The growing skill of Mitchell Swepson in recent years has come as a delight to many: those who instinctively just want a leg spinner in the side no matter what (hi, Warnie), those who predicted Swepson would come good years before he actually did (hi again, Warnie), and most of all… Queenslanders.
Because there’s nothing quite like a Queensland spin bowler.
Is it the toughest job in Australian cricket? West Australian spinners would argue things are just as tricky in Perth… I’m not so sure. History has shown that a training in the Peoples Republic of Mark McGowan can be useful for a trundler provided they (a) eventually leave (Stuart MacGill, Ashley Mallett, Terry Jenner), (b) carry on as if they’re a fast bowler (Bruce Yardley, Tony Mann), or (c) mostly bat (John Inverarity).
Surely nothing matches the Gabba for decks that crush the heart of a spinner. So says I anyway and it’s my column. And in the interests of Queensland parochialism, also because it’s the height of the Australian winter, I thought I’d put together a list of my top ten favourite Queensland spinners.
1. Nathan Hauritz
A great tricky answer for pub trivia questions, even when he was in the Test team, Haurtiz carved out a record for being Australia’s least worst spin bowler of the 2009-10 period. The boy from Wondai stepped up in the shadow of Warne where Beau Casson, MacGill, Steve Smith and Cameron White had failed and was not too bad, actually.
Hauritz helped win Australia a few Tests and ODIs, almost won them a few more, and if he’d been picked for the fifth Test in the 2009 Ashes, maybe we wouldn’t have lost (actually, we probably still would have – that first innings collapse was a shocker – but you never know).
He suffered greatly from a lack of self confidence and Ricky Ponting’s captaincy and was rather unfairly punted from the Test team in 2010-11. We would’ve been better off that summer with Hauritz rather than Xavier Doherty, Smith and Michael Beer as our spinners (we would’ve been even better off with Steve O’Keefe but that’s a story for another column – actually one I wrote back here).
Hauritz also spawned a very funny parody Twitter account from Roar contributor Dan Liebke. Hauritz currently does coaching and keeps a blog where we can access his thoughts with greater ease than we did when he was playing – he even admits he felt the bad outweighed the good playing for Australia.
If just a few more of those ‘almost wins’ had been converted to ‘wins’, and/or he’d played under Michael Clarke then maybe Hauritz could’ve played another five years at the top. Or not. To be fair, Hauritz played a few seasons for New South Wales but he was mostly a Queenslander and played in two losing Shield finals for us so we get to claim him.
2. Graham Whyte
I have a book on the 1977 Ashes co-written by Greg Chappell, which was published just at the beginning of World Series Cricket, where at the end Chappell suggests a possible establishment Australian XI. He listed Graham Whyte as a spin-bowling option.
He wasn’t alone: the great cricket writer Ray Robinson put Whyte in his Australian XI at the beginning of the ’77-78 summer. So who was this Whyte character?
Well, he was one those cricketers who was called an all-rounder (FCA batting 18) to cover the fact he wasn’t never quite a top-grade spinner (73 first-class wickets at 39) but he had many good moments including 25 wickets over the ’77-78 season.
Indeed his figures that summer were better than those of Bruce Yardley, who was picked for the national side. The Queensland Cricket Authority even lodged a formal notice of protest over the omission of Whyte (and John Maclean and David Ogilvie) from the ’78 Windies tour. Ah the good old days.
To be fair, you can’t say the selectors were wrong when it came to the spinner: Whyte was out of the Queensland side from ’79-’83 but came back for a little while in the mid ’80s. Apparently he was the guy who nicknamed Craig McDermott ‘Billy the Kid’, which is pretty cool.
3. Malcolm Francke
A fascinating case, Francke was from Sri Lanka, a person of colour playing Australian domestic cricket at a time when that was very rare (it’s not super common now).
Born in 1939, Francke played in Sri Lanka and England before emigrating to Australia, representing Queensland mostly from 1971-1980 (he returned to replace Trevor Hohns for a few games in 1985-86). Francke, a leg-spinning accountant, had a first-class record of 178 wickets at 31, which is pretty handy – people have played a lot of Tests with worse domestic figures.
He was mostly discussed as a Test prospect in the early ’70s, particularly by Bill O’Reilly, who loved a fellow leggie but the selectors would continually prefer Terry Jenner, Kerry O’Keeffe and Ashley Mallett.
Did Francke’s colour play any part in this omission, even on a subconscious level? I’m sure merely to suggest this would bring on passionate denials from most quarters. I would only point out his figures were a hell of a lot better than John Watkins, who did play one Test and toured the West Indies for Australia… but then Watkins was from New South Wales.
