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Opinion

The next Keith Miller: The history of Australia’s search for an all-rounder (Part 2)

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Roar Guru
28th December, 2020
25

In Part 1 of this series I examined the search for Australia’s next great true all-rounder.

We looked at candidates such as Alan Davidson, a world-class left armer, who couldn’t quite translate his Shield batting form to Test level.

We looked at the career of Eric Freeman, the dramatic rise and fall of Gary Gilmour, and Simon O’Donnell’s brief Test career in the 1985 Ashes.

In Part 2, we continue the search of Australia’s next pace-bowling all-rounder.

Steve Waugh (New South Wales)

168 Tests, 10,927 runs at 51.06, 92 wickets at 37.44

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Although later renowned as one of Australia’s greatest ever Test batsman, generation X cricket fans will remember Steve Waugh first as a naturally lower-order batsman and medium pacer.

First picked as a 20-year-old during a low point in Australian cricket in the 1985-86 home series against India, Waugh failed to make an impact with bat or ball, scoring just 26 runs across four innings.

His first notable performance was in the subsequent tour of New Zealand, where he made 74 and took 4-56 in the second Test at Christchurch.

Waugh had his breakout series in the 1986-87 Ashes, where he scored 310 runs at 44.28 and picked up ten useful wickets, including England captain Mike Gatting in Sydney.

Amazingly, that fifth Test was Waugh’s first win for Australia in the 13th Test of his career.

Waugh’s game style was initially more suited to one-day cricket, most notably with the use of well-disguised slower balls at the 1987 World Cup.

As a batsman he would fail to score a Test century in 1985-89 but would make useful runs during that time, including fighting innings of 90 and 91 at Perth and Brisbane in the 1988-89 against the West Indies

After the 1990-91 series Waugh did not bowl as frequently, with batting taking up more and more of his time.

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His last series of note as an all-rounder was in South Africa in 1993-94, where he picked up ten wickets at 13.00, including a haul of 5-28 in the second Test at Cape Town.

Verdict: A solid all-rounder who contributed with both bat and ball.

Paul Reiffel (Victoria)

35 Tests, 955 runs at 26.52, 104 wickets at 26.96

Currently serving as an umpire in the Australia-India Test series, Reiffel is the closest thing Australia had to a pace bowling all-rounder in the 1990s.

Although technically limited, Reiffel had a solid defence and would often make crucial runs in the lower order. It may surprise readers to know that Reiffel’s batting average was 26.52 at Test level

For the first part of his Test career Reiffel was merely a good tailender, but he transformed himself into a true bowling all-rounder in 1997 when he scored almost half of his 955 Test runs (468) at an average of 52.00.

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In the crucial third Test at Old Trafford, with Australia 0-1 down in the series, Reiffel walked to the wicket at 7-160, scoring 31 in a 70-run partnership with centurion Steve Waugh.

His tally for the 1997 series was 179 runs at 59.66, including two 50s, and he would take 11 wickets at 26.63

The 1997-98 home season would be Reiffel’s swansong at Test level. Becoming steadily less effective with the ball (13 wickets at 31), he would enjoy his best summer with the bat, scoring 307 runs at 43.85.

His best innings would come on home soil in the 1997 Boxing Day Test. After opening up a 120-run lead in the first innings Australia slumped to 6-128. Enter Reiffel. The Victorian would finish up on an unbeaten 79 after putting on 111 for the last two wickets with Michael Kasprowicz and Glenn McGrath.

Verdict: Australia’s best tailender.

Shane Watson (Tasmania/Queensland/New South Wales)

59 Tests, 3731 runs at 35.19, 75 wickets at 33.68

Shane Watson was one of Australian cricket’s most exciting prospects when he made his debut in 2002, a powerful presence with bat and ball in hand.

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Kept out of a strong title-winning Queensland side, Watson headed south to Tasmania, where he immediately excelled.

Watson made his initial foray into the ODI side as Steve Waugh’s replacement in 2002, but injury kept him out of the World Cup the following year.

Picked to make his debut in the 2005 Sydney Test, Watson drew the attention of onlookers by falling over in the follow-through of the run-up for his first ball

Scarred by memories of Andrew Flintoff’s success in the 2005 Ashes, the Aussie selectors looked to find an answer in Watson.

Although constant injuries kept him from what should have been a long Test career, ‘Watto’ was still able to contribute with both bat and ball for his country.

His peak period as a red-ball cricketer came in 2009-10 when he reinvented himself as an opening batsman. During this time Watson would score consistently, but he draw the ire of fans for failing to score centuries. In the 2009 Boxing Day Test against Pakistan he cracked this hurdle after being dropped on 99.

As a bowler Watson was at his best in seaming conditions, picking up 5-40 at Lord’s and 6-33 at Leeds against Pakistan in 2010. He would also help roll South Africa for 93 in the infamous 2011 Cape Town Test, taking 5-17.

In the latter part of his career Watson was called upon to bat at No. 3. In this position, despite captaining Australia in one Test in 2013, he would make only two 100s, both coming in dead-rubber Tests.

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He would also become a figure of derision for an inability to overcome a technical flaw in his footwork that saw him LBW on 29 occasions in Test cricket.

Verdict: The closest answer to Miller. Not a No. 3 Test batsman.

Mitchell Marsh (Western Australia)

32 Tests, 1260 runs at 25.20, 42 wickets at 38.64

Mitchell Marsh hailed from a famous Australian cricketing dynasty, a lineage which was later the cause of much derision.

He made his debut in 2009 as Western Australia’s youngest player in nearly 70 years. In 2010 he went on to captain Australia to victory in the under-19 World Cup

Marsh was a strong batsman, standing tall at the crease in a manner similar to Cameron Green but without Green’s footwork, and he would make his ODI debut in 2011.

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With Watson’s retirement looming, coach Darren Lehmann gave the young ‘Bison’ his first Test cap in 2014 during the UAE series against Pakistan. Marsh impressed on debut with scores of 87 and 47 in sweaty conditions at Abu Dhabi, as Australia slumped to a big defeat.

This performace would be a mirage, however. It would be another two years before Marsh’s next half-century at Test level, scoring only 364 runs at 15.82 at 18.20 across 2015 and 2016. He was dropped after the first Test against South Africa after another batting failure, this time on his home ground at Perth.

There was a coda to this story though.

Marsh was picked, seemingly out of the blue, for the third Ashes Test in 2017 and went on to score 181 in a mammoth partnership on his home ground in Perth.

A century in Sydney and an impressive 96 in the first Test against the feared South African attack in Durban seemingly underlined the progress he had made.

As Australian cricket fell into turmoil, Marsh’s batting form would fall away again, though, and he failed to notch up another half-century in his subsequent seven Tests.

Recalled for the final 2019 Ashes Test at the Oval, Marsh showed his value as a bowler, picking up 5-46 and 2-40.

Verdict: A decent change bowler who shouldn’t have been picked as a No. 6 Test batsman.

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Honourable mentions

Mitchell Johnson (Queensland/Western Australia)
73 Tests, 2065 runs at 22.20, 313 wickets at 28.40

A lethal left-armer. He scored a century in Test cricket, which was more than some on this list, but was never picked for Australia with his batting in mind.

Mitchell Starc (New South Wales)
58 Tests, 1530 runs at 22.17, 248 wickets at 26.78

A big-hitting left-armer following on from Johnson’s legacy. He could hit big and demoralise Test attacks with late-order runs. His highest score was 99 in Mohali, and he has scored the majority of his runs in big games against England and India.

What’s your verdict, Roarers? Who do you think has been Australia’s best all-rounder since Keith Miller?