David Owen

I spent part of the recent holiday period engrossed in Gideon Haigh's fascinating biography of Jack Iverson, the Australian cricketer who played a big part in his country's 1950-1951 Ashes victory over England.

Iverson was a so-called mystery spinner who had worked out a (literally) revolutionary way of making the hard leather ball deviate after striking the surface of the wicket.

He was remarkably successful in his day, yet spawned few imitators.

I wondered why this was: why did his discoveries fail to transform the art of bowling in the manner that, say, the Fosbury Flop transformed high jumping or the overarm crawl executed by Alick Wickham, Duke Kahanamoku and others changed swimming?

After all, when the most successful Australian spin prodigy of all, Shane Warne, came along, his style was largely orthodox.

The argument that emerges from the book is that Iverson was able to excel in the way he did partly because of his physical characteristics.

He was helped because he was tall, though not excessively so, but also because he had exceptionally large hands and exceptionally strong fingers - strength developed through years of indulging in his hobby of trying to make ping pong and tennis balls spin in unpredictable ways.

Certainly, John Gleeson - the player whose technique has probably come closest to Iverson among subsequent Test cricketers - was much shorter and much lighter.

Jack Iverson was known for his unorthodox spin bowling action ©Getty Images
Jack Iverson was known for his unorthodox spin bowling action ©Getty Images

While Gleeson played a lot more Tests than the late-developing Iverson, his bowling average in these 29 matches was 36, against 15 for his predecessor in the one and only five-match series in which he took part.

Iverson, it seems, is destined to go down as one of those glorious mavericks that elite sport throws up from time to time.

In the meantime, I recommend the book: Mystery Spinner by Gideon Haigh published by the Aurum Press.


I also wanted to focus this week on a new 36-page study on the economic impact of Rio 2016 by Brazil's Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

This found that without the Games, the city's gross domestic product per head would have been 7.5 per cent lower in the period leading up to the event, 2012 to 2015.

Unfortunately, the only text I have been able to locate is in Portuguese, so I have been unable to examine it in detail.

I was, though, struck by the way in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s Mark Adams tweeted a link to my colleague Dan Etchells' story on the report.

When asked a question on the study by another journalist, the estimable Adams, "views always mine - not the IOC's", even tweeted back, "I always believe what ITG says" - but that (probably) is another story.

What struck me as interesting is that Rio 2016 was very much an old-style Olympic project, with plenty of building, conceived at a time when Agenda 2020 and the New Norm might have been competing rappers or ageing prog rock bands.

A new report claimed Rio 2016 left a positive economic impact in the host city ©Getty Images
A new report claimed Rio 2016 left a positive economic impact in the host city ©Getty Images

So, yes, of course it provided an economic boost to the local construction industry.

But, does this also mean that we ought to accept there could be some merit in the deeply unfashionable notion of the Olympic Megaproject, after all?

I must say, in spite of what the economists tell me, I have quite a lot of sympathy with this thought, even if the success of such risky and ambitious undertakings depends inevitably on the meticulous dovetailing of the respective needs of a) the Olympic project and b) the host city.

What London 2012 achieved in marrying a memorable event with regeneration of part of the city’s run-down east side is not a perfect case study, but I would give it a strong eight out of ten.

In the case of Rio, I have still seen little sign that the new sports infrastructure is providing all that much benefit to local people, especially when taking into account its cost.

What I have been told is appreciated by locals is the subway line linking Rio itself with one end of the sprawling, modern Barra da Tijuca suburb where the main hub for the Games was located.

In narrow Olympic terms, this raises another problem, however.

We are living through remorselessly cost-conscious, price-of-everything-value-of-nothing times.

As fellow Olympic media bods will testify, should we ever have the temerity to lump non-sports infrastructure in with calculations of the cost of a Games, we are likely to find ourselves subject to lectures from IOC types complaining that this is unfair. 

Is there evidence of sports infrastructure in Rio providing benefits to local people? ©Getty Images
Is there evidence of sports infrastructure in Rio providing benefits to local people? ©Getty Images

This is on grounds that non-sports infrastructure, such as that Rio-Barra subway line, benefits the host-city long after the Olympic and Paralympic worlds have departed.

Once again, I have quite a lot of sympathy with this view, though there is often room for scepticism as to whether individual items of infrastructure would have been completed when they were but for the "unmissable" deadline the Games affords.

I would argue though that if you think it unfair to include general infrastructure in calculations of Games costs, nor should you take account of it when claiming credit subsequently for any benefits that the Games might have conferred.

Real life, of course, is messier than that, which is one of the reasons why the sports movement has found it so difficult to get this argument to stick.