MacGill spins out of shadows

Warks 351 and 405 Notts 646 and 67-5 Match drawn
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The Independent Online

Needing 111 runs from the final 12 overs of an absorbing match, Nottinghamshire slashed, scampered and bashed, but for little reward. The target was 20 runs too many, or there were three overs too few, but it did provide an exciting finish, and if Chris Cairns, the powerful New Zealander, had been able to bat there could have been a pyrotechnic victory.

He could not, having left the field after dropping a slip catch, but if the Twenty20 Cup offers anything as thrilling and fast then the youngsters it is targeted at might discover there are more entertainments than football and computer games. Indeed once their interest is aroused, some might graduate to the more sophisticated version and marvel at the talent of players like Stuart MacGill, Australia's and the world's best leg-spinner, at least while Shane Warne, is banned.

His spell of 6 for 117 which helped set-up the improbable chase was marvellous to watch and almost a throwback to an earlier era, as good shots were rewarded with boundaries and a leggie was asked to bowl out a side on the last day.

To do so needed guile, planning and gamesmanship. MacGill is not the showman that Warne is, does not exclaim at a shot or tease theatrically. There is no sales pitch and there are no cons, but he is devious, thoughtful and fiery, a brainy fast bowler who purveys leg-spin. He plots, studies the batsman and then responds.

Against the impressive Nick Knight, patience was demanded. The left-hander defended sensibly, eschewed risk and punished the bad ball. Sounds simple, and when done well, it is. MacGill kept working at him though, aware that if he could be dismissed the new batsmen would struggle, with fielders hovering around the bat like vultures eagerly waiting a death.

Wide of off-stump he threw the ball, Knight defending towards the covers despite approaching 150. Then, after setting this rhythm, MacGill went flatter, faster and straighter, Knight was fractionally late with foot and bat and was lbw.

It was a wicket earned, almost crafted, as was his dismissal of Ian Bell. While batting with Knight, Bell was wonderfully composed, clinically punishing width or full-tosses and defending with the softest of hands, the ball dropping harmlessly to his feet.

The art in this is to grip the bat very loosely and allow the ball to come to the bat rather than pushing out aggressively. The bat then acts as a cushion, removing the pace and therefore the threat of the ball reaching the close fielders at short-leg and silly-point.

Bell does it beautifully, without becoming trapped in a defensive mindset. When a bad delivery comes, and with all leg-spinners except Warne there's usually one an over, he hits it. MacGill tinkered, though, and went round the wicket, challenging Bell to find new scoring shots. One flashing cut was dropped at gully before he skipped down the wicket, aiming to work the ball between mid-wicket and mid-on, and was bowled, the ball dipping under the bat.

Again MacGill had challenged a well-set batsman and dismissed him, although Bell, having made an elegant half-century, should have made his second Championship hundred of the season. His style is classical and the shots look good, but he needs some big scores fully to restore the confidence of two seasons ago.

As for MacGill, he proved himself an exceptional wrist-spinner but not a match-winner. It is his curse that he is around at the same time as Warne and yet also his good fortune, for without Warne, few captains would select such a high-risk option. We spectators are thankful that they do.

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