Beau Casson, Cameron White, Bryce McGain, Steve Smith; Australia’s search for a frontline Test wrist spinner since Shane Warne’s retirement in 2007 hasn’t reaped the rewards it had hoped.
The first three debuted within 12 months of each other, thrown onto the scrap quicker than you can say ‘next big thing’.
Soon after, the selectors tried Smith and eventually realised his skillset might lie in other aspects of the game.
Since then? Nothing. Almost a decade of wrist-spin drought at Test level, in a country that celebrated the art for years – perhaps even took it for granted. Oh how we wish Stuart MacGill was conceived ten years after Warne.
Nathan Lyon’s exceptional career has made the longing less intense. While the previous generation grew up on googlies, flippers and zooters, this generational has learnt to appreciate the nuance of pace variations, overspin and relentless accuracy from a bowler who continues to improve.
But there’s something about wrist spinners that garners more excitement than any finger spinner can create. Arguably, the sense of excitement is even bigger than that of batsmen, perhaps because it is the game’s most difficult art.
This week we’ve seen another leg-spin prospect, 18-year-old Tanveer Sangha, display his prodigious skill at the Under-19 World Cup. Just as Lloyd Pope did two years ago, Sangha’s nine wickets in his first two performances has drawn praise as fans start to believe he could be the next great leggie.
As tabloid subeditors rushed to push the ‘next Warne’ headline, closer followers will know his emergence – despite his age – has not been so immediate.
Late last year, one of the game’s best analysts in this country (and perhaps the best assessor of spin bowling) Kerry O’Keeffe detailed his rise through the tough initiation of Sydney grade cricket, where he took 6-33 in just his second first-grade game.
“He fizzes it, bowls it into the shoebox five or six out of six and he’s temperamentally strong,” O’Keeffe told the Daily Telegraph.
“Batsmen, former first-class players, have told me he’s the best spinner in club cricket. I don’t want to burden a (then) 17-year-old. We’ve been waiting for a long time and there’s been a few false dawns – and I’m not saying this won’t be – but I’ve watched Tanveer bowl and I think he’s the real deal.”
After his 5-14 against Nigeria, Sangha’s assessment of his bowling style was music to the ears of Australian fans.
“I don’t like being a defensive spinner because leg spinners aren’t meant to be defensive,” he said.
“I like to set aggressive fields, allow the batsman to make moves instead of wanting them to defend. I’m always searching to get him out instead of letting him take a single.”
In Mitch Swepson and particularly Sangha and Pope, Australia has three bowlers who will, in all likelihood, push each other for the number one spinner’s role when Lyon eventually departs.
On Thursday, it was two years to the day since Pope took 8-35 against England in the Under-19 World Cup quarter-final. And while the hype has naturally cooled on the flame-haired South Australian, his prospects are still strong despite not playing yet in this season’s Sheffield Shield.
Pope has been brilliant in this year’s Big Bash, with the best economy rate of any bowler for the Sydney Sixers (minimum ten overs), plus ten wickets in eight games. He’s shown he can adapt in the game’s shortest format and remains a prospect for future Test selection given he has only just turned 20.
Some may have already written Swepson off but, at just 26, he has time on his side. And while Warne’s endorsement of wrist spinners in this country is par for the course, his recent comments about the Queenslander’s improvement – in particular slowing down his approach and speed – were telling.
Prior to the Boxing Day Test, former Australian captain Mark Taylor said Australia’s missing ingredient to becoming the world’s number one side was a wrist spinner.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think Australian cricket is in good shape,” Taylor wrote in the Fairfax papers.
“But if this is to be the next great Australian team they need a spinner to turn the ball the other way to Lyon so that you can compete no matter where you go.”
With the young talent coming through, there’s every chance this missing piece of the puzzle will be eventually discovered. Patience, as always, will be the key.