Cricket Australia Items/Blogs/justin-langer/2013/3/6/the-spin-bowling-debate

Justin Langer

Langer: The spin bowling debate

06 March 2013

Australia's spin bowling depth has once again become the subject of heated discussion after Nathan Lyon's omission for the second Test.

England's off-spinner Graeme Swann developed from a potential talent into a world class spinner over three or four years in the cauldron of international cricket and many are hopeful this will be the same case with Lyon.

In the last Test series between India and England it was Swann and Monty Panesar's tandem work that allowed the visitors to return home as victors. 

Panesar became a folk hero when he first started playing for England, but after a couple of barren series, went back to county cricket to hone his trade.

The fruits of his labours are now being enjoyed by England who recently won their first series in India for a long, long time. 

The lesson from Swann and Panesar is that it takes time to develop into a match-winning spin bowler and it will be in Australia's best interests to coach, mentor and develop the stocks we do have, so that pivotal series like India at home become a more even contest.

Australia has struggled to bowl out India in the first two Test matches.

Xaxier Doherty has been the target of criticism, Nathan Lyon has been dropped and batting all-rounder Glenn Maxwell must feel like he is battling to keep his head above the water in his debut Test match. 

While Maxwell will display his youthful confidence, his head must be spinning, particularly if he reads or listens to any of the commentary about of the perceived state of the team he has just walked into. 

When it comes to baptisms of fire, these three young Australian's are in the fight of their short international lives. 

Against the best players of spin bowling in the world they are having to counteract the cauldron like never before. 

In many ways, they are learning on their feet because they rarely bowl against such nimble, spin bowling bullies, at home or abroad. 

In or out of the Test match the opportunity to learn and grow is invaluable for all three spinners. 

In a land where spin bowling rules, they will be rubbing shoulders with people who live and breathe the art of spin bowling. 

Hopefully they are being afforded opportunities to talk and train with these maestros and if they're not they are crazy to let such an opportunity slip.

Knowing the type of character he is, I am certain Nathan Lyon's axing will help him gain renewed energy in his spinning fingers. 

A kick in the back-side can be a powerful motivator. 

This wake-up call could be the catalyst that helps him push for re-selection sooner rather than later. 

The experience he has gained since his Test debut in Galle, Sri Lanka, 18 months ago can never be taken away from him. 

Right decision or not, being left out will be another valuable opportunity for him to get better. 

As long as they can hold their nerve and retain their sense of self-esteem, all three spinners should return home as better bowlers. 

Back in Australia and there are a few other spinners who are worth developing.

Over the last few weeks there has been huge hype around young Western Australian spinner Ashton Agar. 

His all round game makes him an incredibly attractive player. 

Besides his infectious personality and energy for the game, Ashton's strength comes in his natural and free style of play. 

Whether with the bat or ball his movements are reminiscent of the great athletes. 

Many young players today look very tense and mechanical in their movements. 

They often look 'over-coached' and are unable to move with freedom, power and speed. 

When you observe the great athletes there are few who look like this. 

Roger Federer, Ussain Bolt, Mohammed Ali, Tiger Woods, Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Kelly Slater and Michael Jordan all make their arts look so effortless. 

There doesn't seem to be an ounce of tension in their bodies as they go about their business. 

While their minds are as focused as a fighter pilot, they allow their bodies the chance to flow by eliminating, or at least controlling, any tensions. 

While Ashton Agar has much to learn as an 18-year-old spin bowler, his free movements give him the chance to fulfil his undoubted promise. 

The trick for him will come when the pressure is on, but all signs so far suggest he has the spirit, skill and intellect to overcome this in time.

Because he is an attacking finger spinner who turns and flights the ball, he is undoubtedly an exciting prospect who is gaining valuable experience in the Sheffield Shield competition and through his opportunity to tour with the Australians a few weeks ago. 

Another player who has excited interest is Pakistani-born leg spinner Fawad Ahmed. 
Having watched him bowl in the nets to the Australians over the last few summers, there is no doubt about his ability, or Victoria's keenness to play him. 

With all the tricks, he is sure to be a match-winner for his adopted State.

Left arm orthodox bowlers Michael Beer and Jon Holland are recovering from shoulder injuries and will continue to compete, while Steve O'Keefe has shown his hand by resigning the captaincy of NSW. 

This action and his reasons for doing so suggest he is hungry to build on his limited chances in the Australian set up. 

Leg spinners are always an attractive commodity in Australia, leaving Cameron Boyce and Adam Zampa as interesting young prospects. 

Zampa, is one of the lucky AIS Scholars this year who will get the chance to work with former players like Stuart MacGill at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane and the opportunity to further those skills in Sri Lanka.

The chance to work with players like MacGill or Shane Warne would be like gold for these, and any other young leg spinner. 

Australian cricket has many past players like Bruce Yardley, Ashley Mallet, Tom Hogan, Gavin Robertson and Greg Matthews who could help our players develop. 

If we are really serious as a group and as individuals we should also soak up the advice of Pakistani finger spinner Saqlain Mushtaq who, during his stints at the Centre Of Excellence in Brisbane, made a simple but powerful observation. 

He said, the simple difference between sub-continent spinners and Australian spinners is that you don't bowl and practice anywhere near enough here in Australia. 

Like India, Pakistani's eat, sleep and breath spin bowling and they do it for hours and hours and hours.

There is no magic in getting better.

If we want to get better we can learn from greats like Saqlain or Muralideran who were legendary for their tireless work habits. 

Murali would bowl and practice, every day, for hours.

Obviously the conditions he bowled on were conducive to spin bowling, but he still had to know where to bowl the ball, how to spin the ball and how to work out his opponent.

This is no different to any player, the difference is he has been honing his skills since he was a young boy right though to his retirement.

Maybe that is where we need to start - encouraging more kids from a young age to bowl spin. 

By the time they walk into the cauldron of an Indian Test match, it is far too late to start learning the tricks of the trade then. 

From Adelaide



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
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