Cricket: Miller the mystery man can put on a funky show

Australia have flown in the face of wisdom by calling up a virtual unknown. By Derek Pringle in Perth
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The Independent Online
WHILE MOST of Australia remains outraged at the dropping of the leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, a few wise coves have been wearing knowing smiles at the selection of Colin Miller for the second Test. For the rest of us, he simply shares a surname with those other notable "Dusties", Keith, Jonathon and Henry.

Perth is rarely friendly to spinners and the pitch at the WACA, while offering bounce, rarely turns. Miller's role, and he is almost certain to play, is to bowl into the Fremantle Doctor, a wind that begins to pay house visits soon after midday. If England are considering making changes, they too must identify which bowlers will take on this stiff south-wester.

Miller, who is 34, plays for Tasmania and is still a bit of a mystery for those who do not follow the State game. Beginning life as a medium- pacer in the 1980s, he added off-spin to his repertoire after spraining an ankle. Unable to come in off his long run for his club side, Miller wrapped his fingers round the ball instead and off a few paces found he could get the thing to turn sharply.

On the recent tour of Pakistan, where he made his Test debut, he both bowled and batted with a common sense that deserted England's lower order in Brisbane. Last summer he broke the Sheffield Shield record with 67 wickets at 24.5 apiece, an incredible tally considering the Shield is just an 11-match competition.

A country that tends to promote youth in sport, Australia's inclusion of Miller is curious. He is not the oldest player to debut for Australia, that accolade belongs to Don Blackie, who was 46 when he played against England in 1928. Nevertheless, Miller is relatively old, even for a spinner, and his presence may be an indication that Australia's spin cupboard is fairly bare, once you take Shane Warne out of the equation.

Like many spinners, he is something of a nonconformist, at least as modern players go. According to those who know him, he drinks, smokes, and is not too bothered with team talks. A bleached blond - there is less sunshine in Tasmania - he also enjoys night-clubs, where he generally lives up to his nickname of "Funky".

In spin mode, he gets, in the words of Ashley Mallett, a doyen of the art of off-spin, "a lot of revolutions on the ball". As we saw with Muttiah Muralitharan at The Oval, the more the ball rotates the more it dips and spins and Miller may yet extract some turn on the flint-hard pitch at the WACA.

If he does not, it will still be instructive to see a cricketer from a bygone era strut his funky stuff.

You never know, if two-in-one cricketers catch on, he may yet become a household name. Not bad for a player whose career only took off because of a sprained ankle.

A sight England's batsmen can prepare themselves for as Colin Miller appeals for another wicket Allsport