No way to spin it, the Australian Test team needs a decent leggie

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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76 Have your say

    Almost 24 years ago, Shane Warne announced himself on cricket’s international stage. It was June 1993 when he drifted a leg-spinner well wide of Mike Gatting’s leg-stump and ripped it back to hit the top of off.

    That feat at Manchester was dubbed ‘the Ball of the Century’.

    Warne became the toast of the cricketing world and over the next 13 years he continued to bamboozle batsmen and dominate the game, single-handedly popularising what was previously an unsexy craft.

    Prior to Warne, young kids wanted to emulate fast bowlers like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and batsmen like Viv Richards. But we were told the King of Spin changed all that and budding young leggies were popping up all over the place.

    No one expected anyone to come along and be the equal of Warne, but ten years have passed since his retirement from international cricket, and to date we are yet to unearth a quality Test leg-spinner.

    Stuart MacGill played in Warne’s shadow for the bulk of his career and, given he debuted in first-class cricket just three years after Warne and is the son of former West Australian leg-spinner Terry MacGill, his career path was hardly influenced by Warne.

    Leaving aside MacGill, there have been several leggies selected to play for Australia since Warne debuted in January 1992.

    Peter McIntyre played two Tests in the mid-90s, the first in tandem with Warne against England at Adelaide. In his first-class career, he captured 322 wickets at 39.7.

    Cameron White and Steve Smith both debuted at number eight, having been selected for their spin bowling. They have taken a combined total of 22 wickets since, from an aggregate 54 Tests, with both developing into batsmen at the expense of their bowling.

    Bryce McGain made his one and only Test appearance, against South Africa, the week before he turned 37.

    Then there were left-arm wrist spinners Brad Hogg, who played seven Tests across a 12-year period, and Beau Casson, who played just the once, against the West Indies in 2008.

    While chosen primarily as batsmen throughout their careers, Michael Bevan (29 wickets) and Simon Katich (21) were called upon to bowl their Chinamen in their combined total of 74 Tests.

    None, however, have commanded even medium-term stints as specialist wrist spinners. And that is a continued issue for Australian cricket.

    Currently, there are two leg-spinners being touted as future Test players: Adam Zampa and Mitchell Swepson.

    Zampa has proven to be highly effective in the limited forms of the game, with 30 wickets at 27.8 from 19 ODI appearances and nine at 17.9 in eight T20 internationals.

    But his long-form form has been ordinary – in 25 first-class matches he has captured 62 wickets at 50.3. As such, while he has been regularly selected of late for international ODIs and T20s, he has struggled to be a regular member of the South Australian Sheffield Shield side over the past 18 months.

    This season he has nine wickets at 47.9 from three Shield matches.

    He is effective in short-form cricket, as he is reasonably accurate and batsmen have to take a risk in going after him. But given he is not a prodigious turner, when he has a red ball in hand he poses less of a wicket-taking threat, with batsmen merely waiting for the loose ball to put away.

    Zampa is still only 24, but he has a long way to go to prove he is a viable option at Test level.

    Australia's Adam Zampa bowls

    Swepson, 23, has played 14 first-class matches for 41 wickets at 32.8, which is a tidy start. This season his four Shield outings have realised ten wickets at 43.0.

    Both Zampa and Swepson have been touted as candidates for next month’s tour of India.

    Zampa would be a risk given his parlous red-ball history, while it would be a baptism of fire for Swepson against the best players of spin in the world.

    India aside however, the lack of a quality leg-spinner is more of an issue each summer in Australia.

    The harder nature of the pitches in Australia and the fact the majority do not deteriorate greatly over five days has meant the bounce that can be extracted by wrist spinners is more of a threat.

    This is best illustrated by the records of two of the sport’s most prolific finger spinners. In Australia, Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan averaged 75.4 in five Tests and Indian Harbhajan Singh 73.2 from four matches.

    Staid drop-in pitches are likely to make finger-spinners toil even harder for their wickets in the future.

    Nathan Lyon earned the sobriquet GOAT (Greatest of All Time) when he surpassed Hugh Trumble’s career record of 141 Test wickets, the most by an Australian finger-spinner.

