August 2005

Expert Eye - Terry Jenner

It annoys me when I am asked why England does not develop wrist spinners

Terry Jenner is Shane Warne's bowling mentor © Getty Images
It annoys me when I am asked why England does not develop wrist spinners. The ECB, supported by the Brian Johnston Memorial Trust, has a programme throughout the country aimed at developing young wrist spinners and, as its head coach, my aim is to get them focused on spinning the ball as their No. 1 priority. We urge them to move into a side-on position during release to encourage spin and improve the shape of the delivery.

This is a process. It does not and cannot provide overnight success. These spinners are being educated to develop spin first and line and length second to avoid being classified as "slow" bowlers. As a development system, it requires patience and understanding from coaches. Probably the main difficulty for the young spinner is the standard of club cricket, allied with the lack of practice available at that level. For instance, one of our BJ boys (a title given to those who have received BJMT scholarships to train in Adelaide for two weeks) joined a club near London to find that the top half-dozen players prided themselves on not practising during the season. This meant he did not get the opportunity to bowl against the better players in the nets.

At about that age Shane Warne was learning his craft with his Melbourne club's C-grade team. Warney played alongside senior cricketers charged with helping him develop during matches. In addition, he would have bowled to the A-grade and B-grade players in nets at least two nights a week. Young Aussie spinners are given time to mature before being invited to take on the better players in the middle.

My understanding of club cricket in England is that a young spinner around 15 or 16 needs to be in the top grade to be deemed to have a future. Where would that have left Warney? There is also a lack of understanding of how long it takes to master the craft. An Australian wrist spinner would be well into his 20s before being considered a mature bowler. In England he may be judged at 19 not to have made it.

The lads do not always help themselves. They do not train often enough or hard enough. Few do extra practice away from organised club or county sessions. Too many seem to believe those who say England cannot produce a home-grown wrist spinner.

Coaches at the BJ boys' sessions in Adelaide have suggested Australian spinners look bigger and stronger at the same age. This may be an illusion. It is probably more about confidence, self-belief and presentation.

One of the Australian boys I have been working with for eight years made his first-class debut for South Australia in March at 20. During those eight years he had plenty of ups and downs, along with several quirks in his action during growth spurts. That he has taken the first step is a credit to how hard he has worked and to how his grade club has nurtured his development. Even now he has not "arrived", merely dipped his toe in the water.

England has plenty of promising wrist spinners and, at 14 and 15, many are of a similar standard to that young Australian spinner at the same age. It was the next five or six years that saw his development suggest he just might make it all the way. While he was in South Australian development squads, he spent most of his time practising at his home base. If he falls out of favour at first-class level, he can stay under the notice of the South Australian selectors by performing well at club level.

The records of Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed, Danesh Kaneria and Stuart MacGill tell us that good wrist spinners do succeed on English pitches. Ian Salisbury has made a career for himself with Sussex and Surrey, bowling leg-breaks and googlies, but fallen just short of international standard. Chris Schofield was too young and his action too flawed to be a success and he has paid the price for early exposure.

Warne almost went the same way when his Test figures were 1 for 346 after three Tests. His solid technique and above-average spin, combined with willingness to work on his game through that period, saw him win out. England might not have a young Warne out there but they have sufficient young talent to produce first-class wrist spinners. It just needs more patience, understanding and a greater show of faith.

Terry Jenner played nine Tests for Australia and is Shane Warne's bowling mentor