A new ball, a new start
Michael Beer has done two peculiar things so far in a brief Test career. On the second day of the second Test in Trinidad he became the first spinner to take the new ball for Australia in the first innings of a match since Bill O'Reilly was handed it by Don Bradman at Trent Bridge in 1938. On a surface taking appreciable turn, Beer's employment was a typically aggressive choice by the captain Michael Clarke, and his bowler responded grandly with a spell that first teased, then toppled Adrian Barath.
Equally unusual for a spin bowler, but more significant, was the manner in which Beer won his second Test cap. Among slow bowlers tried since Shane Warne retired in glory at the end of the 2006-07 Ashes, Beer is the first to lose his place after a Test, then go back to first-class cricket and find a way back into the national squad by the simple method of taking wickets.
Returning to the team via weight of runs or wickets is invariably the line trotted out by any chairman of selectors when he is asked for what an international discard is required to do. But in Australia it has proven a singularly difficult task for spin bowlers since Warne. Most slow bowlers have more or less sunk without trace after fleeting dalliances with the national team, following an increasingly dispiriting pattern.
A quick survey turns up the following names. Daniel Cullen, who debuted before Warne's retirement but with an eye clearly to life after him, never returned to the strong wicket-taking form that had earned him a berth on the 2006 tour of Bangladesh, and he now languishes in Adelaide club cricket without even a state contract. After Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill retired in quick succession, Beau Casson's tale was star-crossed but also featured the unavoidable fact that his left-arm wrist spin was nowhere near as successful after his one Test in the Caribbean in 2008 than before it. Jason Krejza took 12 wickets in a single Test match, his debut against India in Nagpur, but has struggled to muster that many in all the first-class matches he has played since being jettisoned after a less fruitful turn-out against South Africa in Perth, also in 2008.
The pattern went on. Bryce McGain was hammered to all parts of Newlands by South Africa in 2009, amid a series of confusing messages from Australia's captain and coach, and was never quite the same spin bowler for Victoria as advancing years and a scarred shoulder conspired to ensure he would never play for his country again. And Nathan Hauritz made as much of an impression with the bat as with the ball for New South Wales after he was summarily dismissed from Test duty in the days before the first Ashes Test of 2010-11. A dislocated shoulder has since stymied his chances of doing any better.
So it was far from a fait accompli that Beer would be granted another chance to bowl for Australia in a Test after Nathan Lyon was preferred to him in the next after his first match, the final chapter of an unhappy Ashes summer at the SCG followed eight months later by Clarke's first as the fully-fledged captain on a dusty strip against Sri Lanka in Galle. Having bowled tidily though not impactfully in Sydney, Beer could reasonably have expected to play in that contest, the pitch turning tricks from the first session of the match. Instead he lost out to the steadiness of Trent Copeland's medium paced seam and swing.
Beer loped through the remainder of that tour without much to do, then predictably found himself left out of the team entirely as Lyon advanced steadily following a bright debut that reaped five wickets against Sri Lanka. But he gained an important ally in the appointment of the former Western Australia coach Mickey Arthur to mentor Australia - Arthur had been a strong advocate of Beer's in their one season together in WA, going as far as saying that as a bowler the tall left-armer was more than a match for South Africa's longtime Test spinner Paul Harris.
Arthur kept an eye on Beer as he became preoccupied with the affairs of the national team, and like the rest of the newly convened selection panel he was impressed by the bowler's quiet accumulation of solid results for the Warriors. Beer also performed creditably for the Perth Scorchers, but it was on his return to the Sheffield Shield that he delivered the sort of return precious few Australian spinners have managed in recent domestic cricket. Against New South Wales legs tired by a lengthy stay in the field as WA ran up 3 for 560 declared, Beer rattled through the Blues' second innings for figures of 7 for 46. His victims included Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin and Hauritz, and the watching national selector John Inverarity took note.
Michael Hussey, Beer's state and national team-mate, said Beer had learned plenty between his first and second Test caps. "I think initially he was so excited to be a part of the Australian team like anyone is," Hussey said. "Then you come in and I think the first Test it wasn't the best experience for all of us, losing the Ashes in that manner, it wasn't the best Test match. I think just getting that taste and seeing what is necessary to play some Test match cricket he could then take that back to Western Australia and really work on the things he needed to to get back into the Australian team.
"I think he'll be better prepared for success now that he's had a bit of that taste and he's had to go back and ply his trade again for WA. I hope he can really take his opportunity in this particular Test match but I hope that there are more opportunities for him in the future. I think he's a better bowler because he just sticks to what he does best. I'm not saying that's not what he did before but he now knows that he doesn't have to try and be like anyone else or try and bowl like any other spinner in the world. He's just got to be like Michael Beer and bowl as well as he possibly can, doing his thing and if he does stick to those things he'll definitely have success."
Beer's place on the plane to the Caribbean was well earned, and on a Trinidad surface likely to take sharp spin he was included. A duel with Lyon to be the first spinner chosen will be fought out over the remainder of the Test, but Beer has already shown the sort of resilience a spin bowler requires by fighting back into the Australian XI from a position that has proven the unmaking of plenty before him.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here