    When he reached Trumble’s mark he sat behind five other spinners in the all-time wicket-taker’s list for Australia, each of whom are leg-spinners – Warne (708 at 25.4), Richie Benaud (248 at 27.0), Clarrie Grimmett (216 at 24.2), MacGill (208 at 29.0) and Bill O’Reilly (144 at 22.6).

    Currently, Lyon has 228 wickets at 34.1, an average vastly inferior to the aforementioned leggies. While serviceable, Lyon has struggled to bowl his side to victory late in matches in Australia – a job, historically, that has been the domain of the wrist-spinner.

    One of the significant issues hampering the development of leg-spinners in this country has been the changing face of club cricket. Far more of it nowadays is centred around one-day fixtures and T20 competitions, rather than the more traditional two-day games spanning two weekends.

    This has meant wrist-spinners have less opportunities to hone their craft. It has also meant their captains have had less of an opportunity to learn the requisite field placings and best way to utile their skills.

    Whatever the reasons, despite all the hype about youngsters emulating Warne, almost a quarter of a century after that historic delivery at Old Trafford we are still awaiting the arrival of a wrist-spinner who can hold down a place in the Test side for any more than a fleeting moment.

    It is perhaps the single most pressing selection issue facing Australian cricket.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (76)

    • January 12th 2017 @ 5:18am
      Chris Love said | January 12th 2017 @ 5:18am | ! Report

      Completely agree Glenn, when either Zampa or Swepson come through they will take over from Lyon. I would take at least one of them, probably Zampa to India. Being able to really rip the ball is what gives a wrist spinner the larger degree of variation but makes it harder to control with placement. When either of those two get that sewn up they’ll be much better than Lyon. But until that happens I would rather see the very good Okeefe turning them away from the right handers, especially this series in India where he will show how much better than Lyon he is.

      One minor correction on the article though and it’s a hair splitter. Murali may have been a right handed with a stock ball that turned into the right handed (left to right) but he was most certainly a wrist spinner. One of a kind that spun it the same way as an off spinner but a wrist spinner none the less.

      • January 12th 2017 @ 6:37am
        qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 6:37am | ! Report

        “One of a kind that spun it the same way as an off spinner but a wrist spinner none the less.”

        Merrilythrowin chucked it. It was a ‘reverese’ chuck, with the back of his hand leading, but a chuck no question. One of the worst periods in the ICC’s history.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 11:10am
          jameswm said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

          The ICC changed their rules to make his action legal.

          Lovely guy Murali and very skilled, but he still chucked it, esp earlier on.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 2:30pm
          Chris Love said | January 12th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

          Chuck or no chuck, that’s doesn’t detract from the fact that the revolutions he imparted in the ball were a result of his wrist action, and not his fingers. Sure it could be argued that the shoulder/elbow action allowed his wrist to turn it from right to left with the right arm but he’s not a finger spinner is all I’m saying.

    • January 12th 2017 @ 6:13am
      qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Why Australia needs a leg-spinner for India
      By Dylan Carmody, 9 Jan 2017”

      Adam Zampa is a must for the Test team in India
      By Lachlan Ballingall, 10 Jan 2017”

      Australia need a serious leg spinner to compete in India
      By David Lord, 11 Jan 2017

      No way to spin it, the Australian Test team needs a decent leggie
      By Glenn Mitchell, 12 Jan 2017

      I sense a theme….

      • Columnist

        January 12th 2017 @ 7:07am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 7:07am | ! Report

        Qwetzen, my interest isn’t India, but Australia. All the talk currently is about taking a leg-spinner to IND. Personally, I don’t really believe that the traditional AUS over-spinning leg spinner is all that beneficial over there. in IND. What we need is a leg-spinner in this country far more than we need one over there. We go there once every four years. What AUS needs is a strike leg-spinner in this country and we have been unable to unearth one for well over a decade despite the fact we heard as nauseum that young kids all wanted to bowl leggies in the wake of Warne.

