Michael Beer hoping to hold his Test spot
Last May, Michael Beer flew to Brisbane for "spin week" at the Centre of Excellence as a bit of a nobody. At 25, he hadn't played a first-class game and had just taken up a contract with Western Australia, having spent several seasons trying, and failing, to break into Victoria's side. A year later, he's back at spin week as the Test incumbent.
It's been quite a year for Beer, who walked off the SCG after Australia's demoralising innings defeat in the final Ashes Test in January, not knowing if he'd done enough to hold his spot. He took only one wicket, but had gone within millimetres of a potential match-changing breakthrough, when he had Alastair Cook caught on 46 off a no-ball. Cook went on to make 189.
"I bowled okay at times," Beer told ESPNcricinfo from Brisbane on Tuesday, reflecting on his Test debut. "At other times I let, not just myself, but my team down a little bit. But I think overall it was a great learning experience. I enjoyed it, except for the result. But I got a taste of it and that's where I want to be. It's something to strive hard for.
"There were a lot of things I knew I had to work on. A major one with me is getting my mind and body right to play cricket 12 months of the year. I've only had one season of first-class cricket. I got myself ready for that but now it's about lifting that again and getting myself ready to play cricket 12 months of the year."
Part of that challenge will involve next month's Australia A tour to Zimbabwe. Beer is in the squad for the four-day matches alongside the offspinner Jason Krejza. They'll be competing for a place on Australia's next Test tour, to Sri Lanka in August, by which time Nathan Hauritz will also be in contention if he can prove he has recovered after having shoulder surgery in March.
And as the tenth slow bowler Australia have called on in the post-Warne era, Beer knows that turnover can be quick and ruthless in the spin division. He himself won his Test promotion after Xavier Doherty was axed following the first two Ashes Tests, and Doherty was a surprise call-up at the start of the summer when Nathan Hauritz was dropped.
The rise to Test ranks came when Beer had played only six first-class matches, and after finishing the summer in Western Australia's Sheffield Shield side, he has still not taken more than three wickets in a first-class innings. That makes the Zimbabwe tour all the more important for Beer, whose only cricketing experience outside Australia has been in England.
"It's just going to be a good experience to go away with such a talented group of guys," Beer said. "It's a massive thing for me to get away and face different conditions to what I'm used to in Australia. And to play cricket at that time of the year will be very good as well."
Beer has spent the past few weeks at the Centre of Excellence, working with the spin coach John Davison, and during spin week he has also talked tactics with Saqlain Mushtaq, who has been called in as a consultant. But with Krejza, Hauritz, Steve O'Keefe, Jon Holland, Nathan Lyon and nine other slow bowlers all at spin week as well, he knows the competition for a Test spot won't be easy.
"I think we're all different spinners," Beer said. "I just concentrate on what I need to work on and improve on. It's handy to have all their knowledge around, too."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo