Shane Warne: Icon. Legend. Showstopper. Doyen of spinners.
He is one of the most iconic cricketers ever to come out of Australia. The bleach-blond beach-bum look that burst onto the scene from the 1992 tour of Sri Lanka onwards, after a dismal start in India, took the world by storm.
Yet could it be that Shane Warne set the bar far too high for his successors to ever emerge from his lengthy shadow?
The amazing delivery that befuddled Mike Gatting presaged 15 years of dominance from Warne, a career that ultimately ended with more than 1,000 International wickets and with Warne being named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Century.
But since Warne’s retirement from Test cricket, things have not been particularly rosy in the Australian spin department.
Stuart MacGill, whose career most unluckily coincided with Warne’s, was seen as the immediate successor, but he was struck down by a wrist injury that led to his retirement in 2008. MacGill indicated that Beau Casson would be the ideal replacement for him, but one match in the West Indies was followed by immediately being dropped for the subsequent tour of India.
On that tour, Jason Krejza seemed to take his opportunity to cement his place in the side by picking up 12 wickets on his debut in a losing effort at Nagpur, after failing to impress earlier in the tour, but the subsequent visit of New Zealand saw the Australians revert to an all-pace attack, and an ankle injury kept Krejza out of the second of those Tests, where he was replaced by Nathan Hauritz.
Although he started the next series against South Africa at Perth, Hauritz replaced him again after the first test and went on to be reasonably successful as a role player in five subsequent series, accumulating 63 wickets at a touch under 35.
For some reason though, Hauritz was suddenly dropped for the 2010/11 Ashes Series in favour of left-armer Xavier Doherty. Had Australia’s selectors given in to the temptation to test out Kevin Pietersen’s apparent weakness against this type of bowling, or was it a reflection of a lack of faith in Hauritz to be the match-winner that Australia were accustomed to have in their spinner?
Either way, Doherty lasted just two Tests, picking up three wickets, before being replaced by relative unknown Michael Beer after a brief flirtation again with an all-seam attack. Beer wasn’t any more successful, making only the one Test appearance to date.
In the buildup to the 2011 World Cup, there were further questions about who would end up being Australia’s spinner, though for the ODI form of the game there is less concern, with Cameron White able to pick up some of the slack. Peter English’s preview of the squad selection indicated that Hauritz and Doherty were the most likely candidates, but with both men ultimately unavailable due to injury, the question was reopened.
The final squad included a return to Krejza, as well as the all-rounders White and Steve Smith, and the pressure has been put on Krejza to repeat his heroics from the Indian tour on his return to the side. Whether that’s a reasonable attitude to take is questionable, given the lack of faith shown in him previously.
Who should be Australia's first choice spinner, now that Warne has retired?
Will the selectors stick with Krejza, whether or not other options are available, once the World Cup is over? Who eventually gets the call for the next Test series against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka later in the year is still very much up in the air.
Hauritz, particularly, seems to have been given a rough time. This might be due to the perception of a need for a more attacking spinner in the side, but his record is reasonable when he has been given the opportunity.
In some ways, Hauritz has become Warne’s final victim—the expectations that Warne created in Australian cricket are clearly excessive, and anyone who had to follow him would have failed to reach the same level of expectation unless they were another world-beater.
Whatever the selectors come up with, they need to show a little more consistency in selection and faith in the players they have chosen. The recent Ashes series showed up a number of panic-ridden changes to the team, not just in the spin-bowling choices. Stephen Lynch profiled the 11 successors to Warne, and it goes to show how far they have fallen from the standards of the Great One.
Shane Warne may well have led Australian cricket’s greatest era and been one of Australia’s greatest cricketers, but his legacy might well be the failure of his successors, just as much as his own success.