Cricket: Spin thin on ground but where to look

By David Leggat

Bruce Martin. Photo / Getty Images
Bruce Martin. Photo / Getty Images

Bruce Martin not the answer; Dan Vettori coming towards the end of a long and winding road; Jeetan Patel a busted flush.

So where is New Zealand's next long-term test spinner coming from?

Forget limited-overs. Any number of capable tweakers can get through 10 - or four, if we're talking T20 - overs relatively unscathed. But in the test game there's no hiding place, and age doesn't really come into it.

Last season's Plunket Shield had no shortage of spinners. The range of ages and experience levels were wide.

The most successful were Auckland's Martin (fifth with 32 wickets at 40.4), Central Districts' Tarun Nethula (ninth, 22 at 36.9) and Northern Districts' Ish Sodhi (15th, 20 at 44.8). That trio also covers the age range, in descending order 33, 30 and 20.

Pitch conditions generally don't help spin bowlers. If they're not full of runs, they tend to be more seam-friendly than receptive to the slow men.

So when New Zealand batsmen come up against a top quality operator, most recently England offspinner Graeme Swann, they have little hope of prospering.

Criticism of New Zealand not having another warmup game or two before the two tests is missing the point.

That wouldn't have made a jot of difference in green, seaming English early-season conditions.

Former test spinner Paul Wiseman is employed to oversee the development of spinners. National selection manager Kim Littlejohn acknowledged there are furrowed brows at a high level.

"Yes there is a gap and yes we are concerned," he said yesterday. "There are some young spinners coming through the system but they are a long way off.

"If you look at someone like Ish Sodhi he needs time to develop. He's basically just out of school so we think it's not very wise for us to throw him in the deep end. We are looking at a few options.

"We will look to take spinners we think have got promise on the A tour to India and Sri Lanka."

The most effective spinner at test level is Kane Williamson. He is a kingpin in the batting lineup at No 3. Offspin is a sidebar activity for him but may have to be ramped up in the near future.

The point is if Williamson's batting is to flower in the years ahead he doesn't need to be saddled with a premier spin role. Twelve overs an innings? Fine. Thirty? No.

At present, New Zealand are betwixt and between, waiting for the best of the new bunch to sprout up, relying, with fingers crossed, on the old guard for now.

Spinners: A wide test frame

Todd Astle (Canterbury): One-test legspinner, then disappeared. Poor Plunket Shield season, which hasn't helped his cause.

Nick Beard (Otago): Otago left armer, 23, more often used in limited-overs games.
Jono Boult (ND): Off-spinning older brother of swingman Trent. Has 32 wickets from 13 games at 39 runs apiece. Handy bat.

Ronnie Hira (Canterbury): Handy T20 operator, not seen in first-class terms.
Tim Johnston (Canterbury): Former national under 19 representative. Early days.

Bruce Martin (Auckland): Veteran left-armer who got his chance this year, in his 14th first-class season. Encouraging start but flunked his Eden Park test. May get another chance in Bangladesh but not the long-term solution.

Nathan McCullum (Otago): Experienced limited-overs offspinner. Could do a job but others ahead of him.

Tarun Nethula (Central Districts): Tried in 2012 against South Africa and West Indies. Five expensive ODI wickets.

Ajaz Patel (CD): Took 15 wickets at 32 in his four first-class games last season. A 24-year-old worth keeping an eye on.

Jeetan Patel (Wellington): This would be a pace back.

Bhupinder Singh (Auckland): A 26-year-old offie who has taken 46 wickets in 18 games at 39 apiece. Seen more as a limited-overs operator.

Ish Sodhi (Northern Districts): Rising 20-year-old legspinner who's had good raps.

Luke Woodcock (Wellington): Veteran left-armer with 108 wickets in 94 first-class games at 44.

Kane Williamson (ND): The curly one. At present probably New Zealand's most effective spinner, but he's also the key No 3 batsman. Has taken 20 wickets at 32 in 25 tests. Far from the ideal answer, as he's got other matters on his plate.

- NZ Herald

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