The Light Roller: The leg-spinner's art can still stand the test of time

Can Fawad Ahmed turn things Australia's way? Lehman's zest must inspire Watson to earn his pips; Never trust the warm-up results

 

Can Fawad Ahmed turn things Australia's way?

As a Pakistani-born leg-spinner gains citizenship to play for Australia, so an English one demonstrates why the leggie's art might - but only might - be a factor in this summer's Ashes. With Fawad Ahmed continuing his meteoric rise through the ranks of Aussie spinners, Tom Craddock's five wickets for Essex against an England XI were a timely reminder of why Australia continues to search for a worthy successor to Shane Warne.

When things are going right, there is no more mesmerising sight in cricket than a leg-spinner terrorising batsmen by the sheer variety of deliveries available to them - and by convincing the opposition that there are other types yet to be unveiled. For a decade and more, watching Warne tie England in knots was by turns depressing and gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

However, wrist-spin is also the most difficult cricketing art to master and although Warne brought about its renaissance, he was fundamentally a one-off. No other leg-break bowler of the modern age before or since has been able to match his huge spin and wicket-taking ability with consistent control.

 

Lehman's zest must inspire Watson to earn his pips

Meanwhile, in Worcester, Darren Lehman made a positive start to his career as Australia's coach by creating a new opening partnership and promptly watching the pair in question put on a stand of 170.

Chris Rogers' recall to the test squad at the age of 35 - after one unsuccessful match in 2008 - has been widely regarded as a demonstration of Australia's lack of young batting talent. But most sides pick horses for courses from time to time and it is his opening partner, Shane Watson, who is arguably the opener under most pressure in the coming series.

His talent is clearly considerable but injuries and other assorted vagaries have meant he has played only 41 tests since his debut in 2005 and has filled every batting spot from 1 to 7.  He has performed best as an opener but until Lehman's intervention had decided that a berth at around number 4 was preferable.  Sixty wickets at 30ish are statistical evidence of his all-round prowess too.

Yet despite being a more or less automatic pick when fit, Watson's potential remains largely unfulfilled.  He lacks the sureness and implacability of a Kallis and has yet to discover the match-changing dynamism of Andrew Flintoff, to whom he was often compared earlier in his career. Regular sixties and seventies do not regularly win matches. With still only two test centuries to his name, Watson needs to deliver in the Ashes.

 

Never trust the warm-up results

The last time such an unfancied Australia graced these shores, in 1989, Worcestershire gave them a beating in a low-scoring game.

Worcestershire were county champions at the time and an attack led by Neal Radford, Phil Newport and Ian Botham bundled out the tourists for just over a hundred.  Although they did better the second time round, the home side won by three wickets after some Botham biffs.

Naturally, that game only goes to show how little store can be set by warm-up performances, as Australia went on to dish out a thoroughly unexpected thrashing in the Ashes. But what remains most remarkable about the match against Worcestershire is that it was just one of twenty-six tour games played by the Australians, not including tests and one day internationals.

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