Young gun Muirhead on the outer

Mixed news for leg-spinner ahead of big season

A quick glance at James Muirhead's 2013-14 season indicates that it was a breakthrough summer for the young leg-spinner from Melbourne's western suburbs.

Unwanted by his state Victoria in the early part of the season, Muirhead was given a chance to prove himself against the touring England side in three separate tour matches around the country.

He picked up 6-181 for a Cricket Australia Invitational XI at the SCG, including the wickets of Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, and also impressed in games in Alice Springs and Canberra.

Having held his own against international-quality batsmen, Muirhead then earned a shock call-up to Australia's T20 squad in January, despite having just two first-class matches under his belt.

And having handled himself well in his debut international series, highlighted by figures of 2-13 in Sydney, the baby-faced leggie was then picked in Australia's squad for the World T20 in Bangladesh.

But, as is often the case with young leg-spinners, not everything went to plan.

Muirhead only got the chance to play against England after he failed to break into Victoria's Bupa Sheffield Shield and Ryobi One-Day Cup sides.

He was without a KFC T20 Big Bash League contract until December 19 last year, when he earned a late call-up from Melbourne Stars to replace the injured James Faulkner.

And just two weeks after his international debut, he struggled to land the ball on the pitch in a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales at the SCG, finishing with 0-61 from seven wicketless overs.

The mixed results continued this week, with the good news of a three-year deal with the Stars tempered just hours later by the announcement that he'd been left out of Victoria's squad for the Matador One-Day Cup.

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As part of a Bushrangers roster that also features highly-rated spinners Fawad Ahmed and Jon Holland, Muirhead knows that he won't have it all his own way again this season.

And he concedes that he might have to drop back to the Melbourne grade competition just to play regular cricket.


 Muirhead worked with Shane Warne in South Africa and Bangladesh earlier this year

"With Fawad and 'Dutchy' Holland there's obviously a bit of spin competition, but we work well together and we're all trying to develop and learn and get better as a team," he told

"I have faith in myself to improve and go past them.

"I'm only 21 so I've still got a fair few years up my sleeve.

"(This season) I just want to play as many games for Victoria as I can and take my opportunities when they come.

"I'm also playing for St Kilda so I obviously want to take a fair few wickets for them and get myself in the side."

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The atmosphere of Victorian Premier Cricket will be much tamer than what Muirhead experienced last summer, when he took 1-17 from four overs against England in front of almost 65,000 fans at the MCG, before playing in front of packed crowds in Dhaka and Fatullah at the World T20.

It was a life-altering experience for an young man who, before January, had never even been to an international match.

"That was the most exciting time of my career so far, especially as a 20-year-old," Muirhead said of last summer.

"To play for Australia was a dream come true and to play in front of 65,000 people at the MCG was quite incredible.

"I've had time to sit down and just reflect on everything I've done.

"It was a massive achievement for myself, but the mission's not over.

"I've still got to get that Baggy Green cap and that's my ultimate goal and hopefully one day I get there."

Confidence and ambition are prerequisites for any leg-spinner, especially in the modern era of big bats, small grounds and brave batsmen.

Muirhead has already shown glimpses of both qualities, with the youngster willing to toss the ball up to the batsmen after they've hit him out of the ground.

He showed as much in an entertaining battle with former England star Pietersen at the SCG in November, when the gun batsman slogged him for three fours and two sixes before holing out on the long-off boundary.

Muirhead spoke at the time about his willingness to cop a beating from Pietersen in order to get his wicket, saying that he had to "accept getting hit for sixes, stick at it, be confident and ... get the rewards".

The two will become teammates at the Stars this summer, with Muirhead looking forward to learning from the 104-Test veteran having already worked closely with Cricket Australia's spin bowling mentor Shane Warne in South Africa and Bangladesh this year.

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"He's a big inclusion to our side," Muirhead said of Pietersen.

"I played against him in Sydney last year and it was a good contest between myself and KP.

"He's the kind of player that you can learn from.

"He's experienced, he's done it all so I'm sure I'm can take a few pointers from him."

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