Let me begin by declaring from the outset that I’m a big admirer of Queensland leg spinner Mitchell Swepson and have long wondered if he might be the one to emerge from the pack of young spinners around Australia who haven’t exactly smashed down the door to take up a position as Nathan Lyon’s understudy.
If his inclusion on the tour of India back in 2017 came a touch early, his call-up for the Sydney Test is both well-timed and well-deserved. His performances for Queensland and Brisbane in the BBL have been strong, and only the currently injured Stephen O’Keefe can top him for first-class wickets taken this summer.
Most of my observations of him this season have been limited to highlight clips and the Big Bash, but he does look to be bowling with a little bit more air on the ball and possibly bowling a little slower through the air too, thus maximising his impact off the wicket.
He’s long been a big prospect, but now his time looks to be very close.
But it doesn’t have to be this weekend in Sydney, and it certainly doesn’t need to come at the expense of a very well-performed fast bowler just for the hell of blooding a young player.
And it’s great that Swepson has been working with Shane Warne in various capacities over time, most notably during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, with Swepson called into the Australian squad early to begin preparations for Sydney.
Warne’s commentary on the technical aspects of leg spin has always been captivating, with his lunchtime masterclass with Afghanistan’s No. 1 Twenty20 leggie Rashid Khan last weekend an absolute highlight. In fact most of Warne’s technical commentary around the game has always been well-informed.
It’s only when he starts on team make-up and selection that he starts veering toward nonsense and showing that as a selector Warnie made for a pretty handy lower-order batsman.
If there’s a failing of Australia’s greatest ever bowler, it’s his propensity to overhype young players. And the worst of it is that because his opinion is so highly regarded, Warne plumping for a young player becomes news, which in turn becomes selection pressure. And in extreme cases – remember Michael Beer? – selection pressure becomes actual selection.
D’Arcy Short was a favourite who Warne wanted playing all three formats for Australia but who in reality has found the transition from Big Bash cricket to regular state cricket difficult, never mind his appearances in national colours. And let’s not even get started about Marcus Stoinis.
Last season it was Tasmanian quick Riley Meredith, who is still firmly at front of mind, with Warne this season even declaring that he’s sure the lanky Hobart Hurricanes speedster will play for Australia in the next 12 months. And he may well, but he’ll have to be bowling a lot better than he’s showing on national television at the moment.
Though Warne has sung the praises of every young leg spinner to show some promise at some point, he has been pretty consistent with his raps on Swepson, even playing some role in his 2017 tour party selection.
Unsurprisingly, upon Swepson’s call-up for Sydney Warne was quick to declare him ready for Test Cricket, ready to be Australia’s second spinner should the SCG wicket warrant it. Or maybe just play him, even.
“Just give him a chance, somehow find a spot for him or even give Nathan Lyon a rest,” Warne said in commentary last week.
Which of course was reported how it was reported: Warne suggests resting Lyon to play Swepson in Sydney.
Which he did suggest. And which completely contradicted his blow-ups during The Ashes, when he was particularly critical of the decision to rest James Pattinson from the second Test after he played the first at Edgbaston.
But the great leg spinner didn’t like this inevitable reporting, taking to Twitter to try and hose down the reporting which just reported what he suggested, to which Lyon himself cleverly retorted, “Did Warnie ever want a rest and give Stuart MacGill a go?”.
Very frustrated at some journalists suggesting I said drop Lyon for the Syd test. Surely, there’s a responsibility to put in context and report the whole conversation we had on @FoxCricket & not just look for a sensational headline & stir the pot. Disappointing but not surprised
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) December 31, 2019
Here’s what Warne said.
“We know how great Nathan Lyon is and he’s not going to give up a Test match, but what an opportunity maybe to rest a quickie with some stuff going on and India coming up for some one-dayers,” he said in commentary for Fox Sports.
“Maybe play Swepson and play two spinners and give him a go at it and see how he goes against New Zealand or a decent side. Just give him a chance, somehow find a spot for him, or even give Nathan Lyon a rest.”
Warne also explained how from his own experiences he got so much out his early selection, even admitting, “I didn’t think I was ready for Test cricket, I didn’t think I was good enough,” but that being exposed to the national setup over time allowed him to become comfortable.
Less than 12 months after his debut and with still only five Test wickets to his name he took that 7-52 against the West Indies in the second innings in Melbourne that propelled him to cricket stardom.
And though there has been plenty of reporting around over the last few days that Australia are “considering playing two spinners in Sydney”, Justin Langer himself seemed to pour cold water on that idea, declaring with confirmation Josh Hazlewood would be fit to play, that the idea of changing a winning side looking for a 3-0 clean sweep was probably unlikely.
“It’s going to be hard to make changes,” Langer said on Wednesday in Sydney.
“That said, I think it’s really important that we wait because we’ve seen it in the Shield games, the groundsman’s telling us he’s expecting it to spin, so we have to show that some respect as well.
“But the boys are playing so well. We’ve talked about keeping the same group together as much as possible.”
And that is a welcome return to common sense.
If the Sydney wicket is going to spin over the next few days and the Australians are comfortable with Swepson playing – and Langer gave him huge praise for the way he’s trained and handled himself since joining the squad – then play him as the second spinner.
If not, keep him around the group and keep building the experience and the comfort levels.
Because there is plenty of time for Swepson to play.
Over the next 18 months Australia play three Tests in Bangladesh, ODIs and T20s in South Africa, New Zealand, England and at home against the West Indies and India before the World T20 in October-November.
They host Afghanistan and India for Tests and New Zealand for ODIs next summer and head to the Caribbean after the World Test Championship final in June 2021.
There is no shortage of opportunity to get Swepson’s flying miles up.
So don’t shoehorn him into the team for Sydney if the conditions don’t warrant two specialist spinners.
Making him work for it and even earn it can only help the Queenslander in the long run.