Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Maverick MacGill well worth saluting

Stuart MacGill's retirement, announced during a rain break midway through a Test series, was typically enigmatic, rather like that of his team-mate Damien Martyn. Throughout his career, he has been elusive and impossible to pin down. Most emphatically, he has been his own man. In an era when international cricketers - particularly of the Australian brand - have been increasingly identikit, single-minded and fitness-obsessed individuals who give each other depressingly banal nicknames like 'Mr Cricket' MacGill has been something else entirely. A man with interests extending far beyond the realm of cricket, he famously read over 20 novels on a tour of Pakistan - and was the only man who objected to touring Zimbabwe on moral grounds. He attracted labels such as 'difficult' - clearly his face didn't always fit, which is only to his great credit.

These attributes were all in display in his cricket. Essentially, he was an old-fashioned one-dimensional cricketer, a poor fielder and a batsman who could occasionally slog a few but could never be relied upon to play within himself in a disciplined manner, as Glenn McGrath did so impressively in improving his batting. With the ball, he was invariably unpredictable. At his best there were few, even Mr Warne, who were better. Sometimes, however, the long-hops and full tosses would be just too many, as when India's batsmen tore into him during 2003/04, when Warne was banned.

Overall though he has much to be proud of - taking over 200 wickets at 29 in an era of bigger bats and smaller boundaries, for one. If anything, he gave the ball even more of a rip that Warne, spinning it prodigiously and possessing a googly to rank with the very best. He has a strike-rate higher even than that of Warne. Always he has been captivating to watch, a high-class attacking leg-spinner who keeps slips and boundary fielders alike active.

MacGill consistently outbowled Warne when playing alongside him, indicative of his great dangerousness when wickets offered assistance. And yet, for all of that, there is the mystifying statistic that he averaged nine runs more in the fourth innings of a Test than in the first, perhaps illustrating that, like so many spinners, he found things difficult when expected to deliver the decisive blows. Enigmatic to the end - that is what MacGill has been, and he should be celebrated as such.

And, rather than ponder how many wickets he would have snared had Warne never turned to cricket, it would be wiser to recognise that Warne's success helped him get his chance; and MacGill's frequent match-winning performances, happily, reaffirmed the significance of leg-spin in the game. MacGill's propensity for true brilliance, as perhaps best illustrated by a match-winning nine-wicket haul on a flat Barbados track in 2003, deserve to be celebrated in their own right.

What now for Australia's spin bowling?

1 comment:

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