4. Trevor Hohns
You know how it seems Trevor Hohns has been an Australian selector forever? When he played for Queensland it seemed he’d been doing that forever too. From 1973 to 1991, give or take a few seasons, you could count on Hohns trundling up and down the Gabba, giving off English country cricketer vibes.
He rarely dominated but had lots of good days, taking just enough wickets and scoring just enough runs for journalists to justify calling him all-rounder. Hohns spent two summers touring South Africa in the mid ’80s and seemed to benefit considerably from the experience (I have heard he found it particularly useful working with Steve Rixon and John Dyson).
His bowling improved sharply and Hohns made his Test debut in 1989 at the age of 34, playing seven Tests, taking 17 wickets. Hohns was more of a ‘I guess he’ll do if we need a spinner’ selection during a period of innocuous trundlers but did okay and got to retire on his own terms.
He took 288 first-class wickets at 37 and scored 5210 runs at 27 – a mighty servant for Queensland. He never won them a Shield as a player but he was selector during that glorious season of 1994-95.
5. Percy Hornibrook
Hornibrook, a dentist born in Obi Obi, has this weird record… he has more first-class wickets bowling for Australia (or Australian XIs) rather than Queensland. This was because the bulk of his wickets were taking on tours, such as the 1930 Ashes (where he was overshadowed by Clarrie Grimmett but still bowled Australia to victory in the crucial fifth Test).
Hornibrook actually should have played more Tests for Australia in the 1920s but there was too much bias against Queensland at the time (Queensland was only admitted to the Shield in 1926 – Ron Oxenham was another banana-bender who suffered for this). Hornibrook took 279 first-class wickets at 24 before hanging up his ball to focus on teeth. He only played six Tests but at least had one great one.
6. Paul Jackson
Look, alright, technically he was/is a Victorian, but he was Queensland’s spinner when we won the Sheffield Shield and that entitles you to life membership. He and Allan Border were the only two non-locals in that side, by the way, which was remarkable for a state that tried to ‘import buy’ its way to a Shield for so long (Wes Hall, Viv Richards, Graham Hick, Kepler Wessels, Greg Chappell, etc).
Jackson had non-sexy figures (105 first-class games, 240 wickets at 38) but a long career. He got wickets when needed and won Sheffield Shields.
7. Mick Raymer
I’ll be honest. I didn’t know anything much about Raymer before researching this article: he played for Queensland from 1940 to 1957, getting 201 first-class wickets at 32, which is pretty good, especially when you throw in a batting average of 23 (and the fact he missed five years of top level cricket due to World War Two).
He formed a strong partnership with Colin McCool after the war, probably the one great spin-twin duo enjoyed by Queensland. Like so many spinners on this list, he did a stint in the Lancashire Leagues.
8. Colin McCool
A genuinely great bowler. No irony. Perhaps the best spinner who played for Queensland even though technically he was from Sydney.
I was weirdly aware of McCool growing up mainly because I used to read Bill O’Reilly’s columns as a kid and O’Reilly was always bringing up McCool’s treatment under Bradman as a stick to beat Bradman. Apparently the Don didn’t bowl McCool enough, select him enough and/or used him wrongly.
McCool played in NSW during the pre-war years, but was a Queenslander for the key part of his Australian career (1945-53), when he made Test selection, before spending his last few seasons in England where he played league and county cricket.
He had a handy Test record – 14 games, 459 runs at 35.3 and 36 wickets at 27 – but amazing first-class stats: 12,421 runs at 32.85 and 602 wickets at 27. Awesome surname.
9. Bob Paulsen
Paulsen bowled leg spin for Queensland from 1966-72, getting close to national selection at times but he found it tough moving past the duo of John Gleeson and Ashley Mallett.
Paulsen moved to WA, which is a weird choice for a spin bowler, but I guess if you can handle the Gabba the WACA isn’t too scary. He played for WA from 1973 to 1979, and got to experience the sensation of winning Sheffield Shields, which was foreign to Queenslanders pre-1995. He took 197 first-class wickets at 36.
10. Walter Walmsley
Bet you’ve never heard of him. I hadn’t until researching this article. Walmsley was a Kiwi, born in 1916, who played for New South Wales and Tasmania, as well as having a stint in the Lancashire Leagues before moving to Queensland, making his debut for them in the 1954-55 summer.
Walmsley had five very successful years in Brisbane before moving back to New Zealand where he ended his career. Walmsley played 37 first-class games, scoring 1064 runs at 27.28 and taking 122 wickets at 31.64, which is very impressive, especially considering he missed so much cricket due to the war and league cricket obligations.
Definitely one of those ‘could’ve been a great if born under different circumstances’ players like Cec Pepper.
So, Queensland spinners… not as bad as you’d think. Even if a lot of them were imports.