December 13, 2010

Not quite in Warne's footsteps

Eleven Australian spinners who struggled to stand in the shadow of the Great One

Stuart MacGill
Probably the unluckiest of the lot: MacGill could have been an all-time great if his career hadn't collided with Warne's. He still took 208 Test wickets at less than 30 apiece, and often outperformed the great man when they played together. When Warne retired early in 2007, MacGill looked set for a few years in the side without looking over his shoulder - but he was already 36, and injuries got the better of him: he retired abruptly in the middle of a Test in the West Indies the following June.

Michael Beer
The selection of Michael Beer in the squad for the third Ashes Test at Perth was Australia's biggest selectorial bolt from the blue since legspinner John Watkins was whistled up in 1972-73 - he'd also previously played only five first-class matches and didn't have a five-for to his name. Slow left-armer Beer, 26, moved from Victoria to Western Australia this season, and has so far taken just 16 first-class wickets at 39.93. Of those, 11 have come in three matches at the WACA at 42.45 - hardly compelling evidence to choose him ahead of the spurned Nathan Hauritz, who has played more matches in Perth, and taken more wickets at a better average (15 at 33.80 in five games, with a best of 5 for 39).

Xavier Doherty
A bowling average of 48 in a first-class career spanning nearly ten years didn't seem to suggest that Xavier Doherty was a world-beater ... and his performances in the first two Tests of the 2010-11 Ashes series lived down to that reputation. He took three wickets for 306, and was promptly dropped: not many are placing bets on a recall. Doherty may have been included because of Kevin Pietersen's recent failings against slow left-armers, and it's true that he did get KP out in Adelaide ... after he'd made 227.

Jason Krejza
Seemed definitely to be one to watch when he took 8 for 215 - and 12 wickets in the match - on his debut, against India in Nagpur in November 2008 ... but he didn't play in Australia's next Test, and has won only one cap since. "Krazy" Krejza is still wheeling down his offspinners for Tasmania, but still proving costly: in 2009-10 his 18 first-class wickets cost more than 50 runs apiece.

Bryce McGain
The affable McGain was almost 37 when, early in 2009, he became Australia's oldest Test debutant for 24 years - since another legspinner, Bob Holland. But McGain's Test career was short, and not very sweet: targeted from the start by the South Africans - Ashwell Prince hit his second ball for six, and seven more flew over the ropes later on - McGain finished with none for 149 from 18 ragged overs in Cape Town. Australia lost by an innings, and poor McGain hasn't looked like adding to his baggy-green collection since. He's still playing, though, and in 2010 briefly turned out for Essex.

Nathan Hauritz
Hauritz made a surprise debut in India in 2004 when Warne broke a finger on the eve of the Mumbai Test - and that seemed to be it, as later he drifted out of the Queensland side then, after a move to Sydney, the NSW team too. But he got a surprise Test recall at the end of 2008, despite not being a Shield regular, and did better than many expected in the following year's Ashes series. Successive five-fors against Pakistan in Melbourne and Sydney seemed to answer criticism that he didn't take enough wickets - but then a mauling in India put the selectors off, and Hauritz was rudely dumped for the start of the Ashes series despite his domestic form (14 wickets at 26 in the ongoing Shield season) being better than most of his rivals.

Steve Smith
He's a blond legspinner ... but the Warne comparisons stop there, for the moment at least. Smith is more of a roller - if less roly-poly - than Warnie, and he may well end up being a better batsman than bowler: his first two Tests, against Pakistan in England in 2010, produced just three wickets, and a fine innings of 77. But he's still only 21, and in March 2010 took 7 for 64 for NSW against South Australia. His time may come... soon.

Brad Hogg
International cricket's favourite ex-postman - he used to run through his postal rounds to get fit - chinaman bowler Hogg was another who might have benefited from Warne's retirement. Hogg had played one Test in India in 1996, as Warne recovered from finger surgery - legend has it he'd waited half his life to hear Ian Healy growl "Bowled, Hoggy" from behind the stumps, then bowled so badly that it never happened - then later became a one-day regular, especially useful at World Cups (he took 13 wickets in 2003, and 21 in the West Indies in 2007). But he never quite nailed down a Test place, and little over a year after Warne bowed out Hogg announced his retirement too, after three disappointing Tests at home against India in 2007-08. He's now trying his hand at delivering TV commentary.

Jon Holland
Slow left-armer Holland was only 22, with only four Shield games for Victoria under his belt, when he was chosen for Australia's one-day squad for a tour of India late in 2009. Stuart MacGill said he looked a "naturally gifted bowler" and ought to be given a game: the selectors, not for the first time, didn't agree with MacGill. Holland didn't play an international match on the tour ... and still hasn't. So far in 2010-11 he's taken six first-class wickets - the same as he managed in the whole of last season.

Cameron White
White was another initially viewed as a Warne clone - he's blond, solid, and comes from Victoria. But he was never in the same class as a spinner, as he himself admitted, and doesn't bowl much at all these days - last season he took just two first-class wickets, and has none at all so far this term. The late David Hookes, during his time as Victoria's coach, thought White was more likely to gain a Test spot as a batsman, but although he has cemented a spot in Australia's limited-overs teams, White has so far been restricted to four Tests, all in India in 2008-09, when he took five wickets and failed to reach 50. His captaincy has its admirers, though.

Beau Casson
Test cricket's only Beau had a seemingly ideal start to his Test career - slow left-arm chinaman bowler Casson took three wickets on his debut, in Bridgetown in 2008, as West Indies were beaten to clinch the series (he made the side after MacGill's sudden retirement in the middle of the previous Test). But since then it's been a depressingly familiar tale, as Casson - who has a heart problem that is checked regularly - has struggled for impact at state level. He took 29 first-class wickets in 2007-08 - but managed only seven (at 91) the following year, and has played only once since.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket 2011. And Ask Steven is now on Facebook

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