CAN you imagine an Australian Test side without a pace attack? GEOFF POULTER puts the case for a team minus quicks that might have beaten all-comers:
AUSTRALIA was once known as the land of the leg spinner. Hopefully something like the Warne, the Benaud or the O’Reilly/Grimmett eras will return to propel the art to its former glory.
Reading Chief Writer Ron Reed’s piece on Sportshounds.com.au last week about under 19 World Cup prospect Lloyd Pope sparked a thought about the traditional value of the leg spinner. You could select an all-time Australian team of leg-spinners to form a powerful line-up.
“The Hound”, my sports editor at The Herald about 30 years ago, in his article referred to Test batsmen such as Ian Chappell, Bob Simpson and Keith Stackpole also being part-time leggies. All could all have been prominent bowlers had they not concentrated on batting.
Browse through complete A to Z lists of Australian first-class players and it’s quite common to find a description “right arm wrist spinner”. Even the great D G Bradman was a leggie. He was impressive in his youth but later became loath to bowl. He feared injury – and this exactly what occurred at the final Test at The Oval in 1938 when Len Hutton scored a then Test-record 364. Bradman rolled his ankle and didn’t bat in the second innings.
Bradman took two Test wickets and his best performance was 1-8. Like any of his teams the Don is the cornerstone of our “leggies” XI. It means we can play an extra bowler (all-rounder Richie Benaud at No 6) as Bradman was really the equal of “two” batsmen.
Stumped for a keeper? No way! Tim Zoehrer and Don Tallon (not as often) both bowled leg spin. Zoehrer’s superior batting gets him the nod at No. 7 with 8-9-10-jack all great Australian leg spinners – Warne, Grimmett, O’Reilly and MacGill. In a weird twist Zoehrer headed the bowling averages on the 1993 tour of England.
Grimmett and O’Reilly were dominant spinners in the 1920’s/ and 30’s and Benaud in the 1960’s. But the next 20 years or so before the emergence of Warne was a fairly lame period. And since Warne, no leggie has been able to win a permanent place in the Australian side. Young South Australian Pope, 18, is the latest hope.
It is with great irony we note that England had a leg spinner in the recent Fifth Ashes Test and Australia didn’t. That would not have happened too often in the 330 Tests played between the countries since 1877. One of the great strengths of a leggie has been the opposition batsmen generally had little exposure to them.
Opening batsman Keith Stackpole has been relegated to 12th man in our best leggie team to accommodate five front-line bowlers – Warne, Grimmett, O’Reilly, Benaud and MacGill.
Norman O’Neill bowled leggies and medium pace and occasionally opened the bowling in an injury situation. O’Reilly could bowl his spinners at brisk pace (a la Derek Underwood) so he could share the new ball to try to quickly take off the shine. Steve Smith completes the list.
Our batting order is therefore: R Simpson, I Chappell, D Bradman, S Smith, N O’Neill, R Benaud, T Zoehrer, S Warne, C Grimmett, W O’Reilly, S MacGill. 12th man K Stackpole.
This line up is powerful in every department except, of-course pace bowling. But it would still take a power of beating. And imagine the entertainment and novelty value!
GEOFF POULTER, 69, has spent 51 years in sports media. He was the last Melbourne Herald chief football writer. CV: Sports oracle, author, historian, impersonator, raconteur, poet, quiz whiz, philosopher, song-writer, intellectual scholar – and still employable!