Save the spinners

The question has occupied cricketing discussion in the Caribbean ever since Lance Gibbs sent down his last over in his 79th Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1976. The answer, given by a succession of selectors, is that spin bowlers will be chosen only if the balance of the team requires them and if they merit a place.
Perhaps seduced by the great combinations on which West Indies' success and reputation have been built, they have shown a consistent preference for fast bowling, even at times when that particular cupboard was bare.

The evidence of returns in inter-territorial cricket, where spinners have always prospered, is largely overlooked on the grounds that the game at that level is sub-standard. Those who have been favoured have been given only fleeting opportunities to settle into the demands of the highest level.

Two have joined the list this season, Sulieman Benn, the beanpole left-armer, and the off-spinner Amit Jaggernauth, who is the most prolific wicket-taker over the past four seasons of regional cricket. Both are likely to go the way of their recent predecessors - back into the ranks of the Carib Beer Cup.

Benn was dropped after his debut Test, in Guyana against Sri Lanka, when his figures were none for 120 and 3 for 59. Jaggernauth had to be removed yesterday when Andrew Symonds savaged him for three sixes in two overs after lunch.

Yet much of the problem lies not so much with the spinners themselves but with the way they are used by their captains.

Yesterday provided the latest example. Australia had battled through the morning session to recover from the four shocks of the previous evening and the immediate loss of the nightwatchman, Mitchell Johnson. They went to lunch 93 for six. Their lead was building but their last recognised batsmen were together. Symonds, a dangerous aggressor, was on 30 and entrenched.

The most plausible option was for the strike bowlers who had created the earlier mayhem, Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell, to alternately attack from one end, with steady support from Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy.

Instead, Ramnaresh Sarwan summoned Jaggernauth, an inexperienced bowler on debut. In the circumstances, with Australia building to a strong lead, it was an unnecessary gamble.

It quickly failed. Symonds predictably went after the rookie, three times planting him among the scattering spectators in the George Headley Stand so that Jaggernauth had to be immediately withdrawn.

Like so many before him, he might have a long wait for his next bowl in Tests, however much he mesmerises Carib Beer Cup batsmen. His fellow Trinidadian, Dave Mohammed, the left-arm wrist spinner, might empathise with him.

Two years ago, with India seeking to press for a declaration in the first Test in Antigua, Brian Lara tossed him the ball. At the opposite end was Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as long and clean a hitter as Symonds.

Dhoni slammed six sixes in his 51-ball 69 as Rahul Dravid closed much quicker than he had imagined. In the meantime, Mohammed's stats were so spoiled that they read: 3 for 162 off 29.5 overs. Needless to say, he didn't appear again in the series.

Nor are Benn and Jaggernauth likely to in this one. Perhaps it is time for a 'save the spinner' campaign.