Australia keep spin option open for Ashes
Ricky Ponting has brushed off the idea that Australia could enter the Ashes without a specialist spinner after their spin cycle washed up further damage to their stocks during the tour of South Africa. Australia have now used seven specialist spinners in Tests since the beginning of 2008 and are none the wiser about who should be their frontline option heading to England this year.
Nathan Hauritz looms as the most likely candidate after solid if not spectacular performances in the home Test summer. Hauritz was overlooked for the Cape Town Test as the Australians gave the legspinner Bryce McGain an opportunity but it was an inauspicious debut for McGain, whose figures of 0 for 149 from 18 overs left him with an inflated economy-rate of 8.27.
Adding to the hurt for McGain was the fact that the part-timer Simon Katich came on late in the South African innings and picked up 2 for 9 from three overs after he had also collected three wickets in Durban. The batsman Marcus North also had success with the ball in South Africa with his offspinners, and Michael Clarke is another handy option but Ponting said he could not envisage relying on a combination of part-timers to fill the spin role in England.
"I'm sure that the selectors will be looking at picking a specialist spinner for the Ashes tour," Ponting said. "I think it would be silly if we didn't take a specialist spinner."
But the question is who to take. Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg have both retired in the past 14 months and their initial replacement, Beau Casson, played a Test in the West Indies only to be dropped from the Australia and New South Wales sides. Cameron White played in India but it was a confusing selection as he is a batting allrounder whose spin is secondary.
Jason Krejza collected 12 wickets on debut in Nagpur only to be pounded out of the attack by the South Africans in Perth, although he is likely to have jumped McGain in the queue for an Ashes ticket after the outcome in South Africa. Ponting said regardless of which spinner was chosen he would be also inclined to hand the ball to Katich more often following his success in South Africa.
"It's always a tough one with him [Katich] because he pulls up quite sore in his lower back from bowling," Ponting said. "His back seized up on him in the warm-up [on Sunday], so when it's one of your opening batsman and you're 400 runs behind going into the second innings you've got to be a bit careful how much you use him.
"What I do know with him is that when he bowls well he's actually got some good wicket-taking balls and I think we've seen that in the last few games. If his body is holding up all right then I will definitely be inclined to use him in coming matches."
Katich rarely bowls in the nets and he was clearly in discomfort as he batted on the fourth day in Cape Town, where the previous afternoon he had sent down only three overs. Ponting was criticised for not introducing Katich until the 150th over, when the match had all but slipped away, but he said it was important that he gave McGain a decent chance to prove himself at Test level.
"It seemed from where I was standing anyway that they might have had a pre-conceived plan or idea to try to get into him or get after him as soon as he came on," Ponting said of McGain. "I talked to him through his first spell and after his first spell. He didn't feel like he probably bowled as bad as what his figures indicated there. They played some really good shots off him.
"Once he was under pressure after his first spell, I wanted to see how he responded and came back from that. Obviously they had the better of him for the majority of the overs that he bowled. The other thing to not forget is that the wickets [Katich] has got in the last couple of games have been the tail-enders. When Prince and Kallis were going the results might have been different for Simon as well [if he had bowled then]."
McGain and Katich will both fly home this week and won't have any first-class cricket before the Ashes. Hauritz is likely to get some opportunities in the one-day series, which begins in Durban on April 3, in a squad that also features the spinning allrounder White.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo