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Stewart v Warne: a duel to savour

By Ian Chappell

Sunday 1 June 1997


ANY England player hoping to combat Australia's attack had better be able to handle accurate wrist spin and the steeply rising de- livery.

The reason is simple - Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are the backbone of the Australian attack. Through a combination of time and the aging process, Warne isn't quite the bowler of 1993, but he is still the smartest leg-spinner in the game and a big-hearted competitor. A good example of how any underestimation of Warne can prove fatal was the dismissal of Alec Stewart at the Oval in the second one-day international.

Stewart was playing Warne beautifully, using his feet to combat the spin and forcing him through the on side like no Englishman has done before. Warne served up another offering around middle and leg and the fleet-footed Englishman, spying an opportunity to score through the on side again, advanced and drove.

He found himself driving at fresh air because what Warne had delivered was a top-spinner, a subtle variation on the leg-break which goes straight on, while Stewart was playing for turn. Bingo, an abrupt end for yet another potential Warne-slayer.

Despite that setback, Stewart shouldn't divorce himself from the aggressive approach. The only way to dominate Warne is to score off him regularly, forcing him to change his line of attack and field placings. Stewart is one of the few Englishmen equipped to tackle Warne head on and the contest between these two promises to be an absorbing and pivotal one throughout the summer. The victor will greatly enhance his team's chances of victory.

While it helps to be a good front-foot player when facing Warne, a batsman must be able to score off the back foot to prosper against McGrath. Glenn likes to soften up his opponents before putting them out of their misery. He first aims a number of steeply rising deliveries at the ribcage, then follows that with some of an impeccable length that move off the seam. If a batsman can't score off the back foot against McGrath he finds himself having to drive awkward-length deliveries moving off the seam.

In South Africa, McGrath was well supported by Jason Gillespie. Built like McGrath, Gillespie generates good pace and bounce and he learns quickly. Now he needs to make another adjustment and bowl a fuller length in England if he wants to repeat his South African suc- cess.

Paul Reiffel was surely rejected by the selectors after Gillespie's good showing in South Africa. On reflection, they may have been guilty of overconfidence as Reiffel's proficiency would have been in- valuable in a pace attack otherwise inexperienced under English condi- tions. That is not to say it was a mistake to bring Michael Kasprow- icz, but rather to omit Reiffel.

Kasprowicz is a good bowler when his outswinger works. When it doesn't swing he provides a lot of easy pickings for good onside players, i.e. any Test batsman worth his place. So far Kasprowicz has been desperately unlucky, with the ball beating the outside edge a lot for no reward. He's either one of those perennially unlucky bowlers or else England should look out, for his fortunes may be about to change.

The injured Andrew Bichel will be vying with Kasprowicz for the third seamer's spot. They are similar types, swinging the ball out at a lively pace. Last season Bichel leapfrogged Kasprowicz in the race for selection, now he finds himself trailing again, though he is ahead of Brendon Julian, whose inconsistency will count against him.

The spin department is totally reliant on Warne's physical well-being. Michael Bevan has to play as a batsman (in the top six) and his left-arm chinaman deliveries can then be regarded as an added bonus. So far Bevan has relied heavily on pace off the pitch and bounce to ambush his victims, qualities that are rare in England. Both Mark and Steve Waugh will be on light bowling duties this tour because of nagging injuries.

There is no doubt this Australian bowling line-up has potential, but a couple of the young pace bowlers will be expected to perform at Test level while still sporting L-plates. Consequently, the attack will rely heavily on Warne and McGrath, which befits two bowlers with 359 Test wickets between them, while their fellow front-line bowlers have accrued only 57.


Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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