewhere. Oh, and there's Dirk Nannes, the cricketer about whom it is obligatory to mention the phases as a former skier who is fluent in Japanese and plays the saxophone.
Interesting cricket, unlike the end of the South Africa v India Test earlier. These are officially the two best sides in the world, and for a lot of the day South Africa played like it, fighting their way back from a massive deficit in pursuit of 458 in the last innings. Which would have been a record for a successful chase. They got so close, so very close. Which is why it makes me so angry that they didn't even try to get over the line at the end. With seven overs left, they needed 30 runs. They had wickets in hand. And they blocked. They blocked to make certain of the draw, rather than going for the win. India were no better, with all their fielders on the boundary to stop runs, rather than trying to take wickets. The commentators say that neither team deserves to lose. Well, perhaps the team that loses the series when they lose the next match should remember that they had the opportunity to go in front, and they threw it away.