June 8, 2008

The end of a spin era

With the retirement of Stuart MacGill the age of Warne is officially at an end

Warne and MacGill gave Australia its most successful legspin chapter since O'Reilly and Grimmett © Getty Images

The retirement of Stuart MacGill has caused a lot of consternation in Australia. First there were rumours of a Shane Warne comeback and then rumblings that MacGill's decision was selfish. Well, of course it's selfish. The decision to retire is one that must rest with the person making the announcement. If MacGill is convinced he's had enough, then it's over.

Warne's comments following a successful IPL campaign seemed pretty clear cut: "I don't know how many times I can say I'm happily retired. I'm in a good space at the moment.'' It's over. The Warne era in Australian cricket is finished and with MacGill also gone, it's time to unearth the next spinner, preferably of the wrist variety.

It's easy to forget that before Warne debuted in 1992 many were lamenting the fact that Australia's spin bowling stocks closely resembled old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. Greg Matthews was hanging on by a thread, the short careers of Bob "Dutchy" Holland and Trevor Hohns were finished, and in his colourful columns Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly was castigating English administrators for killing off legspin.

What followed was Australia's most successful era of legspin since the heady days when O'Reilly teamed up with the wily Clarrie Grimmett to mesmerise batsmen. Warne and MacGill toiled successfully for an amazing 916 Test victims and provided an incredible amount of entertainment. However, it's now time to look to the future.

The main criticism of MacGill's announcement seems to be that it came in the middle of an overseas series. This is largely offset, though, by the fact that Australia did have a second spinner on tour. MacGill's retirement gives the left-arm chinaman bowler Beau Casson the opportunity to get a feel of Test cricket away from the glare of the home spotlight and in a more relaxed atmosphere with the Frank Worrell trophy already securely packed away ready for the long trip back to Australia.

Having watched some of the leaden-footed West Indies batsmen and the recent inability of top-order players to pick Brad Hogg's wrong'un, the timing is perfect for Casson to boost his confidence. He has the best possible chance to get off to a good start at the international level. More important, Ricky Ponting has the chance to get a first-hand look at Casson's temperament in a Test match, and that's a huge plus for the Australian captain.

Ponting has stated that Australia has "come back to the pack" recently, which shouldn't be earth-shattering news given the high-profile retirements of not only Warne and MacGill but also Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist. Ponting has had to deal with more disruption to the Test side than any Australian captain since Allan Border and he's handled it extremely well.

Having watched some of the leaden-footed West Indies batsmen and the recent inability of top-order players to pick Brad Hogg's wrong'un, the timing is perfect for Casson to boost his confidence

Later this year he will embark on a demanding tour of India, which will be his greatest challenge yet. In a country where spin could play a crucial part in the result, any lead-up information Ponting can glean about one of his spin candidates has to be beneficial. If there are any nasty surprises awaiting Ponting, better he experiences them in the Caribbean rather than in Bangalore in the middle of the first Test.

Casson's Australian first-class record has been cited as an indication he might struggle at international level. Well, Australia's first-class batsmen see more wrist-spin bowling than those from any other country, including India, and therefore they play it reasonably competently. Before people make too much of Casson's numbers, they should recall Warne's. For Victoria he averaged 34.73 compared with 25.42 at Test level; there was an even greater disparity between strike-rates: 73.63 against an exceptional 57.49 in the baggy green.

Now no one is predicting Casson will replicate MacGill's achievements, let alone those of Warne. As far as the highly successful Warne and MacGill era is concerned, the fat lady has sung, the credits have rolled and stumps are drawn. It's over. It's time to look forward to the next era, whether it be provided by Casson or any of the other young spin candidates in Australia.