        • Roar Rookie

          January 12th 2017 @ 7:59am
          Lancey5times said | January 12th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

          Don’t we just need a wicket taking spinner who can get the job done in the 4th innings of a test match? Does it matter what direction his wrist moves in?

          • Columnist

            January 12th 2017 @ 8:11am
            Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

            Agreed Lancey5times, but history would indicate in this country that is best served by a wrist-spinner. Given the nature of most Test pitches, finger spinners bowling their side to victory in the fourth innings is rarely seen is AUS.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 8:04am
          qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

          I agree completely that the traditional leggie in India is a waste of time, in fact I’ve gone hoarse writing that over the last decade.

          Btw… I think this upcoming tour is our 5th Test tour in thirteen years.

          • Columnist

            January 12th 2017 @ 9:16am
            Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

            Dear oh dear qwetzen, you probably don’t need to write about the same topic over and over.

            • January 12th 2017 @ 3:39pm
              qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

              Btw Glen, I used to seriously enjoy your spells at the ABC mike with Skull. Thanks for that.

              • Columnist

                January 12th 2017 @ 4:48pm
                Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

                Thanks Qwetzen, fun times indeed.

          • January 12th 2017 @ 11:23am
            Basil said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

            How do you get hoarse writing?

            • January 12th 2017 @ 3:41pm
              qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

              The same way that you get callouses on your fingers from talking…

        • January 12th 2017 @ 8:15am
          Nudge said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

          It really does go to show how good Warney was. I remember when he was at the peek of his powers and hearing that young kids all over the country had turned to bowling leg spin. Pretty sure it was something like 4 times the amount when Warney was at his best. Also remember hearing because of this, we were nearly assured that as soon as Warney retired it would be just a matter of picking the best one out of the number of good ones ready to go. 10 years on still waiting

          • Roar Guru

            January 12th 2017 @ 8:26am
            The Bush said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

            The amazing thing is you can’t even just blame it on T20 cricket etc – Warnie was inspiring kids long before it ever came along. It’s hard to believe that not a single kid inspired by Warnie in the ’90s ever had the talent to average even 30 in FC cricket as a leg spinner. Imagine how formidable this Australian bowling unit would be even with “just” a MacGill!

            • January 12th 2017 @ 8:58am
              Christo the Daddyo said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

              It’s almost as if Warnie didn’t actually inspire a whole bunch of kids to become leggies…;)

              • January 12th 2017 @ 11:36am
                Arky said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                He did, but unfortunately also inspired the same kids to become boozing smoking skirt-chasers and they got distracted long before becoming good enough for first class cricket!

              • January 12th 2017 @ 3:19pm
                matth said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                Arky, that is the comment of the day

          • January 12th 2017 @ 11:12am
            jameswm said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            Nudge I remember at his peak – maybe one SA tour of Australia – we’d be outside and someone would call out “Warnie’s bowling”. Everyone would come in and watch, mesmerised (about as mesmerised as poor Darryl).

            • January 12th 2017 @ 11:40am
              Nudge said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

              Absolutely mate. I actually got on video my 2 month old boy who is now 10 rocking in his rocker about a meter away from the tv while Warney bowled in his last test at the SCG. Least he can say now he got to watch the great Shane Warne bowling live

              • January 12th 2017 @ 12:11pm
                jameswm said | January 12th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

                I didn’t get it on video but my then 6 month old was in the stadium with his mum and dad when Cathy Freeman won her 400 gold. He’s now 16 and a chance to go to the Olympics for athletics one day (possibly Tokyo). Would be a nice circle.

                He stopped cricket at 12 and my youngest who is 12 is likely to do basketball not cricket in term 1 (he’ll be at a school where you have to do Sat sport). It’s a tough call. I see him as a good future spinner, but he’s never played club cricket as a kid. We couldn’t find the time. I do feel a bit ashamed.

