Slow bowlers July 9, 2009

Spin doctors

Arthur Mailey and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith miss the shortlist, which means the choice of spinners is not exactly an easy one to make

There are two things Australian selectors really crave: a world-class allrounder and a top-grade wrist spinner. Like for the country's farmers, there have been periods of intense rain and severe drought for leggies over the past century.

At its peak in the mid-1930s, Australia could call on Bill O'Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett to form one of the most potent slow-bowling combinations in history. Facing any of the great fast-bowling partnerships was no more frightening than running into this pair. O'Reilly was considered the greatest spinner the country had produced until Shane Warne arrived, while Grimmett took wickets at will.

Bert "Dainty" Ironmonger, a left-armer, was one of their contemporaries in an era where quality twirlers dropped from the sky. Arthur Mailey and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith are other respected spinners from the 1920s and 1930s who missed the list.

After Richie Benaud, who takes his place in the allrounders' section, there was such a long gap that there were fears the art had died. Up popped Warne, who revived the tradition for 16 years, and Stuart MacGill joined in before another fallow period. MacGill didn't make this famous five, which includes only one offspinner. That spot is held by Hugh Trumble, the only representative from the 19th century. In voting for these performers there is another important question: is one spinner enough in a team like this, or should there be two?

The contenders

Shane Warne A leggie who started a revolution but was too good for any other wrist-spinner to continue it. Finished his 145 Tests with a then world record of 708 wickets, leaving with people begging him to stay.

Hugh Trumble An offspinner from the turn of the 20th century, Trumble picked up two hat-tricks, and 141 wickets at 21.78, during his 32-match career.

Clarrie Grimmett The fastest bowler ever to 200 wickets, Grimmett was a late-blooming leggie who averaged almost six victims a game with his carefully perfected tricks. He also invented the flipper.

Bill O'Reilly A fierce competitor who earned the nickname "Tiger", O'Reilly was considered the best leggie the country had ever produced, until Warne entered to create a debate. A powerhouse of the 1930s, he captured 144 wickets in 27 games.

Bert Ironmonger Made his debut at 45 and stayed for five years, tricking batsmen with his left-arm spin for 74 wickets at 17.97.



Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo