The Decline of Australian Spin Bowling

Shane Warne, Sydney 2007
Shane Warne, Sydney 2007

Discussions of the lack of Australian talent since the retirement of Shane Warne have been held before. But this weekend just gone was a terrible one for English cricket, and now with Jonathon Trott leaving camp on psychological grounds, something uplifting is required. Therefore, the English cricket fan should be allowed to revel in the fact that during the same timeframe that Graeme Swann has developed into one of the most successful spin bowlers in the world, Australia have tried and tested 13 different spinners, and the best they could come up with was Nathan Lyon. Australian spinners have taken just 6 5-fors in comparison to Swann’s 17 since Warne’s retirement in January 2007 (still an unfair statistic, given that Swann didn’t make his test debut until late 2008). Having had a frontline spinner in Warne, and a talented back up in Stuart MacGill, just what has happened to slow Australian bowling prospects?

The Off-Breakers

Nathan Lyon, Australia's current pick
Nathan Lyon, Australia’s current pick

The Aussies have probably ended up with their best option in Nathan Lyon. Statistically, he offers the most – 89 wickets in 26 tests at 32.44, and he’s only 26. He was also quite impressive this weekend against England at Brisbane, on what was primarily a batting pitch (but evidently offered something to the seamers, given England’s hopeless double collapse). In comparison, Graeme Swann was poor, claiming 2/205 in the match vis-à-vis Lyon’s 4/63. Regardless, Lyon has proved to be the most reliable of a pretty uninspiring bunch.

Other right-arm off breakers discarded by Australia are Nathan Hauritz, Jason Krejza and Glenn Maxwell. Hauritz held his place in the side for 17 tests until October 2010, and boasts the next best claim statistically for a role in the current test side. But that’s not particularly impressive. During his career, he has taken 63 wickets at a shade under 35. Something smells of an Ashley Giles-like ‘wheelie-bins’ mediocrity. Krejza, on the other hand, managed 12 match wickets on debut away against India in 2008 – the problem being that they cost him over 300 runs; his second test was hardly any less expensive, and yielded just one more wicket. Finally, Maxwell’s role as a batting all-rounder has restricted his impact with the ball. But just 2 tests, and a first-class bowling average of all but 40 don’t shout praise.

The Leggies

Steve Smith and Cameron White have both been included in the Australian test side as batting all-rounders; and while their domestic, and indeed international, batting careers are respectable, their equivalent bowling statistics at both levels are not. To put them in perspective, Ian Bell boasts a more impressive domestic bowling average than either of these leggies. Smith has 8 test wickets at 50 from 12 matches, and in running with those figures, 52 wickets at an average of 55 in first class cricket. White’s stats are slightly better: 5 test scalps at 68, and 192 first class wickets at a  touch under 40. Neither invokes confidence of a Warne-like leg spin revival anytime soon.

A third leg spinner was experimented with in Cape Town in 2009. Bryce McGain had only become a professional cricketer aged 35, having played club cricket and been employed as an IT technician in Melbourne, Victoria. Good timing on domestic form earned him a call up to the test side, where, against South Africa on just the single occasion, he proceeded to bowl 18 wicket-less overs at an economy rate of over 8. The Aussies lost by an innings and McGain retired from all cricket the following year having failed to make a second appearance.

The Rest (Lefties)

Two Chinamen, Brad Hogg and Beau Casson, were also tried out without much success, although Hogg had found a place in the ODI side during the 2007 world cup in the West Indies. Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer were also names thrown around. Both Slow Left Armers, they have played just 6 tests between them, taking only 10 wickets. The final experiment, and the most recent, was with 19-year-old Ashton Agar, who, despite impressing with a cavalier 98 from the number 11 spot at Trent Bridge, failed to make any impact with the ball whatsoever in his two tests in England. He currently has just 2 test wickets to his name at an average of 120.

It is perplexing, due to the large variety of talented spinners popping out of Sri Lanka in the wake of Muralitharan’s retirement, (a) why no similar phenomenon has occurred in a longer period of time in Australia, and (b) if it is down to the pitches and playing conditions, why Warne was able to become so dominant in the first place. Perhaps he was something unique, which could be unfortunate for the Australians.

Conclusion

So ends a discussion of Australians spinning woes. And back to reality – that spinners, finger spinners particularly, aren’t particularly important in Test cricket on Australian pitches, unless you’ve got a Warne equivalent. The track at the Gabba was flat and hard – a cracking batting surface with a bit in it for the pace men. Stuart Broad, Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke and David Warner proved that. Graeme Swann will hope that the other venues will offer him something more to work with. Darren Lehmann might hope that the ICC bans spinners from test cricket if his country can’t throw up any decent alternatives to what is currently on offer. Of course these remarks are tongue in cheek. It’s hopefully nothing that the Brisbane Courier wouldn’t expect. 

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