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Australia in a spin?

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Paul Fletcher | 15:07 UK time, Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Cricket Australia recently held a spin summit at the picturesque Allan Border Field not far outside Brisbane.

It was attended by many of the great and the good of Australian spin bowling and aimed at addressing the deficiency of talent in that very particular and specialised art.

Shane Warne was there, along with his mentor Terry Jenner. In a recent telephone conversation, Jenner told me that a core aim of the summit was to canvas opinion on how to help children rediscover spin bowling and then successfully nurture and manage their development.

Its very existence speaks volumes about the void left by the retirement of Shane Warne. Ever since Warne delivered that ball to Mike Gatting on the second day of the first Test at Old Trafford in 1993, Australia have dominated spin bowling in the Ashes.

Warne and off spinner Tim May took 55 wickets in that series and spin has remained an essential part of Australia's bowling armoury ever since. Australia's riches extended not just to Warne but also fellow leg spinner Stuart MacGill, a bowler with a better strike rate than his illustrious team-mate. When Warne missed the 1998-99 series, MacGill claimed 27 wickets. Mercy was in short supply for tortured Englishmen.

This summer the man charged with the spin bowling duties for the Australians is 27-year-old Nathan Hauritz.

Nathan Hauritz is the only specialist spinner in the Australia squad

The off-spinner is the only specialist slow bowler in the Ashes touring party and faces a very difficult challenge.

Warne took 40 wickets in a losing side in 2005. He took 708 Test wickets in his career and is arguably the greatest slow bowler in the history of the game. He is irreplaceable.

Furthermore, history suggests the impact of Australian off-spinners in recent Ashes series has been modest at best. Since May took 21 wickets in 1993, the largest haul in a series by an off spinner was the nine wickets claimed in 1998-99 by the feisty Colin Miller.

And the pre-series indications are that Hauritz is unlikely to tear through England's batting order even if the first Test at Cardiff is played on a spin-friendly wicket.

During Australia's first warm-up match against Sussex at Hove, Hauritz bowled 18 overs in the first innings for 98 runs without success, although in the second innings he took the wicket of Luke Wright as he recorded 1-60 off 20 overs, including five maidens.

"Nathan does not have a serious off break and is quite a defensive bowler," said Jenner. "But he is getting the maximum out of what he has to offer.

"He will do a job for Australia but even if Cardiff is going to be a turner I don't expect anyone would back him to get six or seven wickets."

Hauritz, who claims he has been working on a doosra for two years but has not perfected it yet, only recently came out of the pack to claim his place on the tour - and the very fact that he hardly pulled up any trees to earn his passage speaks volumes.

There are plenty of options in Australia - the likes of Bryce McGain, Jason Krejza, Cameron White, Dan Cullen and Beau Casson - it is just that none have nailed down a place.

Krejza is a good example of a player who has been unable to grasp his opportunity in the side - but also of someone who could be forgiven for feeling that the selectors did not have complete faith in him.

The off-break bowler toured India in 2008, initially as second spinner to veteran leggie McGain. When McGain went home injured Krezja played against an Indian Board Presidents XI but went for 199 from 31 wicketless overs.

White replaced McGain and played in the first three Tests before Krejza finally got his chance in Nagpur. What followed was remarkable. The 26-year-old took eight wickets in the first innings but went for 215 runs. No bowler in the history of Test cricket has conceded more in their debut innings.

He was selected to play the second Test of the home series against New Zealand but suffered an ankle injury, with Hauritz, who has just been dropped by his state side, replacing him. Krejza had another chance against South Africa in Perth last December. His one wicket in the Test cost more than 200 runs and he has not been seen since.

Hauritz returned to the fold and produced a series of solid if unspectacular performances, particularly in one-day internationals. It was enough to pull him out of the pack.

"Warne was such a genius, it has probably made our job following him harder," Hauritz told BBC Sport. "I think I'm just the next guy in line to try."

His four Tests have yielded 14 wickets at 32.28. Jenner believes that Krejza sends down a lot more wicket-taking deliveries than Hauritz but concedes a lot more runs. Hauritz has a very decent Test economy rate of 2.69 runs per over. With an Ashes pace attack that could include the relatively inexperienced Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus, Hauritz's role this summer is likely to be defensive, keeping it tight at one end.

Hauritz himself thinks the wickets will dictate the role he plays.

"On days three, four and five there will be more turn so you can be an attacking bowler," said the spinner. "But on days one or two the wickets aren't going to spin so my role is to be containing. I feel very confident in my own ability."

Hauritz has not always been so self-assured. He made his Test debut in India in 2004. He took 5-103 in the match, but then again part-time spinner Michael Clarke claimed 6-9 in the second innings.

Upon his return to Australia, Hauritz lost form to the extent that he eventually left Queensland for New South Wales in a bid to rebuild his game.

"When I was younger I definitely did not thrive on pressure," he said. "I was very young in 2004 and got found out in pressure situations."

He describes moving to NSW as the "re-birth of his career" and is confident he will be able to handle it if England's batsmen attack him this summer.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Kevin Pietersen will be running down the track at me. If they can get on top of me early it is very difficult to come back from but I cannot wait for the challenge."

How often Hauritz will get the chance to do so is another matter. Jenner describes current Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting "as a bit of a reluctant captain when it comes to spin bowling".Terry Jenner (left) was mentor to Shane Warne

Part-time spinners such as Clarke, Simon Katich and Marcus North, who interestingly took two wickets in Hove, could be asked to fill a role, though Jenner argues: "It would be tragic if we went into a Test match without a spinner."

Hauritz himself is confident of playing regularly during the Ashes.

"I can see myself playing a big role," he said. "I've never been on tour and been the only specialist spinner. It feels unreal but it's fantastic."

There had been a suggestion that the Australians preference would have been to select 37-year-old leggie Bryce McGain for the tour. Figures of 0-149 at an economy rate of 8.27 in his only Test, against South Africa in March of this year, ended that idea.

Intriguingly when I spoke to Jenner he discussed the possibility that the Australian batsmen might have a weakness against spin.

"When you think that South Africa's Paul Harris spun about half a dozen balls both in the home and away Test series and wrapped them all up, Ponting included, you would have to say there is a problem," argued Jenner.

Harris took 24 wickets at 32.59 in six Tests against the Australians in their Test series either side of Christmas.

England's first choice spinner this summer will be the much-improved Graeme Swann, followed by either young leggie Adil Rashid or Monty Panesar. And Jenner is in no doubt that England have the edge in the spin bowling department this summer.

"It is advantage England," said Jenner. "Swann has got a change of pace and although he does not have excessive spin he bowls in an attacking style.

"You'd have to say that Australia will have to use other tactics but England can plan to spin the opposition out. This is because they have two Test standard bowlers."


  • Comment number 1.

    Simply put the Aussies should not be playing a specialist spinner becasue they dont have one good enough.

    Several batsmen in the team could bowl 5-10 overs of spin that would be 95% as good as Hauritz, so why not pick a 5th seamer or 7th batsman instead?

  • Comment number 2.

    Working on a doosra for two years, but still not mastered it? I reckon I could master a doosra in two years and I'm not attempting to be a test spinner.

    Anyone else have the feeling that the Aussies are suddenly going to wheel out Shane Warne in Cardiff?

  • Comment number 3.

    If we could tempt Warnie back we'd be laughing, I think him just walking out there would demoralize England so badly you'd give us the urn! I agree with hackerjack Cameron white would have given strong batting with the addition of decent but not great leg spin, with Michael Clark to pitch in that would've surely covered the spin overs. The wickets are gonna have to come from our seamers anyway... no pressure Brett!

  • Comment number 4.

    Australia must reap what they sow. The reality is that no young player has had any interest in spin-bowling because they knew that they would never break into the test team with Warney in it. Unfortunately, those 700 wickets of Warneys will have to make do for the next decade because I cant see more than a handful of wickets falling to Aussie spinners during the next 4 Ashes series. The Aussie selectors were short-sighted and they must now pay the price.

  • Comment number 5.

    I really dont see Hauritz having a massive role to play in ashes. He may well play in Cardiff, if the pitch really is going to be useless for the quicks, but remember it is not the track that Glamorgan got fined for, but an adjacent one, so really it could do anything. All this talk about it being a spinners track, is just that, talk, and based upon one game on a different pitch.

    Once they move away, I can see the aussies playing 4 quicks with Marcus North and Michael Clark providing the spin option to tie an end and give the quicks enough rest. Why would you play a spinner if he is not good enough and on current evidence Hauritz is not. The Saffers get away without a top quality spinner a lot of the time.

    It would seem to me to be a big waste of a bowling spot to play Hauritz, I guess if Watson is fit, he might play as the all-rounder as part of 5 man attack and North droping out, but personally I would go for 4 top quality quick bowlers and part-time spin, than a spinner who gets carted around.

    Wattie-boy, I assume (tho maybe wrong) that you are not Australian, because I dont know one Australian who would advocate playing Cameron white, he is even more of a waste of space than Hauritz. If you are going for a player who does a bit of both, North or Watson are much, much better options.

