September 27, 2000

Walker builds towards a big summer of spin

Brooke Walker has every reason to expect a big season with Auckland this year.

He's joined a group of spinners in Christchurch for the next few days for sessions with former Australian Test leg-spinner Terry Jenner.

Promising age-group spinners from around the country at the High Performance Centre at Lincoln University have joined Walker, Mark Jefferson and Jeetan Patel from Wellington, Bruce Martin from Northern Districts and Canterbury's Aaron Redmond and Carl Anderson.

With 30 first-class games behind him, and two rounds of Shell Trophy play this year, Walker, a 23-year-old leg-spinner, only needs his batsmen to score plenty of runs to have all the requirements for a bowler of his type to succeed.

Knowing that he could expect to bowl more than 500 overs in the summer, Walker has an ideal platform to return the investment that has been made in him. In 1999 he toured England with the New Zealand team on its triumphant tour and this year he toured with the New Zealand 'A' team to England.

While his chances were limited on the 1999 excursion, it was one of the more beneficial tours to be on. New Zealand won the series and confidence was high.

In the four games played on this year's tour he picked up eight wickets at an average of 27.75 and he goes into the new season with 63 wickets in his career at 32.06.

Since his return from England this year he has been training in the Auckland Aces winter build-up and catching up on his fitness. Central to that has been attempting to strengthen the groin injury he has been troubled by since England in 1999.

An over-use injury to his shoulder has also caused some pain and frustration but he has been attempting to rest that.

Experience of any kind, in any conditions, has been appreciated by Walker, a latecomer to leg-spin bowling.

Puddling around in the nets with medium-pacers, his Pakuranga Howick club captain Rowan Armour suggested he should try bowling leg-spin.

"He said at my height of 5 foot 5 inches I'd be wasting my time bowling medium pace and that I should keep on working on my leg-spin. So since I was 18 that is what I have done.

Very soon after that he caught the eye of Auckland's selectors and was playing first-class cricket by the age of 20.

"I'm not a big turner of the ball. There are others who turn it a lot further than me. But as much a part of spin is flight and variations aimed at deceiving the batsmen," he said.

Armour has been a source of a lot of mentoring for Walker.

"He's a medium-pacer himself but he comes up with a lot of theories about bowling which you can try out," he said.

Clinics like the latest one with Jenner are also a help. It is the third time Walker has worked with Jenner.

"It is great to be able to work with someone who knows something about bowling leg-spin at the top level," he said.

Jenner has done a lot of work with Australian leg-spin master Shane Warne, the player who inspired Walker to have a crack at leg-spin bowling in the first place.

The increase in interest in leg spinning has its drawbacks as more batsmen get used to the demands of facing wrist-spinners.

"When I first played some batsmen struggled to handle me but I think overall New Zealand's batsmen are becoming more confident at playing leg-spin.

"It was quite easy bowling to them at first, but I found my second season a lot harder and I struggled to deal with that.

"But last season I had to work really hard to get wickets and that was much more rewarding. I enjoyed the contests," he said.

Walker is looking for the developing Auckland side to make an impact this year.

"It would be nice to win a few finals rather than just getting into them," he said.

And if the notion that a programme of 10 Trophy games will be hard on bowlers, Walker knows that it is also tough on batsmen who have their powers of concentration tested by bowlers with the variation and guile.

Look for the growing group of slow bowlers in New Zealand to have a big influence on how the Shell Trophy finishes up.