Beer confident as he steps into the firing line
Michael Beer's integration into the Australia squad for Thursday's third Test at Perth got underway this week in the unusual environs of Brisbane Airport, as the latest spinner to be thrust into the firing line met several of his national team-mates for the first time in the departure lounge of Qantas Airways.
On a day when Australia's greatest spinner, Shane Warne, returned to the headlines for yet more lurid reasons, and when the man who has been discarded by the selectors, Nathan Hauritz, set about selling his kit to the highest bidder, Beer's journey from Australia's East Coast to its most westerly outpost was mundane by comparison.
Nevertheless, for a 26-year-old with six first-class matches to his name, Beer's unconventional introductions emphasised the quantum leap that his career is about to take, as he becomes the tenth Australian spinner since Warne to be trialled in the Test arena.
"I got the flight from Brisbane. Shane Watson and Ryan Harris were on the flight, so it was good to meet them in the Qantas lounge," said Beer. "So I met a couple of them there, and got the ball going. There were a few support staff as well, so it was a good flight in."
Writing in his column in The Australian this week, Ricky Ponting admitted that he had never yet met Beer, the left-arm spinner who looks certain to displace Peter Siddle in Australia's attack at the WACA this week. Beer confirmed this fact as he linked up with the bulk of the squad for his first training session in national colours.
"I met a couple last night when I got in, and the rest this morning, and enjoyed the training session," he said. "There were a couple I'd never met, but they've all been very nice. I'd bowled to them in a net-bowling situation, most of the team, four or five years ago. But Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, I hadn't met. [Ricky] just said 'how are you going?' - and he congratulated me and said 'look forward to the week', so that's what I'm doing."
Regardless of how well received he may be by his Australian team-mates, Beer will nonetheless be undertaking a vast step-up in class this week - and that was a challenge that his predecessor, Xavier Doherty, proved unable to surmount as he returned combined figures of 3 for 306 in his two Tests at Brisbane and Adelaide, before being ditched in the aftermath of England's crushing innings victory in the second Test.
When asked if he believed he was ready for what awaits him, Beer was determined to present a confident front. "I hope so," he said. "I love a challenge. It's just a matter of me knowing my role. I'll see what situation the game's in, and the conditions. I'd say I enjoy a contest. I like a contest, but changing what I've done so far is probably not the best thing to do. I'm going to just keep doing what I'm doing, and try to enjoy it."
In many people's opinion, Beer owes his opportunity at Test level to the vote of confidence he was given by Warne, by whom he was namechecked in his newspaper column earlier this week. The two men both honed their skills at the Melbourne club of St Kilda, before Beer was forced to cross the country because of a lack of opportunities at state level with Victoria, but Beer played down the influence exerted by his some-time club level team-mate.
"I played a few games of club cricket with him, and worked with him a couple of times when he's been around," said Beer. "I like the way he went about the game. Whenever he's around, I've tried to sponge as much as I could off him, but I haven't spoken to him [recently]. It's always a bit flattering when someone like him, or of his calibre, throws your name in the ring, but if I do see him, it will be good to say hello."
Although he's determined to give it his best shot when his debut comes about on Thursday, Beer can't quite disguise the astonishment that he's feeling after becoming the single biggest selectorial gamble that Australia has lined up since Peter Taylor was plucked from obscurity for the Sydney Test in January 1987.
When asked if he believed he'd be ready for international cricket after a grand total of six first-class fixtures, Beer offered a flat "No". However, now that he's been set in that direction, he has no option but to trust in his ability to deal with whatever awaits him. "I'm confident in my own ability in a contest," he said. "I hope that comes out shining."
The irony is that, had Beer not shifted his career from Victoria to Western Australia, he might at this moment still be struggling to break into Sheffield Shield cricket. Victoria's incumbent left-arm spinner is Jon Holland, who bowled tidily and with some success against England in an otherwise dreary tour match at the MCG over the weekend.
"The main aim was to get the best out of myself as a cricketer," said Beer of his switch to Perth, where he caught the eye of the selectors with five wickets in England's opening tour match last month. "Victoria were in a situation where they had Holland, who bowled very similar to me. He'd done will in under-age cricket and is also doing well for the Bushrangers now - and they had Bryce McGain, who played Test cricket.
"So I was third in line, unable to break into a contract. Then I got the opportunity with the Warriors, starting with Tom Moody, and then WA kept in contact and offered me a one-year contract. There are a number of things - on the field, the way I bowl and off the field, the professionalism - I've worked on. I'll keep working on it, and hope to keep improving and keep enjoying it."
Beer would not be human if he was not already visualising bowling to Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen at the WACA later this week, but he claims to have no preference when it comes his ideal first opponent. "All of 'em. All of 'em," he said. "I hope they're a couple down before I come on, but I don't think it's fully sunk in yet.
"Today was pretty good, training with the guys," he added. "I was making sure I was concentrating on what I was doing, to make sure I'm ready. I'm really looking forward to it."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.