              • January 12th 2017 @ 3:45pm
                Nudge said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

                Ripper mate. Hope your lad makes the Olympics. I’m sure you’ll let us know if he does. My 3 boys are sporting nuts but play Aussie Rules basketballl and athletics absolutely flat out. No time for cricket as it runs same time as basketball but back yard cricket has had a bonanza of a season so their is some real hope for next year

        • January 12th 2017 @ 9:44am
          Stephen Connell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          BUT,you answer your own question near the end of your article ;

          “One of the significant issues hampering the development of leg-spinners in this country has been the changing face of club cricket. Far more of it nowadays is centred around one-day fixtures and T20 competitions, rather than the more traditional two-day games spanning two weekends.

          This has meant wrist-spinners have less opportunities to hone their craft. It has also meant their captains have had less of an opportunity to learn the requisite field placings and best way to utile their skills.” So,, Logicaly how are we ever gping to produce quality leg spinners with this change at the very grass rooys of cricket? Warne never faced thsi problem in hsi fromative years so what we end up with is a system that inhibits the development of wrist spinners so where are they going to emerge from? Warne himself doesn’t seem be too interested in assisting the development of his craft amongst young cricketers so what hope does it have?

          • January 12th 2017 @ 3:24pm
            matth said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

            It’s not just wrist spinners either. Batsmen who occupy the crease and who are not ‘clear the front leg’ boundary hitters are becoming less common as well. My son is a slow scoring safe batsman and he is constantly being told he has to find ways to up his scoring rate to become valuable to the team.

      • January 12th 2017 @ 8:25am
        spruce moose said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report


        You and I both know that the articles on Jan 9 and Jan 10 don’t exist. The only articles before today were written on Jan 6 and Jan 11.

        Shame on youu for making things up and being so poor with your fact checking.

        • Roar Guru

          January 12th 2017 @ 8:26am
          The Bush said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          Ha. Gold.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 8:44am
          qwetzen said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

          I’m tryin to become a perfesionall jernalist…

    • Roar Guru

      January 12th 2017 @ 8:12am
      Jake Rosengarten said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      The difficulty for mine is the inability to for spinners to both keep down runs and take wickets currently in international cricket.

      You saw it with Yasir Shah in the Pakistan series. Good bowler, gets wickets but unfortunately gets absolutely carted in the process.

      Whether it’s another element of the bat vs ball dilemma I don’t know.

      Although I do agree that the need for someone to step into that wrist spinning mould is essential when we travel. At home as you said, outside of the SCG it’s not a real issue.

      But back to my point, you’ve gotta be a pretty damn good spinner to both take wickets and have a decent average in Test match cricket nowadays. Especially with the willingness of batsmen to take on the spinner.

      Maybe Warne should be put in charge of honing the next generation by cricket Australia? Otherwise a genuine lack of quality options for moulding looks a real issue.

      • January 12th 2017 @ 9:32am
        Stephen Connell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        Simply reply to this ,Warne never wanted to help becuase he was “too busy”. CA asked him to perform a mentoring roll to aid the development of the next generation of leg spinners but he knocked back the offer. A real Australian there.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 11:24am
          Basil said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

          Taking selfies is time consuming

    • January 12th 2017 @ 8:43am
      Robert said | January 12th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      How is Fawad Ahmed not mentioned? He has been bowling exceptionally well in the BBL.

      Sure he hasn’t been playing first-class cricket this season, but that is mostly due to the coaching changes which have pushed him aside for someone who is currently injured anyway.

      Take him.

      • Columnist

        January 12th 2017 @ 9:18am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        The reason Fawad Ahmed has not come into contention for the tour of India is the fact that Victoria has not selected him for any of the five Sheffield Shield, so no red ball form at all to go on this season.

        • January 12th 2017 @ 9:23am
          spruce moose said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          That’s not stopped everyone with a keyboard suggesting that Pat Cummins should be fast tracked back into the Australian side. The only rider to that however is the fact that Ahmed has been fit and available for selection all summer yet not deemed to be up to it by his state selectors.

          • January 12th 2017 @ 11:39am
            Arky said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            Because Cummins has already proved he’s got the quality when fit, and he’s a young guy with a long career left.

            Ahmed hasn’t proved he’s got the quality, he’s not even being picked for Shield (Cummins just missed due to injury), and he’s not a long term option due to his age.

            • January 12th 2017 @ 12:28pm
              spruce moose said | January 12th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

              Firstly, just to be very clear…I did not write “the only rider…” sentence. I have no idea why that is in my post.

              Arky, Cummins has proved absolutely nothing. He’s played 8 first class games in his entire career and hasn’t played in the shield for 3 years.

              He admittedly bowled a good inning in South Africa with a 6-for, but there have been PLENTY of bowlers who have bowled well on debut/very early in a career and then have faded dramatically.

              I want to see at least a full season in the shield and some county cricket before he deserves to be put closer to the top of the pecking order.

              • Columnist

                January 12th 2017 @ 4:50pm
                Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

                That makes two of us Spruce … I actually wrote the “rider’ part and prefaced it by saying I agree with you. How it appeared under your name and in abbreviated form beats me.

                Gremlins are at work!

            • January 12th 2017 @ 3:48pm
              Nudge said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

              If you have seen Cummins bowl whenever he has been fit, it is so obvious that if he gets a good run with injury, he’s going to be an absolute gun of the game

      • January 12th 2017 @ 11:13am
        jameswm said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Ahmed went on a tour and couldn’t land it in a warm-up game. Hard to get that out of their minds.

    • January 12th 2017 @ 9:18am
      Junior Coach said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      Glenn, I dont think its that easy – before Warne who was the last “strike” legspinner Australia had- Not Kerry O Keefe- he was a tight bowler who relied on pressure and being part of a very strong bowling line up.We would have to go back to Benaud and before Benaud, the two before that were O’reilly and Grimmet. My poiint is this that legspinners good enough to be top line strikers in test cricket are very rare commodities and require careful and patient Captaincy to give them the chance to be their best. Zampa doesnt look the goods to my eye- he doesnt spin the ball and is in T20 mode all the time-havent seen the others yet. Am happy to watch this “space” but my guess is that I might be in my 70’s before I see another top flight leggie.

      • Columnist

        January 12th 2017 @ 9:25am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        I would definitely say that Stuart MacGill was a strike leg-spinner. I agree however, with your point that genuine leg spinners are not easy to find. But given all we heard about myriad kids taking up the challenge it is surprising we have not seen a greater number of leggies in first-class ranks in the past 20-odd years.

        Wholeheartedly agree with your point about captaincy. As I mentioned, the move to more shorter form cricket at grade level has lessened the opportunity for skippers to get the necessary experience with regard to utilising wrist spinners effectively.

        • Roar Guru

          January 12th 2017 @ 10:19am
          JGK said | January 12th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

          Junior Coach makes a great point.

          Aust has history of great leggies from Mailey to Grimmett (although he was a Kiwi) and Tiger, to Benaud and then Warne supported by Macgill.

          But there have been a stack of mediocre ones in there as well. It might be another 20-30 years before we see another Macgill, let alone Warne.

          As for the observation of the shorter game in grade cricket, the great irony of course is that wrist spinners are probably the most effective bowlers at T20 List A level (although that might say more about the footwork of the modern batsmen and their big bats).

        • January 12th 2017 @ 10:47am
          Junior Coach said | January 12th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          MacGill certainly was a superb bowler- it will remain one of the great “what ifs” as to how many test wickets he would of collected had Warne not been around.

      • January 12th 2017 @ 3:26pm
        matth said | January 12th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

        Based on your last sentence Junior, I really hope you are 69…

    • January 12th 2017 @ 9:30am
      jamesb said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      Is Shane Warne teaching our young leg spinners?

      From what I gather, he does commentary work for Channel Nine and over in England. And he takes part in poker tournaments.

      • Columnist

        January 12th 2017 @ 9:37am
        Glenn Mitchell said | January 12th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        CA has certainly utilised him in that role over time. Perhaps, though they need to try and up his input in that area.

      • January 12th 2017 @ 11:42am
        Arky said | January 12th 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Great players aren’t automatically great coaches, and great coaches weren’t necessarily great players.

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