  • Comment number 6.

    Krejza was definitely treated poorly by the selectors, as was Beau Casson before him. Judging Krejza so early on after two Tests as not being good enough is very harsh on him. After four Tests, two versus India and two versus Sri Lanka, Warne had a grand total of four wickets at an average of over 90. Krejza may not be a man to turn into a legend like Warne but dropping him is poor and then bringing in someone like McGain and then Hauritz to replace him must be pretty galling.

    As a Somerset follower, I've been critical of Justin Langer in that I don't think he has enough faith in the spinners at his disposal. The Australian selectors don't seem to have faith in their spinners either judging by the procession of ins and outs from the teams in the post-Warne era. I wonder if having Warne in the side has rather spoiled some Australians in that anyone who doesn't come close to matching the great man is discarded very quickly, and that they need to realise that Warne really was a one-off and judging the new breed of spinner by Warne's standards is unfair.

    Australia got stung in India by not having a recognised spinner. Some say Hauritz gets carted around based on his performance against Sussex. His Test record doesn't suggest that at all and neither does his one-day record at all levels. His role will be to apply pressure and keep it tight and maybe add a few handy runs lower down. I think he should play and personally I'd be musing more on dropping Hussey who still looks completely out to lunch with the bat at the minute.

  • Comment number 7.


    but if you drop hussey, firstly who would you play and secondly how does the battting line up work? I guess you are thinking of moving Clarke up to 4, but who then bats at 5? Watson or North, I am not really sure about that. Only 4 proper batsman for a test???

    I think they made a mistake in not bringing Hodge as cover for the batters, if one gets injured they are in trouble and likewise if poor form continues for someone like Hussey. To bring another all-rounder in Macdonald who will not play, unless he is the pizza boy, over another batsman seems a little short-sighted.

    If you play Hauritz, you are prob only going in with 3 quicks, or drop North for Watson and I am not sure about the viability of either of these options. Maybe you think differently, but the Aussies need to take wickets and previous to the away test in SA (where they played 4 quick bowlers), they played 3 quicks and could not take 20 wickets for love nor money. I doubt they will want to go back to this.

  • Comment number 8.

    For a "First Class" or "Test" bowler to take 2 years to perfect a doosra is ridiculous... if its taking so long dont bother and dont play. If I was the Australia selector I would much rather North, White, Clarke and Katich to bowl 20 overs in an innings and try and buy a wicket rather than Hauritz. He has no variation, no delivery that could surprise the batsman and doesn't turn it enough; so no chance at Test level for me.
    By the looks of things, The Aussies seem to have much more selection issues compared to England who's team pretty much picks itself

  • Comment number 9.

    Now then,

    Thanks for your thoughts on who the Aussies should select. I think the question of whether or not to select Hauritz is fascinating.

    The pitch at Cardiff might determine that he does play but after that, who knows?

    Terry Jenner was quite clear that it would be a real shame not to play a specialist spinner but if the available man is not up to the job would they be better off with four quicks plus a part-time spinner?

    A lot could depend on how well Hauritz does against the England Lions - it could be a crucial match for him.

    Andy Plowright makes the point Langer isn't a great skipper for his spinners - Jenner seemed to indicate the same could be true of Ponting, so it may well be that Hauritz has that game to really make his mark.

    Certainly, I don't think the selectors are completely sure about who their best spinner is so Hauritz must see this tour as a chance to really nail his place in the side.

  • Comment number 10.

    spin or no spin if our lads have watched the lions than they know what the standard is expected

  • Comment number 11.

    Quote: "...Hauritz, who claims he has been working on a doosra..." made me smile: is that his ball that doesn't go the other way?

  • Comment number 12.

    Moutarde (post 4) - are you suggesting that the Aussie selectors should have dropped Warne in order to encourage the others? If you are it sounds a bit odd, I'm sure anyone with a bowler like Warne at their disposal would be putting him in every time.

    If however you're arguing that the Aussies should at least have shown a desire to play two spinners more often, that's a bit different. One issue though is once you get outside the subcontinent how many test matches are likely to be played on pitches where spin will be your main attacking weapon and not just on Days 4 and 5.

    All of a sudden England look to hold the cards on the spin front, with 2-3 players showing signs of genuine test class albeit not in the class of the real top slow bowlers - but with a bit of help from the wicket they have the better options. The Aussies will be relying on their promising but a little inexperienced pace attack, England may be able to match them on that but the spinners might provide an extra edge. Will it be enough? I'd still say the Aussies are favourites, but without having all the bases covered in terms of spin, they are more vulnerable.

  • Comment number 13.

    Red Army chap:

    I'm counting 5 proper batsmen in the side I'm picking for Australia:

    Hilfenhaus or Clark

    Haddin is looking in decent form and Johnson can obviously wield the bat as can Lee. I would have Lee in the side because of the extra pace and batting ability he offers, despite not being in top form, and you're got to pick one of either Hilfenhaus or Clark. Those two operate in a very similar way so picking both and dropping Lee would reduce the flexibility of the attack.

    Shane Watson wouldn't be in the side because I don't think he's a top 5 batsman at Test level and his bowling at the T20 looked unsure. He bowled with the look of a guy who has had many injuries and therefore isn't entirely at ease with his action, much like James Anderson two to three years ago. Watson wasn't going through his action well. It looked hesitant.

    People have been nominating Michael Clarke and Marcus North for the spinning roles. I don't like this as it puts added pressure on them. Clarke hasn't been in top form recently and North is still very much a Test rookie. The Aussie middle order isn't firing. If you play Hussey who is bang out of touch, have Clarke and North almost covering for him in a way with the bat and you ask them to contribute majorly with the ball as well, that's a huge amount of pressure on the middle order.

    I really do see it as a case of deciding whether to keep Hussey or drop him and put Hauritz in his place.


    "He has no variation, no delivery that could surprise the batsman and doesn't turn it enough; so no chance at Test level for me."

    Neither does Paul Harris but he made some of the Australians look very stupid in South Africa and he also made some Englishmen look very stupid last year. Many international batsmen are going to find it a little harder than normal switching back to Test mode and batting patiently after so much limited overs cricket and the hurly-burly of the World T20. You actually saw it perfectly today in the womens game with England versus Australia. A lot of the Aussie ladies were still stuck in 20-over bash mode and batted poorly on a flat, albeit slightly slow, wicket. A bowler like Hauritz who does apply pressure and reduces scoring becomes a different proposition. Paul Harris has done that and has bowled very well for South Africa, acting as the perfect foil to the pacemen.

    The genius of Warne is that he both strangled the scoring rate and took wickets. In the post-Warne era, the Aussies haven't known what to do. Krejza (gave away runs but took wickets) was tried. Casson (gave away runs but took wickets) was tried. McGain (gave away more runs than an incontinent sheepdog) came and went. Perhaps the selectors have decided that a containing bowler is what is needed. Hauritz can do that job.

  • Comment number 14.

    Andy Plowright - I know that Hussey is terribly out of form but without him the line-up you propose has a brittle look about it (rather like England).

    The Aussies would be left relying on the lower order producing and the tail looks pretty long. In order words, five specialists bowler would be a gamble.

    And Hussey - is he potentially not one good knock away from a decent summer?

  • Comment number 15.

    Paul, I know what you mean but both sides are in very similar positions. They both have batting line-ups that aren't as strong as they have been. They both have wicketkeepers who offer a lot with the bat but who aren't the best with the gloves. They both have bowling line-ups that look good on paper but we're really waiting to see from this series if they're the real deal.

    Hussey might well be one knock away from being back in form but he hasn't shown it in the games played since his break from cricket. His run of form made Collingwood's lean spell look good. More than that, seeing him in the field at times both home and away showed that he was feeling the pressure, lots of misfields and some dropped catches.

    I still think England need to go in with Prior at six so having Haddin at six with five batsmen won't leave the Aussies too disadvantaged. If this wicket does turn, then England will go with Anderson, Broad and Flintoff with the ball alongside Swann and Rashid. I can't see Panesar making a case for inclusion. Flower clearly likes Rashid, his abilities with the bat will help the tail, and he might just ruffle the Aussies who did not play Harris well in South Africa.

    One of the differences with the Aussies now to 2005 is that they don't have a batting lineup that intimidates. With all due respect to the players involved, Katich is not someone to frighten England's bowlers and Clarke, although possessing a lot of talent, still hasn't gone from 'very good' to 'great'. Marcus North is a good steady bat, Ponting is obviously class, and Hughes is a vibrant talent but it's not a lineup to inspire fear. It's not like the days of Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey in form, Symonds at six, and only then do you get down to Gilchrist. The fear factor will be much less for opposition bowlers so the Aussies don't have that advantage now.

    When they toured South Africa, I liked how they didn't try to be the same side they used to be. The inclusion of MacDonald, a real bits and pieces man, was a great inclusion as he acted as someone to help bring the team together with a few runs here, a few overs there, a useful breakthrough with the ball or two. They realised that, without the genius element in the bowling and some changes in the batting, they had to knuckle down to a real team ethic, to be a hard working team of good players rather than a team with some legends. It's a bit like watching the USA versus Brazil last night. The USA came close to matching and even beating Brazil through industry and teamwork rather than being a collective of outstanding individuals, and this is a little how Australia went in South Africa. I think bringing Hauritz in for Hussey would be along the same lines, a real 'horses for courses' inclusion.

    This is all part of the fun that you have two teams in major transition for different reasons. Australia have had retirements, England lost, gained and lost a captain in a year along with a coach. It all comes down to whether the Aussies think they can score enough runs to warrant five bowlers and five outright batsmen, and how strong they feel England's batting is.

  • Comment number 16.

    Andy, as always it's lovely to see you again, and glad that at least we can continue our discussions on this forum!

    I have always, as you know, been a believer in a strong enough tail to prop up a side, but your proposition seems to me to be a bit middle light as it were. While Mitchell Johnson has shown that he is indeed capable of holding the willow we must remember that one swallow (or two!) doesn't make a summer and we need to see how well he handles himself in further Test series before classing him as an all-rounder. Brett Lee is primarily a batsman and I'm not too sure about Haddin's ability to really contribute much. Hence Hussey's inclusion is vital. One of the things I like a lot about him is that as a late debutant like Andrew Strauss he has showed a great deal of intelligence in order to achieve what he has so far, and I agree with Mr. Fletcher that he's really only one good innings away from rediscovering his touch.

    On that note, would it make much sense to replace him with a spin bowler who as people have said will only really tie up an end and not be much of a wicket-taking threat? If the guy had real potential to do damage then it would be understandable, but my feeling is that England would actually struggle a lot more against leg-spinners or left-armers than off-break bowlers, hence the reasoning for giving Clarke and Katich a go. Of course I am the last person to say that they should be given great responsibilities as bowlers, but under circumstances 6-7 overs in an innings from both of them wouldn't be too bad.

  • Comment number 17.

    Sorry, make that "Brett Lee is primarily a bowler"!! My bad!

  • Comment number 18.

    The Aussies should ditch Hussey and get Hodge in, he must be the unluckiest man in Australia not to be at least in the squad.

    As for Hauritz, do they think he'll be like their version of what Giles was to England in 2005? Holding up an end and maybe snatching a wicket? At least he can bat, if Lee plays with Johnson and Hauritz the Aussies have a decent tail that can get a fair few runs.

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Mani!

    Andy, as always it's lovely to see you again, and glad that at least we can continue our discussions on this forum!

    I think both sides could be said to be somewhat middle light during this series. Both sides have a strong looking pair of openers (one experienced, one younger), Ponting and KP cancel each other out, I feel Bopara and Clarke are similar, the two keepers are similar, and then potentially you have Collingwood versus Hussey in the battle of the guys who look scratchy but might get some runs. If England really are going to play Flintoff at six, then that makes our middle look light given the form/lack of it he's shown with the bat for some time. Neither side has someone like Steve Waugh or even Symonds coming in at six and certainly nothing like Gilchrist batting at 7. This is what I was getting at earlier talking about the intimidation factor. Neither side will intimidate the other with their batting line ups.

    I think Mitchell's got the ability to be a true all-rounder so I'll show some faith in him. Lee had a good run with the bat down in Sussex and I think he'll be given that role, to really look to scoring some proper runs.

    With Hussey, I know where you and Paul are coming from in that he could be one innings away from rediscovering that touch he showed previously. Alternatively, he could play in that side, Australia could go in with no spinner, and they end up regretting it. Again, if you ask Katich and Clarke to bowl more overs than you place more pressure on the batsmen to score runs, and I don't think Hussey needs any more pressure than that which he is placing himself under with his lack of form. Whatever people say about Hauritz, his Test record isn't that bad. Paul Harris was derided for a long time, not least by Geoff Boycott. Since then, he's grown as a bowler and bowled really well against Australia both home and away. If Hauritz develops in a similar way and isn't derided for not being Warne, he could be useful for Australia.

    As a footnote, it's interesting to see today's Somerset-Yorkshire match at Taunton. I said earlier about how I didn't feel Langer trusted spinners and Paul mentioned Jenner's notion that Ponting didn't like spinners (something I felt KP exhibited when he was captain in India. He didn't seem comfortable with how to use them. One of Michael Vaughan's great points was that he was the best English captain when it came to handling bowlers since Brearley). You look at that Somerste match on a hot day, flat Taunton wicket. After 83 overs, Yorkshire are 338 for 5. A total of 8 overs have come from slow bowling, that of Arul Suppiah, probably to quicken things up to get the new ball for the late afternoon spell. Hmmm...


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