Spinners struggle in revolving-door policy
Nathan Hauritz became the sixth specialist spinner Australia have used in Tests this year and his chaotic first day at work highlighted how unpredictable life is for his type in this country. The nation's leading slow bowlers don't know where they stand within the haphazard selection policy, so it's no wonder they serve up a pot-luck selection as well.
Two days ago Hauritz was in Sydney, preparing to be 12th man for New South Wales for a second consecutive Sheffield Shield game. He finished his first day of Test cricket since 2004 with a fortunate pair of wickets and plenty of conceded runs and, to add to the drama, a sprained left ankle that kept him off the field for most of the final session but is unlikely to stop him bowling on the second day.
Hauritz had played eight first-class matches in the past three years and it should not have been an enormous surprise that he struggled to find his rhythm. His initial over went for 17 as Aaron Redmond slog-swept a pair of sixes and it was a flashback to Jason Krejza's first Test over in Nagpur. But Redmond is no Virender Sehwag and Hauritz is no Krejza. The former New South Wales team-mates are very different offspinners - the self-confident Krejza is a natural attacker who rips the ball viciously and tosses it up; the more conservative Hauritz feels safer with a flatter trajectory and a liking for arm-balls.
Krejza's aggression earned him 12 wickets on debut but a similar ankle injury has stopped him taking his place in Adelaide. The more defensive approach of Hauritz makes it tougher to collect huge hauls. After the high of his one Test in Mumbai four years ago, Hauritz experienced a first-class trough and inadvertently turned himself into a tight one-day specialist. It is a habit that is changing, but slowly.
He grabbed two wickets on his return to Tests, although Jesse Ryder's misplaced pull to midwicket was more batsman error than threatening bowling. As the day wore on, Hauritz gave the ball a little more air and a well-flighted delivery lured Redmond into holing out to deep midwicket. He also nearly had Peter Fulton, who played for the spin - Hauritz found very little turn all day - and edged to slip, where Matthew Hayden spilled a gettable chance.
Gradually, Hauritz had started to feel more relaxed. But it's hard to disguise the tension when you know that a demotion might be only a few days away. It's a feeling that over the past few months has been familiar to Cameron White and Beau Casson, who were tried and discarded despite being the only slow bowlers with current Cricket Australia contracts. Hauritz said being called into the Test team when he was the No. 2 spinner at New South Wales behind the struggling Casson was unexpected.
"It only takes a couple of wickets here and there to turn it around. He is a confidence player," Hauritz said of his good friend Casson. "He has shown how good a bowler he is last year and in the West Indies."
Dan Cullen and Cullen Bailey, who had Cricket Australia deals two seasons ago, are playing grade cricket in Adelaide on the weekend as they have both slipped out of South Australia's starting line-up. Bryce McGain, the Victoria legspinner, is also in Adelaide to watch the Test. McGain knows that but for a shoulder problem sustained in India, he could have been the slow man Ricky Ponting turned to against New Zealand instead of Hauritz.
Injuries have played a part in the high attrition rate among spinners but the selectors' tendency for quantity over quality has been just as much a factor. Their process is like that of a novice photographer - try enough angles and you're bound to come up with one that works. Digital cameras have made poor photos easily disposable and Australian spinners are becoming just as expendable.
"It was a strange chain of events, being 12th man last week and then being picked in this," Hauritz said after finishing the day with 2 for 63. "It definitely took me a little while to work out what was all going on."
Team balance and a need to improve over-rates - one reason Hauritz bowled 16 overs on the first day of a Test - have prompted Ponting to call on the selectors to pick a slow bowler for 95% of Tests. The problem is the leading wicket-takers among spinners in the Sheffield Shield this year are the batting allrounders Marcus North and Aaron O'Brien.
Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania regularly employ a quality seam attack backed by part-time spinners. It means the Australian selectors have been looking beyond the players making regular state appearances and that turns the selection process into a lucky dip. But rather than being worried about the disparity between state and national spin trends, Hauritz is simply happy opportunities are being presented.
"You've got guys like Brad Hodge who's scored 100,000 first-class runs but because our side is so strong he can't make it," Hauritz said. "But just for the fact that we've lost a guy who's taken 700 Test wickets [Shane Warne] and Magilla [Stuart MacGill], we're getting more opportunities as young spinners and we're only going to develop as we get older."
However, Hauritz made the point that as a new man in the team he found it "pretty nerve-racking to start off". If Australia cannot settle on a spinner and the revolving door stays in place, every Test they might have a man who takes a while to settle his nerves. Spinners thrive on being unpredictable and hard to read but it's not something they need from their selectors.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo