Aussies' spin cycle turns to left-arm trundler who may unnerve Pietersen

Xavier Doherty is the latest name plucked out by the selectors in the forlorn hope of replacing Shane Warne
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The Independent Online

The name may be somewhat exotic but the record is decidedly ordinary. Come Thursday, though, Xavier Doherty will be the latest addition to an already long line of Australian spinners invited to embark on mission impossible: to fill the chasm created by Shane Warne's retirement.

As England discovered over the years, there never was going to be another Ian Botham. And even the most optimistic Aussie knows there never will be another Warne. But someone has to take the place on the team-sheet and, unless the home selectors decide to launch the Ashes series in Brisbane this week with an all pace attack, Doherty will become the ninth specialist slow bowler to wear a Baggy Green since the Golden One retired in early 2007.

Among those who have come and gone are Beau Casson, Jason Krejza and Bryce McGain so simply having an unusual name is no guarantee of success. Boasting a good track record in domestic cricket might be an advantage – and a glance at the record book would suggest Doherty does not even have that in his favour.

The Tasmanian, 28 today, has played 35 first-class matches over nine years, capturing only 84 wickets at a distinctly unimpressive average of 48.26. What is more, he was mainly thought of as a one-day player until last year and it is only during the current season that he has become a regular in Tassie's four-day team. So what has possessed Australia's selectors to punt on Doherty when they could have persevered with off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, who - for all his limitations - has a decent Test record on home soil?

First, Doherty is a form horse. In his last six first-class matches he has taken 23 wickets, including a couple last week under the gaze of fellow Tasmanian and soon-to-be Test captain, Ricky Ponting. And he showed at the beginning of this month that international cricket did not faze him by making a four-wicket ODI debut against Sri Lanka in Melbourne.

Secondly, the new man on the block is an orthodox left-arm spinner which means he should turn the ball away from England's exclusively right-handed middle order – and maybe cause Kevin Pietersen's pulse rate to quicken. Andrew Hilditch, Australia's chairman of selectors, has said that Doherty is the "better option" because of the make-up of the opposition batting unit. He will hope that Pietersen's susceptibility to left-arm spin – assorted southpaws, good and pretty hopeless, have done him 17 times in Test cricket – will become a big issue all over again.

Typically, Pietersen is bullish: "I don't have technical glitches [against left-armers] – I've sorted them," he said. "It is something that people have talked about but it doesn't bother me. I'm always looking to score against every bowler, but any bowler can get any batter out." The last bowler to dismiss Pietersen was Steve O'Keefe, for Australia A, in Hobart last week. That is Steve O'Keefe, the left-arm spinner, by the way.

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