'Be patient with Australian spinners' - Saqlain
Saqlain Mushtaq believes Australia's selectors could ease the team's spin woes simply by showing more faith in the slow bowlers. Saqlain, the renowned Pakistan offspinner, is in Brisbane for Cricket Australia's annual "spin week", a summit at the Centre of Excellence where tweakers from around the country have converged for special training.
Australia does not have a full-time travelling spin coach - John Davison helps the slow men at the Centre of Excellence - and Saqlain has been brought in as a consultant for the event. One of the bowlers working with Saqlain this week is Jason Krejza, who conceded he was a "mental case" after being dropped from the Test team in late 2008.
"The legend Shane Warne ... is a big loss but because of that these guys have a problem," Saqlain said in Brisbane on Tuesday. "He set the standard so high, these spinners need more time to settle. Australian cricket has all the varieties [of spinners] but they have to have patience - give them a proper chance and back the bowlers. If you are backing the spinners they will perform very well. You can't make a spinner in a day or a month."
It's a lesson that doesn't seem to have been heeded by Andrew Hilditch's selection panel over the past couple of years, despite many former players and commentators having already urged them to show patience with their spinners. When Michael Beer debuted in the Sydney Ashes Test in January, he was the tenth slow bowler Australia had used in Tests since Warne retired four years earlier.
Of the remaining nine, Beau Casson and Bryce McGain were each dropped after one Test, while Xavier Doherty and Krejza were each given only two. Cameron White was inexplicably used as the frontline spinner for four Tests in India in 2008, despite hardly bowling himself for Victoria, Steven Smith was the lead spinner against Pakistan last year, and Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill both retired soon after taking the job.
Only Nathan Hauritz has been given an extended run in the Test team, and the patience shown by the selectors paid off. Since he was called up in November 2008, Hauritz has taken 58 wickets at 36.22, but he was axed last year after a disappointing two-Test tour of India - where even Warne struggled - and the spin cycle began again with Doherty and Beer for the Ashes.
Krejza could consider himself one of the unluckiest of the batch. He took 12 wickets on debut in Nagpur, but failed to plug the runs in his second Test against South Africa in Perth, and was dumped for Hauritz. "I have been trying to give him an idea on how to grab your place again in the national team," Saqlain said of Krejza, "how to believe in yourself, how to train and come back."
Krejza has been given a second chance at breaking into the Test side, having been picked for the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe next month. There, he will compete with the incumbent, Beer, for a spot in August's Test series in Sri Lanka. If Krejza can force his way back into the baggy green XI, it would be a fine achievement after his dumping two and a half years ago.
He is one of 15 bowlers at spin week, along with Hauritz, Beer, Steve O'Keefe, Jon Holland and Nathan Lyon. Doherty, despite playing for Australia as recently as the one-day series in Bangladesh last month, is not part of the group.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo