Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
'Funky' Webster's new iso skill: Fast bowling
He's discovered it's not all rainbows and caught behinds but Beau Webster's career as a pace-bowling, off-spinning batting allrounder has begun in earnest
2 August 2020, 02:57 PM AEST
Beau Webster is far from the only person to have decided to try something new during isolation, but he is surely the only one to have become a member of a cartel usually reserved for the cricketing unhinged.
Standing 202-centimetres tall, Webster has fielded questions all through his career regarding why someone blessed with outrageous height would waste their time bowling off-spin.
He didn't help himself with his Tasmanian teammates by grabbing a new ball and sending down a few seam-up deliveries in the nets whenever the Tigers practiced in the pace-friendly WACA Ground or Gabba nets on a Sheffield Shield away trip.
"I would bowl five or six balls before my back got really sore," laughs Webster, who turns serious when explaining how back pain has a major impact on him performing his batting, his dominant skill.
The final straw came at Blundstone Arena in February when Jake Doran, a part-time medium pacer nearly a half-a-metre shorter than Webster, nicked off Western Australia No.4 Sam Whiteman for 53 with the fifth ball of his first-class career.
Webster's three overs of off-spin went wicketless and cost him 22 runs.
"I think he was embarrassed to see Doran running in to bowl left-arm, 104kph swingers," Tasmania’s Matthew Wade told cricket.com.au.
"Beau was sitting at second slip feeling like he could have got a couple of more wickets."
How about this for a bowling change from Tim Paine?Jake Doran had never bowled before in any format, but needed just five balls to get the breakthrough!@MarshGlobal | #SheffieldShield pic.twitter.com/rSBCcvg7EL— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) February 24, 2020
Some learnt a new language while COVID-19 restrictions took hold, some retuned their old guitars, others baked sourdough.
Webster became a fast bowler.
He is only half joking when he admits, "I saw (Doran) beat the bat a couple of times against WA and I thought, 'Gee, if I can't do this, I should give it up here and now.'
"I thought from that moment on, next pre-season, I'll give it a go."
Webster got on the phone to coach Adam Griffith, a former paceman himself, who told him he would need to change his pre-season gym routine to strengthen his lower-back and gradually build up his bowling workloads.
He has no intention of discarding his off-spinners, however; teammates have dubbed him 'Funky' in reference to former Australia (and Tasmania) bowler Colin Miller, who bowled both finger spin and medium pace at an elite level.
Nor does Webster want to squander the major advances he made with his batting both for Tasmania in the Shield and with the Melbourne Renegades in the KFC BBL last season.
Yet he’s discovered being a triple threat off-spinner-fast-bowler-middle-order-batter all rolled into one is not all rainbows and caught behinds.
"I've only been going eight weeks and I don't think I have ever been sorer," Webster concedes. "It will take some getting used to, but I'm really enjoying it.
"Playing at Bellerive, there's more (assistance) for the seamers than there is for the spinners, so it's another string to my bow. I'm still bowling some off-spin, it might be handy in the white-ball stuff for Tassie and the Renegades.
"Hopefully in the long run it'd be nice to be that fifth or even fourth quick (for Tasmania) down the track and bat in that middle order."
That middle-order role is one in which Tasmania are expecting big things from Webster.
The right-hander returned to Hobart earlier this year after a breakout Big Bash campaign for the Renegades, to whom the Hurricanes traded him in return for Wade before BBL|07.
There is some irony in that it was a promotion up the Renegades’ order that prompted Webster's career-best BBL season (425 runs at 42.50, strike-rate of 131) last summer and now he’s hoping for a similar breakthrough with Tasmania, but instead with a demotion.
Webster has mainly batted in the top three throughout his seven-year first-class career but after his breakout Big Bash campaign, Tassie hatched a new plan; why not utilise his explosiveness further down the order?
For the Tigers' first game back after the BBL, away to Queensland, captain Tim Paine and coach Jeff Vaughan told Webster he would be batting at No.7 and left him with a simple message.
"They said, "We want you to be aggressive'," the 26-year-old with five first-class tons to his name recalls. "'We've got enough guys at the top who can take the game deep but that's not what we want from you'.
"We want you to continue on your Big Bash role and if it's in your area to hit, hit it, and we'll back you in for the back half of the season'. That gives you a lot of freedom to play."
Webster laughs again when he remembers how his new approach went at first: "I got a second-ball (duck) in the first innings at the Gabba."
But Paine and Vaughan's move proved shrewd; a second-innings half-century in a comprehensive defeat was followed by a match-turning, breathtaking run-a-ball 187 not out against WA.
He then played another vital hand on the final day to be at the other end when Paine hit the winning runs in the penultimate over of the match, which left Tasmania with a chance of making the Shield final if they could have beaten Victoria in their last game.
While the pandemic put paid to those hopes, there is a growing sense that Webster has turned a corner.
"His pre-season so far compared to the other two other pre-seasons I've seen Beau do, he has certain taken his game to the next level," Wade says. "I like what I'm seeing from Beau.
"I feel like he's in that zone where he knows what he needs to do to perform. He's playing a slightly different role for us now, he was opening the batting for us … and then after BBL, he slipped down to seven and took some attacks on, got away a few times and had a really good finish to the year.
"He's found a way that he thinks is going to work at first-class level.
"I think over the next few years if he continues to progress, he's a name that will certainly pop up on the radar."
And as far Webster's bowling goes, Wade (who himself has been used as a fill-in seamer in the Doran-mould for Tasmania at times) is emphatic.
"No one wants to see five-foot-three people running in, skidding them into the pads," he says. "They want to see the big boys bowl."