It was a shock when we learned that Shane Keith Warne was no longer with us.
He was someone who captured the hearts of nearly every cricketer by far, who not only admired his tenacity and wit, but attempted to emulate his ability to spin, bounce (sometimes not bounce) and tear this circular leather thing with such energy.
He was an idol to many who left an incredible mark on cricket and will be missed.
Much has been said and written about Warnie since his passing. Many wonderful stories have been shared which spotlight the contestant, the larrikin, the celebrity and the charity worker. However, I wanted to reflect on his spin bowling legacy. We’ve heard so many stories of people reflecting on his influence on them, but what did that legacy mean for Australian cricket?
Warne retired from international cricket in 2006-07, meaning it’s been 16 long and unsatisfying years since he hung up his boots. During this period, Australia used 15 different spinners.
Warne didn’t really light the stage when he made his debut on January 2, 1992. An unflattering comeback of 1-150 from 45 overs suggested he may be far from having an impact on international cricket . He got another chance with a tour of Sri Lanka, where he returned numbers of 3-158 from 38 overs in two Tests. Between his second set of Tests and when he burst onto the scene with “that” ball to Mick Gatting, he had taken just 17 wickets at an average of over 30.
At the time, Australian coaches faced the dilemma of whether to continue selecting a temperamental big leggie who had the potential to win games for his country or turn to the more experienced and precise Greg Matthews, who had played with consistency. on the Sri Lankan tour before this 1993 English tour.
What the selectors showed back then was faith. They felt that Shane Warne had the ability, the temper and the X-factor to carve out a successful career in international cricket. Thank God they did. If not for the contribution of the peroxide-haired, pierced-eared larrikin who took 708 Test wickets, Australian cricket might have been abandoned long ago.
So what is Shane Warne’s legacy? At the height of his powers, every child in the playgrounds imitated his action. They mimicked his angular stroke, growl and chin-thump after each delivery. They even mimicked her bleached hair and party lifestyle.
However, when we look at the spinners who have come and gone after Warne, we see that Australia have used 15 different players, many of whom have only played one or two Tests. We basically took over England’s role of spinning spinners until one got lucky, sticking with them for a few tests, then throwing them away and looking for a new one .
Since Warne we have seen the likes of Beau Casson (one Test, three wickets), Dan Cullen (one Test, one wicket), Nathan Hauritz (17 Tests, 63 wickets), Brad Hogg (seven Tests, 17 wickets), Stuart MacGill (44 Tests, 208 wickets), Cameron White (four Tests, five wickets), Jason Krejza (two Tests, 13 wickets), Bryce McGain (one Test, no wickets), Steve Smith (85 Tests, 18 wickets), Xavier Doherty (four Tests, seven wickets), Steve O’Keefe (nine Tests, 35 wickets), Michael Beer (two Tests, three wickets), Nathan Lyon (108 Tests, 427 wickets), Ashton Agar (four Tests, nine wickets) and more recently Mitchell Swepson (two Tests, two wickets). That’s a combined total of 811 wickets.
That says a lot about the state Australia is producing spinners.
So where did it all go wrong? If Shane Warne was such a figurehead and someone so many people aspired to be like, how come we used so many spinners with so little success? What is more concerning is that of this list of 15 spinners, less than half are wrist spinners.
First and foremost, the spotlight must be on junior cricket and spinner development. Junior coaches, parents and teachers would all agree that there are plenty of players who would love to emulate their spin heroes. Not only have there been plenty of young Warnies ready to practice their flippers, toppies and googlies, but more recently young cricketers have tried to follow in the footsteps of Graeme Swann, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Daniel Vettori and Nathan Lyon .
No one will ever doubt that junior coaches have the best interests of their players at heart, but unfortunately many lack the experience or knowledge to help nurture and develop them into top class cricketers. .
Unfortunately, cricket is a sport that has recently seen a decline in participation at all ages. In particular, the older junior groups saw a significant change in numbers. Consequently, the resources available to clubs are very limited. They don’t have the funds to be able to send every coach to develop their skills through state-run qualifications, so all of a sudden someone’s parent, who has volunteered their time, is responsible.
However, they may lack knowledge in the art of spin. Stickiness, momentum, gathering, following are all essential to having the ability to launch consistent and wicket potential deliveries. So unless that trainer has played the game or spent time perfecting it through well-structured training programs, the junior spinner must develop this difficult art through imitation alone.
Coupled with this lack of spin bowling knowledge, Australian juniors play on hard synthetic pitches. This results in a consistent bounce that most batsmen can predict and play cross hits because they can trust the bounce. Each junior spinner will be asked to throw the ball and draw the batsman to the wicket; however, the batsman, apparently the clever breed of cricketer, has solved the puzzle and is playing spinners from the crease.
Despite following their coach’s best intentions, spinners either struggle to take a wicket because the ball went past the bat, or go full on. Imagine the patience needed to keep pursuing that skill given that their teammate on the other end would make fewer runs and could take more wickets just by stitching.
The solution? Coaches must continue to advance their knowledge and ability to articulate the technical and mental components of spin. They play such an important role in the development of young spinners that it should not be underestimated. Coaching classes, seminars, webcasts, podcasts, books, and websites should all be attended, participated in, and read in order to learn different ways to coach and nurture those spinners.
In addition, every coach must modify their coaching philosophy to incorporate patience. Allow a spinner to grow by providing encouragement, positive feedback, and defensive fields. By setting offensive fields with just one in the depth, especially on the first two overs, you leave no room for poor deliveries. Juniors will make mistakes, drop shorts or throw a full throw – that’s the nature of their development. Having defensive fields leaves room for mistakes and will keep their confidence high with a low save rate.
Can we have more exposure to grass pitches and pitches? We have the structures and the competitions in place, but are they supported by the local councils that coordinate the pitches? Grass pitches are common in England for children from the age of ten. They are exposed to the conditions in which their heroes play, which allows their techniques and skills to develop in the environment in which they will play at the top. This also means spinner deliveries are more likely to hit stumps, get a front leg. Ground staff in England produce superb grass pitches for juniors and still have the ability to set up decent wickets for senior cricket.
How come this practice is not in place in Australia? Maybe it’s the funding or the weather, or maybe it’s just the demanding advice that doesn’t give the curators enough time.
Perhaps the answer lies in developing a cricket ball that bounces less. Still have the size, stitching and hardness of a regulation Kookaburra but without the density to prevent that ball from bouncing off the shoulder.
We may have looked at it from the wrong angle. Perhaps the answer lies in the actual quality of Shane Warne. Confused? Most will agree that his control and consistency were very rare. Stuart MacGill, who turned the ball around more than Warne, struggled to match his consistent line and length.
Perhaps the answer lies in the trajectory and speed at which a leggie should deliver it. Look at Anil Kumble. The fast, bouncy, flat leg spinner took 619 test wickets and might hold the answer for our next leg spinner. For most juniors, fast bowling leg jumps can be tricky at first, but due to the speed and angle of delivery, they are less likely to be hit across the line and drop from the middle deep to medium deep wicket. All it would take is to convince the slow-medium-paced kid to try and spin his wrist – it’ll bring him a lot more wickets and a lot more success that could lead to further honours.
Finally, a call to Australia’s coaches. Nathan Lyon solved this dilemma and carved out an incredible career of over 100 Tests. Selected from roller obscurity, his consistency and cunning made him our most successful finger spinner. But he won’t last forever on the stage, and who’s coming behind him? Is Mitch Swepson our next front row spinner to win us on a Day 5 pitch? Is Tanveer Sangha someone showing signs of being Australia’s next game winner?
What the selectors need to do is pick a spinner they think will win games for Australia and give them a chance. The aforementioned list of 15 spinners highlights the brutality and temperamental approach they took to our national team selection.
Spin the bowling alley. Ask any coach and this is one of the most difficult aspects of cricket to coach. From a technical, mental and tactical standpoint, it’s a daunting prospect that, unless tackled with passion and enthusiasm, could result in another decade without a winning spinner once Nathan Lyon leaves the game.
Shane Keith Warne is a great player in this game and left behind so many amazing cricketing memories. The art of spin bowling and in particular the wrist spin is his legacy, so now it’s time for us to reinvigorate this craft and bring to life what Warnie did best.