Beau wraps up successful summer
Since Shane Warne's retirement, Australia's potential international spinners have suffered more rigorous media analysis than many of the nation's top politicians. The experts typically vote for Stuart MacGill and Bryce McGain as the leading candidates, with Dan Cullen the next preference, while Cullen Bailey and Nathan Hauritz attract minority support. Beau Casson has not even been on the ballot, but the time has come to inspect his credentials.
It was easy to ignore Casson last season, when he collected seven Pura Cup wickets from seven games at an unflattering average of 72. It has not been as simple to discount the left-arm wrist-spinner this summer. Among slow bowlers only McGain has more Pura Cup victims in 2007-08 than Casson's 25 at 35.72. He has been an under-rated part of the New South Wales machine and grabbed four wickets and made 99 in their most recent win that secured them a home final.
Casson's success has justified not only his switch from Western Australia after 2005-06, but also the faith of the New South Wales selectors. They stuck with him after he struggled through his first year in Sydney, sitting behind MacGill in the state's slow-bowling ranks and carrying a shoulder injury that required a reconstruction when the season was over.
"Coming to a new place probably took me a bit of time to settle in," Casson said. "I had some injury problems and then I hurt my shoulder and that was about the end of my season, which was not an ideal start. I would have liked to have more of an impression last year but now hopefully I'll be able to bowl these leggies for a while."
New South Wales certainly hope so. The SCG has taken plenty of turn lately and with MacGill likely to spend more time in the national set-up, the Blues need somebody to exploit the conditions. That was Casson's theory when he left a Warriors group that also featured Brad Hogg and Aaron Heal, and despite last summer's disappointing results he was always certain it was the right move.
"I've never had a second thought about it," Casson said. "It was always a long-term thing for me. It's a fantastic place to play cricket and if you're a spinner it's the place you want to be. Coming from Perth I've found every wicket on the SCG pretty exciting.
"There's been probably a touch more grass because we've had a fair bit of rain this year in our summer. It's been great, I've really enjoyed it. It's certainly an art to be able to come over and bowl legspin when it's a bit slow. It's certainly a learning experience."
To get the most out of his SCG lessons, Casson, 25, has needed a high-quality teacher and the former New South Wales chinaman bowler David Freedman has stepped in as his mentor. Casson must also thank MacGill, who is not only a useful sounding board, but created greater opportunities by opting for wrist surgery that kept him out of the state side for three months.
Fortunately for Casson, he is likely to keep his spot for the Pura Cup final against Victoria starting in Sydney on Saturday even though MacGill is back in action. The Australian fast bowlers Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken have returned but the Blues should have room for two spinners, especially as Casson is also a useful batsman and has 379 runs at 63.16 this season.
His all-round efforts might not be enough for the selectors to vote him into the national team, but he deserves to be part of the debate. For now, Casson is simply pleased to have finally found his niche as a first-class cricketer after six years in the system. "Everyone has aspirations of playing for their country and I'm no different," Casson said. "But I just want to improve as a cricketer and every day if I can be better I'll be happy."
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo