YESTERDAY, for the first time in his first-class cricket career, Nathan Hauritz, an alleged off-spinner from New South Wales who is in the Australian team, took five wickets in an innings.
I use the word alleged because I was used to be able to turn the ball more when I was a kid than Hauritz can.
Which begs the question: is Australia, a leading cricket nation, so short of spinning talent? Was he the best candidate among the myriad spinners in the country?
Or does the fact that he is from New South Wales count more than any ability?
The five wickets he took yesterday were mostly flukes. The only wicket in which he had some kind of role was that of the Pakistan skipper Mohammad Yousuf, the only real Test-class player in the current Pakistan team.
Yousuf played forward and spooned a catch to Simon Katich at silly point. The ball bounced on him unexpectedly. But even in this case there was a mitigating factor – the end of the innings was nigh and Yousuf was well aware that with eight wickets down, and 172 runs to get, Pakistan had no hope in hell of winning.
There were nearly two full sessions of play left so a draw was out of the question as well. Hence, Yousuf was unlikely to have been concentrating as much as he normally does.
A good off-spinner normally gets the ball to spin from outside the off-stump into off and middle; Hauritz bowled Faisal Iqbal on day four with a ball that turned a good deal. But the extent to which this was a fluke was apparent thereafter for Hauritz never managed to repeat this kind of delivery in the innings.
And Hauritz got this wicket when he had not even bowled 10 overs. He bowled 24 in all. Iqbal fell at 116 and Pakistan scored a total of 250. He had plenty of time to do a repeat.
This raises questions about Hauritz’s accuracy; he saw where the ball pitched when he got that degree of turn and could never land a ball in the same patch again.
For many years, Australia never needed to think about a spin bowler as Shane Warne was around. When Warne wasn’t fit (or was suspended), Stuart MacGill was there and he could turn the ball even on glass.
Warne retired in 2007 and MacGill followed soon thereafter, necessitating a search by the selectors.
There are plenty of good spinners in the country and the selectors picked an able man, Jason Krezja, and sent him to India last year. Bear in mind, that even Warne has not fared well in that country – his wickets have cost him more than 50 runs apiece and many Indian batsmen have hammered the hell out of him.
Krezja’s first effort was a return of 8 for 215; he attacked the batsmen, copped a bit of stick from the Indians (who are, without doubt, the world’s best players of spin) but still got wickets.
He was promptly dropped. The innocuous Hauritz was brought in. The only factor in his favour was that he is from NSW which dominates Australian cricket.
Hauritz rarely gets the ball to turn. He rarely gives the ball any air. He is, in many ways, incompetent at his trade. And yet he plays Test after Test, though he has never put in a match-winning performance.
Even the five-wicket haul against Pakistan was not a match-winning performance. It was pure chance. What he deserved was probably two wickets.
The match-winning deliveries came from Mitchell Johnson; two gems just outside the off-stump which brought him two wickets in successive balls, though one of them was a bump catch claimed (and given) by Brad Haddin. (With this, the Australian wicketkeeper added one more to his list of dubious appeals).
One more point to note is that ever since the Pakistan offie Saqlain Mushtaq developed a ball which could spin the other way (and named it “doosra” which in Urdu means “the second one”), every off-spinner of any standing has managed to bowl a similar ball.
Hauritz is still unable to bowl this ball – which would be the leg-spinner’s regulation delivery. And he is 28.
And remember this was his 11th Test. He has played against India, England, Pakistan, the West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. He has bowled in India, England and Australia.
And yet no five-wicket haul. Krezja was dropped after taking 13 wickets in two Tests. Hauritz, with 41 in 11 Tests, including those five, is now the Australian spin bowler. It’s highly unlikely that Australia will play two spinners as long as Ricky Ponting is captain.
But the myth has been created, the myth that Hauritz is a “match-winner”. This will make it even more difficult for anyone else to get a look in. He has managed 10 Tests without looking like a decent bowler until luck smiled on him.
And I’m willing to bet that it will be at least 20 more Tests before people realise that he is a mug. Bear in mind that this is a country which has produced the likes of Ashley Mallett, John Gleeson, Richie Benaud, Warne, MacGill, Tim May, Terry Jenner and the occasionals like Bob Holland, to name just a few.
Warne has just identified a youngster named Steven Smith whom he rates as capable. And that’s praise from the very best in the trade. Smith is from NSW too but Warne’s blessing means that he has some talent.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Much like the case of Haddin. It’s the NSW factor. Something like the Bermuda Triangle.