McGain should be testing South Africa - Warne
Shane Warne has expressed disappointment at the omission of Bryce McGain for the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg, and implored Australia's selectors to show more patience with their slow bowlers in future. The Australians have trialled six specialist spinners in the 19 Tests since Warne's retirement and, of those, only Cameron White has managed more than three consecutive appearances.
Warne, like many pundits, expected McGain to debut on Thursday, but a green Wanderers pitch convinced the selectors to field an all-seam attack for the crucial series opener. The move will presumably do little for the already fragile confidence of Australia's emerging spinners, although they can take heart from the fact that, with Warne signing on to commentate the Ashes for Sky Sports, they no longer need look over their shoulders in fear of a comeback.
Warne believes the time has arrived for Andrew Hilditch's panel to show faith in McGain. "Bryce McGain is clearly the best spinner in Australia," Warne said. "I was disappointed that he was not picked for the first Test in South Africa. The South Africans don't play wristies well.
"The hardest thing is that when you're losing and the spinners are not having a big impact, they can be made the scapegoat. If they were winning they probably could have carried a McGain or a Casson or a Krejza. It's a tough situation for the spinners. I would stick with one [spinner] ... and that would be Bryce McGain."
Warne believes that bowling will prove the key issue for both Australia and England throughout the Ashes. Australia's difficulties in taking 20 wickets were well documented throughout 2008, and England's spin concerns have been highlighted with the recent omission of Monty Panesar, of whom so much has been expected since his debut in 2006, in preference to the Nottinghamshire offspinner Graeme Swann.
"I'm disappointed with where Monty is," Warne said. "He has all the attributes to be a good spin bowler ... but he has not adapted to different conditions. I've not seen much of an improvement in Monty."
Though still a supporter of Michael Vaughan, Warne approved of the appointment of Andrew Strauss to the England captaincy following the damaging fall-out from the Pietersen-Moores split. He also complimented Ricky Ponting on his leadership through this period of team transition, but hinted that his former team-mate lacks adventure in his decision-making.
"He's improved," Warne said of Ponting. "It's a very tough time to be captain at the moment. I'd like to see Ricky put guys in situations to try a few different things ... and maybe show more imagination at times. But on the whole he is doing a good job."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo