It’s time for Australia to pick a leg-spinner

Ben Sewell Roar Pro

By Ben Sewell, Ben Sewell is a Roar Pro

 , , , ,

43 Have your say

    It’s now been ten years since Shane Warne retired from international cricket and in that time, Cricket Australia has unearthed a total of zero competent leg-spinners.

    In total, Australia has handed twelve spinners baggy greens since Warne’s retirement, which doesn’t include Nathan Hauritz, Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg, who were also used as replacements at times.

    Nathan Lyon currently has made the position his own with 247 wickets in 67 Tests. But he remains part of the issue facing Cricket Australia in this day and age.

    Lyon is a finger-spinner who simply does not impart enough turn or bounce on the ball during delivery to have a serious impact outside of the subcontinent.

    In the recent home Test series against South Africa, Lyon struggled tremendously, taking only six wickets at an average of 57.66. Lyon really struggled in Perth and Hobart – both traditionally non-spinning wickets – which underlines the issue he currently poses.

    For Australia to return to their dominant era of the early 2000s, they must show faith in a young leg-spinner and allow them time to grow within the team.

    Currently, Australia has three leggies playing consistently for their state sides who have been in and out of the Australian setup throughout the past few years. These players are Tasmania’s Cameron Boyce, South Australia’s Adam Zampa and Queensland’s Mitchell Swepson.

    Cameron Boyce
    The oldest player on this list, at 28 years of age, Boyce has long been considered Australia’s next leg-spinning option since former Test great Ashley Mallett declared him to be the “best spinner in Australia not playing first class cricket” back in 2007.

    As a result, Boyce, then playing in Queensland, was watched closely by the Bulls organisation until he was raced into the side for the Sheffield Shield final of the 2009-10 season. Boyce performed well in that final, taking 6/181 in the second innings which got Australian selectors interested.

    Since then, Boyce has unfortunately failed to fully capitalise on his bright start, currently sitting with a record of 96 wickets in 48 games, at an average of just under 50. Boyce has, however, found success in the shortest form of the game, being a consistent performer for the Hobart Hurricanes and being rewarded with seven Twenty20 caps for the Australian side.

    Boyce is also an exceptional athlete and is a real asset in the field, owing greatly to his early years in indoor cricket.

    Boyce is probably the least likely of the three on this list to make the Test side. Most likely, he’s a long term consideration for the short forms of the game.

    Boyce should at least be considered for the Test side as he has been around for years and offers seven years of first class experience. Not every spinner Australia has ever picked in the past has offered exemplary first class resumes and Boyce may be the diamond in the rough selection the national side needs going forward.

    Adam Zampa
    Zampa probably has the best resume of the three in terms of being selected as Australia’s next Test leg-spinner. Zampa is currently the first-choice spinner in both short forms of the game and has performed well.

    Australia's Adam Zampa bowls

    (AAP Image/SNPA, John Cowpland)

    In 24 ODIs, Zampa has taken 36 wickets at an average of under 30, with six three-wicket hauls. In T20I’s, he has taken 14 wickets in ten games at the outstanding average of 15.14.

    While Zampa offers a tremendous resume from his time in the short form, he doesn’t have the best record in first class cricket. In 30 matches, Zampa has taken 83 wickets, but at an inflated average of 46.26.

    Zampa especially struggled in last year’s Sheffield Shield final, taking a combined 3/261 as Victoria claimed victory by holding South Australia to a draw.

    Zampa does, however, possess a respectable strike rate in first class cricket, taking a wicket every 68 balls which highlights how dangerous leg-spinners can be. Even though Zampa concedes around four runs per over in the long form of the game, he is likely to take you a wicket each spell he bowls, which makes him a valuable commodity.

    Mitchell Swepson
    Finally, to the youngest and probably most likely player to make the cut from this list. Mitchell Swepson is currently in the Australian squad set play Bangladesh in a two-match series.

    At 23 years old, Swepson is extremely raw, but possesses quite the first class record at this tender age. In just two seasons, Swepson has played 14 games, taking 41 wickets at the very respectable average of 32.82 and a strike rate of under 50.

    Incidentally, the great Shane Warne was also 23 years of age when he made his rather forgettable debut against India all those years ago.

    Warne has showed support for Swepson, calling for him to make his debut in the Australian Side. Warne said he “wasn’t ready at the time the selectors threw me into the playing XI versus India, but the experience helped me for the rest of my career.”

    Warne is right, the selectors need to take a leap of faith with Swepson who possesses real upside for the Australian side both home and abroad in the future. His ability to impart turn and bounce on the ball makes him a real asset in the long form of the game.

    Mitchell Swepson attempts a catch.

    (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

    He’s also shown in the shortest form of the game that he has the ability to bowl accurately consistently with very few long hops and full tosses. Swepson is the complete package for a leg-spinner of his age and can become Australia’s next great spinner if the selectors can show some faith in him.

    In Test cricket, to win a game, you have to take 20 wickets. It’s that simple.

    If Australia are serious about returning the side to the number one status it enjoyed a decade ago, then an attacking leg-spinner is a must heading forward.

    This list is not to suggest that Australia should only look at these three leggies heading forward. But as of right now, all three are under 30 years of age and have been in and around the Australian set up in the past.

    They’ve shown enough for the selectors to press the go button in the near future. Australia owe it to themselves to give them a go.

    This video is trending right now! Submit your videos for the chance to win a share of $10,000!

    Have Your Say

    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (43)

    • August 14th 2017 @ 8:32am
      bazza said | August 14th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Agree go with the leggie 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      August 14th 2017 @ 9:02am
      Chris Kettlewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      In reality, the rise of Swepson is the first real opportunity for a leggie to be a potential test selection. The idea of taking bowlers averaging 50 in first class cricket and expecting them to be the next Shane Warne is crazy.

      The truth is that prior to Shane Warne we didn’t have a leggie consistently picked in the side either. We picked whoever was the best spinner around at the time, be that offspinner, left-arm orthodox or leggie. And we never had anyone with the consistency to last so long. It’s why Lyon has managed to jump to second on the spinners wicket list for Australia behind Warne, because he’s played more tests than any other spinner for Australia after Warne. It just doesn’t happen.

      Sure, if we were to unearth another spinner of the calibre of Shane Warne then that would make a big difference to the national team, but to suggest that we do that just by going back to a leggie is crazy. The reason it’s so hard to find a good leggie is because it’s so much harder to have good control as a leggie while simultaneously giving it a big rip.

      It’s possible that Swepson may be that person. But to suggest that having a leggie going at 5rpo and averaging 50+ would be better for Australia than an offspinner going at 3.5rpo and averaging 35 just because they are a leggie is, I think, a bit delusional.

      • August 14th 2017 @ 9:08am
        jameswm said | August 14th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Without doubt you don’t pick a leggie for the sake of it.

      • Roar Pro

        August 14th 2017 @ 10:12am
        Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        Not one of them goes at 5rpo and with International experience and access to bigger turning pitches, I think they would all improve their numbers. I agree that Warne is the anomaly but why not give one of these kids a go. Pick them and stick with them, give them a chance to shine.

    • August 14th 2017 @ 9:05am
      jameswm said | August 14th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      It’s a bit of a conundrum. Lyon does OK at Brisbane. Warnie showed that a good leggie is better value in Australia, and probably in SA. But he struggled int he subcontinent, as most leggies do.

      So do we go horses for courses? What about now in Bangers? Do we pick Swepson as the 2nd spinner, whop is more of a genuine test bowler, or the better batting Agar because he shortens our tail?

      I’d go Agar 1st test. He’s a good cricketer. But if our top 5 (or maybe even 6) score well and the wickets are flat, I’d consider giving Swepson a test.

      Here are Warnie’s averages in the different countries, and Lyon’s (career averages 25 and 33):

      in Australia – Warnie 26.3, Lyon 34
      In England – Warnie 21.9, Lyon 30
      In SA – Warnie 24.3, Lyon 36
      In India – Warnie 43.1, Lyon 30
      In NZ – Warnie 21.3, Lyon 22 (only 2 games though)

      In Australia – which do better?
      Adelaide – Warnie 30, Lyon 27 (offies better)
      Melbourne – Warnie 22, Lyon 30 (both good)
      Sydney – Warnie 28, Lyon 51 (leggies better)
      Perth – Warnie 36, Lyon 50 (neither great)
      Brisbane – Warnie 20, Lyon 27 (both good)

      So it’s pretty even in Aust.

      Doesn’t tell us a lot, because this doesn’t take into account the quality of the opposition.

      • Roar Pro

        August 14th 2017 @ 10:16am
        Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        I think you’e swayed those statistics in Australia mate. You’ve called Lyon better in Adelaide as Warne averaged 30, but then called Lyon’s average of 30 in Melbourne good as well?? In reality, it’s all about whether you can feel confident in your spinner to bowl you to victory on a day 5 turner. I always felt confident that Warne could do a job anywhere in the world. I just don’t share that faith in Lyon. Yes he’s been handy for Australia and 250+ wickets is a great return. But a Leggie will always win out for me and if we’ve got a good one in Swepson, than I think we need to pursue it.

        • August 14th 2017 @ 10:31am
          jameswm said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          I’m comparing it to Lyon’s career average. No one’s been as good as Warne, so there’s no point comparing anyone to him. We have to accept that.

          if Lyon averages 32-33 over his career, we can look at where he works better and worse.

          Bowling us to victory on a day 5 wicket that’s falling apart – that has been Lyon’s biggest downfall. He’s rarely done it.

        • Roar Guru

          August 14th 2017 @ 11:52am
          Chris Kettlewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

          I also agree that Lyon has never inspired confidence that he can bowl Australia to victory on Day 5 and be “the man”. He has always seemed better when his job is to pick up wickets here and there and provide a foil for the fast bowlers, the moment he’s the one who’s supposed to be the main weapon he struggles.

          But that being said, the following logic doesn’t actually follow:
          – Warne always seemed to be able to bowl Australia to victory from almost anywhere
          – I don’t feel that about Lyon
          – Warne was a leggie, Lyon is an offie
          – Leggies must therefore be better than offies.

          We can’t just extrapolate “Warne was like this, therefore that’s what leggies are like”. Warne was the best legspinner ever to play the game. Might it turn out that Swepson is just the man to take over that mantle and have 500+ test wickets when he finishes. I can’t say that’s not possible, it certainly could be, but you are making sweeping statements about leggies that simply can’t be made.

          Leggies aren’t automatically better, they aren’t automatically more attacking and they aren’t automatically more likely to bowl a team to victory on a crumbling day 5 pitch simply because they are leggies.

    • August 14th 2017 @ 10:02am
      AGordon said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      I think this article summarises 2 points’ first, how incredibly difficult it is to find Test quality cricketers and second, the almost impossibility of replacing a Test “legend”, in Shane Warne.

      There’s no argument Australia or any Test side would like to have a leggie taking the all away from the bat but they MUST be Test quality. I’m not saying they have to be the finished article from the first ball they bowl, but they have to have that “something” that marks them as a grade above the others.

      It’s important to remember Warnie got a run because Australia was desperate for a spinner, had gone through heaps of options and he finally fit the bill. The incumbent was Tim May – an offspinner, in the side because he was the best spinner

      Finally, IF Swepson is chosen, he has to be managed carefully. Batsmen these days are way better at playing spin because through playing IPL and so much cricket overall. It would be a shame to destroy his career by setting him up to fail by playing him on flat tracks against quality opposition. Australia nearly did that with Warney against Brian Lara. Luckily he was talented enough to rise above his First Test.

      • Roar Pro

        August 14th 2017 @ 10:18am
        Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        Tim May had very similar numbers to Lyon in all honesty. May averaged mid 30’s and was good for what he was, an offie. You can certainly draw similarities to now with Swepson and Warne. Australia are desperate for a good leggie now whether they realise it or not.

        • August 14th 2017 @ 10:35am
          AGordon said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

          I think it’s fair to say ALL Test sides would be delighted to have a good leggie and Australia is constantly looking for players who might fit the bill.

          The problem is, the REALLY good ones are so few and far between; apart from Warne & McGill, you have to go back to Benaud for our last really good leggie and 20 years before that to Grimmett and O’Reilly – unless you count “Skull” O’Keefe in the “really good ones” category!

          • Roar Pro

            August 14th 2017 @ 10:43am
            Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

            My argument is I think we have one in Swepson. I think he looks the goods and will only get better with age.

            • Roar Guru

              August 14th 2017 @ 11:59am
              Chris Kettlewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

              If you argued that purely that might make sense. But by including Boyce and Zampa in the article you made it a sweeping statement that somehow a leggie who averages 50 and goes at 4.5rpo+ in first class cricket would somehow miraculously be 10 times better than any finger spinner just isn’t the case. Neither Zampa nor Boyce have first class records to even involve them in the discussion for test selection. Swepson is the first one to come along since McGill retired to have a first class record to suggest he might potentially be able to be that bowler.

              Lyon really should have been dropped last summer. It was only an SOK injury that stopped that happening. Personally I think that going for a second spinner in Bangladesh, Agar is the right choice both from the point of view that his bowling style can make really good use of those sorts of conditions, and from the point of view of Lyon + Swepson in the same side basically gives us 3 #11’s and that’s dangerous.

              If Swepson comes in I think it has to be for Lyon, not alongside him.

              And if Maxwell manages to make a go of it, do well with the bat and give Smith more confidence to bowl him, then that works well for someone like Swepson being the #1 spinner instead of Lyon, as Lyon and Maxwell are both Offies, so having the main spinner turn it the opposite way to Maxwell would work better.

              • Roar Pro

                August 14th 2017 @ 1:26pm
                Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                Ok so I get where your coming from with the Zampa/Boyce argument but I did mention that they shouldn’t be the only leggies considered in the article. Zampa actually had a decent shield season in 16/17 with 30 wickets and a best of 10/119.

                But I completely disagree with the premise that Agar should be anywhere near this side. His overall FC record is as bad as Zampa and Boyce. To me, when I’m picking a young bowler, I look to upside as in, how much better can this player become.

                To me, as an off spinner, your ceiling is never going to be as high as a leg spinner and if you present to me two spinners, one offie and one leggie with very similar records and tell me I have to pick one, I’m picking the leggie every day of the week.

                With all that being said, I love the idea of Maxwell pulling his finger out and bowling 10+ overs a match as he’s a nice complement to have next to a front line spinner.

              • Columnist

                August 14th 2017 @ 9:34pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | August 14th 2017 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

                “But I completely disagree with the premise that Agar should be anywhere near this side. His overall FC record is as bad as Zampa and Boyce.”

                Domestic first-class records:

                Agar ………………. 112 wickets at 38
                Zampa ……………. 83 wickets at 46
                Boyce …………….. 96 wickets at 50

              • Roar Pro

                August 15th 2017 @ 6:44am
                Ben Sewell said | August 15th 2017 @ 6:44am | ! Report

                His FC record is 114 wickets at 40.24.
                I think Agar can play a part in this side if he can improve his batting. A genuine allrounder could be in his future, but me personally, I wouldn’t pick him as a spinner.

              • Columnist

                August 15th 2017 @ 6:49am
                Ronan O'Connell said | August 15th 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

                I realise that Ben, I listed Agar’s “domestic” first-class record, as I think that is the more accurate figure when comparing him to other spinners who have only played domestic first-class cricket.

    • August 14th 2017 @ 1:27pm
      John said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

      Swepson should play before Agar. Agar like the Marsh boys gets selected with very average first class stats.

      • Roar Pro

        August 14th 2017 @ 1:29pm
        Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

        Well amen to that.

      • August 14th 2017 @ 1:47pm
        jameswm said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

        That would mean Lyon, Hazlewood and Swepson in the bottom 3. A very long tail.

        • Roar Pro

          August 14th 2017 @ 1:50pm
          Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

          We should never be picking a side, expecting the tail oder to contribute meaningful runs. If we’re relying on our bottom 3, something’s gone horribly wrong at the top of the order. So I get what you’re saying, but it just means our top order has to stand tall against Bangladesh which I have faith they will.

          • August 14th 2017 @ 8:50pm
            Jameswm said | August 14th 2017 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

            I agree. Not sure the selectors do.

          • Roar Guru

            August 15th 2017 @ 9:19am
            Chris Kettlewell said | August 15th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

            That’s just dumb. I know the batsmen are the ones relied on to score the majority of runs, but if you can average 50 more runs from your tail than the opposition, that makes a massive difference. If you pick a tail of bunnies that puts lots of pressure on the batsmen, especially if you have a batsman in and some wickets fall and he’s now batting with the tail. If you have a tail where they can bat, it gives him some confidence to just keep going, if not then suddenly he’s got to think about trying to farm strike and things like that.

            A tail that is stronger with the bat makes a big difference.

            Sure, don’t select significantly worse bowlers because they are better with the bat. But if it’s a bit of a toss-up between two bowlers and one is a significantly better batsman than the other then of course that’s going to work in his favour.

    • August 14th 2017 @ 1:36pm
      matth said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

      Lyon is sometimes treated a little unfairly. Apart from Warne, the greatest ever, which Australian spinner since Benaud has ever spun us to victory on the 5th day at home? It just doesn’t happen.

      The only times were in the 80’s whenever the Windies were playing a dead rubber at the SCG – then Peter Taylor, Dutchie Holland and even AB turned into geniuses.

      Let’s look at our non-Warne leg spinning efforts – Dutchie Holland, Peter Sleep, Kerry O’Keefe. That is what you will get picking Boyce or Zampa on their first class records.

      Swepson is a possibility, however his first class average is the same as Lyon’s test average. Swepson should have to force his way in on performance or Lyon must drop his bundle, otherwise a change for changes sake is not a great strategy.

      It’s akin to saying that The Don was from Bowral, so we need to get our best batsman from Bowral into the test team.

      • Roar Pro

        August 14th 2017 @ 1:47pm
        Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

        To your first question, Stuart Macgill bowled us to many a victory also on crumbling pitches.

        And as far as Lyon needing to drop his bundle, he dropped it last season when South Africa tore him apart. I’m sorry but he’s had his turn. It’s also worth noting Lyon had bugger all experience before he was given his first cap too. He’s done admirably, so I say it’s time to give Swepson a go.

        • August 14th 2017 @ 2:08pm
          AGordon said | August 14th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

          It’ll be interesting to see how Swepson goes, first of all, in Darwin, then hopefully he gets a run in Bangladesh. Your premise that he might be another good leggie should be tested and this series might be a great opportunity to do just that.

          I can’t see the selectors taking him over to simply be a net bowler. Clearly they have a high opinion of him, so you might get your wish.

          It would be a nice selection dilemma to have for the Ashes – 4 fully fit fast bowlers and two quality spinners, assuming he does well.

          • Roar Pro

            August 14th 2017 @ 2:58pm
            Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

            AGordon, all I’m asking for is a chance 😀
            Give him a season or two to show his worth. If after that, he’s taken nothing and gone for plenty, then I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I was wrong. I don’t think I’m wrong on this guy but.

            • August 14th 2017 @ 4:42pm
              AGordon said | August 14th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

              Fair call and I hope a) he get’s that chance and b) he’s as good as you seem to think.

              I reckon he’s obviously a chance to get a run in Bangladesh, but might miss out in the Ashes. After that though, according to the cricket schedule, there are upcoming Tests in South Africa then Zimbabwe and Bangladesh tour Australia in June/July next year. They’re the games where he might get more of a look. Again, if he’s any good, it would be criminal to throw him to the wolves, so to speak


        • August 14th 2017 @ 2:20pm
          matth said | August 14th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

          I give you MacGill, another great player. Lyon’s last series was against India, not 12 months ago against South Africa, and he did ok there. Given Lyon has taken well over 200 wickets and averages around the 32-33 mark, it’s amazing to me that people go on like he’s been an abject failure as a spinner. He must have taken some wickets at some point!

          His average in Australia is better than Swann, Murali, Ashwin, Shah and any other recent spinner you’d like to name. Just because he is generally the support show to our pace battery, as opposed to Warne who was the main event, does not mean he isn’t doing exactly the job that Australian cricket needs. The risk with Swepson is that he get’s smacked around at 4+ per over and Smith has to turn back to our pacemen too often. So then they bowl more overs, become less effective and more injury prone (than they already are).

          Agar has been sent to Bangladesh to do the O’Keefe job. Keep it tight to allow a four bowler strategy and let the wicket variations do their job. You replace him with Swepson and you absolutely need a fifth bowler as insurance, but you can;t because including Swepson already makes our tail too long, especially given the batting talents of Starc and Pattinson are missing. It just makes no sense to me.

          • Roar Pro

            August 14th 2017 @ 3:01pm
            Ben Sewell said | August 14th 2017 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

            I’ve never once said Lyon hasn’t done his job for Australia. Statistically speaking, he’s the 9th best bowler in Australian Test History which is an amazing feat, given that he’s playing in this tough post Warne era. My point is that I think he was found out against South Africa last Summer on pitches that didn’t turn which makes me worried for this Ashes series and all future series outside of Asia.

            • August 15th 2017 @ 5:42pm
              Liam said | August 15th 2017 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

              … yet you want to drop him for someone untried, someone whose economy rate in the last shield season was around 4.5 an over?

              How about we wait before the house is actually on fire before showering it with water, eh?

              • Roar Pro

                August 15th 2017 @ 6:56pm
                Ben Sewell said | August 15th 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

                Yeah, I do.

        • August 18th 2017 @ 3:17pm
          armchair expert said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

          I also recall Yardley taking crucial 5th day wickets at the MCG vs West Indies in the early 80s, maybe Higgs and Miller also.

      • August 14th 2017 @ 2:00pm
        AGordon said | August 14th 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

        don’t forget that great spinner Michael Clarke, 6 for 7! Another SCG genius

    , , , ,