Cricket: MacGill on the trail of spin legends

Cricket: Warning for England as Australia's new bowling magician aims to strike up a dream partnership with Warne
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The Independent Online
SHANE WARNE says he does not like bowling with another leg-spinner, but the arrival of Stuart Charles Glyndwr MacGill means he had better get used to the idea.

MacGill has made such a sudden and profound impact since he stepped into the Australian side that their pairing to attack England during the approaching Ashes series Down Under is becoming more likely by the day.

MacGill's greatest ambition is to operate in tandem with Warne so successfully that they may one day be spoken about in the same revered tones as Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly and Clarrie "the Gnome" Grimmett.

"Any batsman finds a wrist spinner difficult when he's on song," MacGill said after his outstanding contribution to Australia's victory in the first Test against Pakistan last week. "I always thought that if Shane's bowling like he can and I bowl as well as I can, it would be just fantastic.

"O'Reilly and Grimmett were one of Australia's most successful bowling combinations. Warnie and I are different bowlers and we work on different things. We have different lines of attack, but hopefully that can be a successful pairing in the future."

Indeed, their failure to bowl together in the opening Test against England at Brisbane's Gabba ground next month will have more to do with Warne's fitness than MacGill's form.

MacGill faces Pakistan in the second Test here today knowing that he is likely to be the first spinner selected until Warne can prove that he has recovered from major shoulder surgery. This should be by Christmas.

While there is only one Shane Warne, Australia have yet to suffer from his absence. MacGill claimed 5 for 66 and 4 for 47 as the central bowler in Australia's triumph by an innings and 99 runs in Rawalpindi - the tourists' first Test win in Pakistan for 39 years. Richie Benaud was at the helm when Australia won a three-Test series 2-0 in 1959-60.

"I haven't been thinking much about the fact that I've got wickets, but that I'm in the team and we've won after so long," he said.

Warne, who has 313 wickets in 67 Tests, fired off a congratulatory fax after MacGill's five-wicket haul in the first innings - "a kind gesture which spurred me on," said the newcomer.

More praise came from his captain, Mark Taylor. "MacGill got his chance and he has grabbed it with both hands. It will be great to have him alongside Warne in the Ashes."

MacGill has played only one full season of first-class cricket, yet in his two Tests to date he has out-bowled the top two leg-spinners in the world.

He was marginally better than the tired and sore Warne on his debut during the Adelaide Test against South Africa last season and comprehensively out performed Pakistan's highly rated Mushtaq Ahmed with turn and bounce in Rawalpindi.

Yet the 27-year-old nicknamed "Magilla" has not just dropped from the sky. He has been regarded for some years as an exciting and excitable bowler with one serious disadvantage - he was born in the wrong state.

It is easier to spin a ball on ice than the rock-hard West Australian Cricket Association ground wicket, as even Warne has found over the years.

Spinners are not easily cultivated or sometimes even tolerated in Perth and MacGill had a reputation for being temperamental. The last straw came when WA batsman Brad Hogg took up bowling left-arm wrist spinners. He was in the West Australian side eight months later and was plucked from nowhere to play a Test in India two years ago when Warne was injured.

MacGill moved to New South Wales, where the Sydney Cricket Ground wicket is traditionally the most spinner- friendly in the country, but he was forced to sever some strong emotional ties.

His one game for Western Australia almost five years ago created a unique slice of Australian history. His father, Terry, a leg-spinner, and grandfather, Charlie, a fast bowler, had also played occasionally for WA, making them the only family with three successive generations to represent the one state.

"My father is the reason I bowl leg-spinners," MacGill said. "I used to watch him every weekend. One of dad's best mates was Dennis Lillee and I wanted to be quick and hurt people too, but I was only a little kid and could never do it. Other kids used to laugh at me, so I started bowling leg-spinners as well."

No one's laughing now, but there are broad smiles around Australia at the prospect of yet another leg-spinner making fools of the Poms.

MacGill announced his arrival against another touring team last season when he took a hat-trick playing for New South Wales against New Zealand - the first in Australia since Warne demolished England in Melbourne three years earlier.

Yet it appeared even after MacGill's Test debut that he would be blocked out by Warne's shadow. During the Indian tour earlier this year MacGill was poorly used, at least in part because of Warne's desire to have something different happening at the other end. The occasional NSW off-spinner, Gavin Robertson, was preferred in all three Tests.

It was only the unexpected seriousness of Warne's shoulder injury which has allowed MacGill to take centre stage. However, he credits Warne's imposing presence with making the fundamental difference.

"I don't think he's cast a shadow. I think he's opened a door for me," MacGill said. "There's no doubt that unless he had done so well Australia may not have even looked for another leg-spinner to replace him. They could have decided to revert to a seam attack and play a finger spinner. Fortunately, that other leg-spinner was me."

MacGill lacks the glamour of Warne, but he also appears to lack the petulance. They are very different people. Warne is unworldly to the point where Australia were forced to send for supplies of baked beans and spaghetti during the Indian tour in order that Warne would eat something besides nan bread and Vegemite.

MacGill has brought 20 books on this tour and seems to be enjoying his trip to the most difficult cricketing country on earth. It is part of a healthy and much improved Australian attitude to visiting the subcontinent.

Then there is just the sheer joy of representing your country. Just how much joy MacGill relates in a candid and self- effacing story of his first Test.

While still in the process of getting used to the modest travel arrangements of the NSW Sheffield Shield side, MacGill found himself in his own suite at the Australian team hotel in Adelaide. On the floor was a large bag with his name on it and inside a whole raft of team clothes for training, playing and wearing out.

He cautiously opened the bag, handled each piece of clothing carefully and finally put the jumper on, trying to act cool as he snuck a sideways glance into the various mirrors around the room. However, overcome by excitement he began running around waving his fists in the air before stopping in front of a mirror to appeal.

It is an appeal England may see many times this winter.