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May 27, 2008
Several concerns emerged from Australia's effort in the first Test, where they were seriously challenged by the world's No. 8 team, but the most worrying aspect was the form of Stuart MacGill. The team management has been adamant that MacGill remains the top spinner in Australia and can be a valuable asset for the next couple of years. His performance in Jamaica might have the selectors and coaches wondering if they spoke too soon after his return from surgery.
MacGill's match figures of 4 for 143 look reasonable and he finished off the Test with two wickets in two balls when he removed West Indies' No. 9 and No. 11 batsmen. The big problem was that he never seemed like getting a middle-order wicket in the second innings. On the fifth day of a match where the pitch was playing tricks, against a team not adept at handling high-quality spin, it was a telling result.
The timing was not ideal for MacGill, who is trying to convince his doubters that he is still a match-winner after having an operation on his right wrist in December. The surgery dealt with the carpal-tunnel syndrome that had troubled him in Hobart in November, when he had a miserable match against Sri Lanka and delivered some wild full tosses due to numbness in his hand.
He declared the operation a success and made a reasonable comeback in the Pura Cup, which makes it even more baffling that he was back to wayward ways at Sabina Park. MacGill has always been prone to sending down loose balls, but it was forgivable because so many other deliveries would be potential wicket-takers. Unfortunately, in his comeback Test, his ripping legbreaks were too often long-hops, while the full tosses remained.
His analysis flattered him. The two wickets to finish the game were genuine tailenders, while of his two successes in the first innings, the ball that got Shivnarine Chanderpaul was such an ordinary full toss that Chanderpaul himself, the most occasional of legspinners, would have been ashamed of it. He was also largely responsible for giving West Indies a sniff on the final day when his poor spell allowed Darren Sammy and Denesh Ramdin to build a handy partnership after Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, who rattled the top order, were taking a much-needed break.
For a man who shows little joy at picking up wickets and rarely appears satisfied on the field, it was strange that MacGill seemed so unperturbed by his struggles. Is the desire still there? He claims that he is desperate to play at the highest level for as long as possible, but if he changes his mind he has other things to fall back on, including a television career that began with a wine programme last year.
At 37, he is already looking older than his years - the grey crew cut doesn't help - and after he also battled with a knee injury and general fitness late last year, there must be some lingering doubts in the minds of Australia's decision-makers over whether he really is a long-term option. Their problem is that in the domestic scene the spin cupboard is alarmingly bare. Shane Warne always had a grand sense of timing and his announcement that he would consider an Ashes return - if asked - came at an awkward moment for MacGill.
Still, one bad match does not mean a man who has taken 207 Test wickets at a strike-rate of 53 should be written off. But what MacGill can count on is that he will be monitored very closely in the Caribbean.
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