‘Once-in-a-generation’ Mitchell Swepson backed to thrive in Test arena

'Once-in-a-generation' Mitchell Swepson backed to thrive in Test arena
Legspinner Mitchell Swepson was left “frustrated” by his challenging introduction to Test cricket in Pakistan but is being backed to play a key on Australia’s next tour to Sri Lanka in the middle of the year.

Swepson, who was the first specialist legspinner to make his Test debut for Australia’s men’s team since 2009, managed just two wickets in his two outings, both in his first innings. He sent down 53.4 barren overs in the second innings of the Karachi Test as Australia were denied victory across the last two days.

However, he had a number of opportunities missed off his bowling – including three of varying difficulty in the space of seven balls in Karachi – and is a strong chance to again partner Nathan Lyon in the two Tests in Galle which start at the end of June having been awarded his first central contract.
“For Mitch he’s got the fundamentals,” Usman Khawaja, who captains him at state level, said. “He’s got a beautiful legspinner, [he’s] a modern-day leggie, bowls a bit faster which is really important in those conditions. His accuracy is as good as I’ve ever seen for any leggie I’ve played with or against. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of legspinner so I’m sure he’ll figure it out [and] the more he’ll play, the better he’ll get.

“I do believe Mitch Swepson has a big career in international cricket just from seeing him day-in, day-out at Queensland standing at first slip, I know what a class bowler he is. Sometimes these things take a little bit of time, he was really unlucky in Pakistan, had a lot of chances that went down, a few 50-50 calls that went against him, and if that goes the other way that could just open the floodgates. I think he’s very close to something really special.”

The pitches in Pakistan were not hugely favourable for the spinners with only Lyon, in the final innings of the series, producing a decisive performance with 5 for 83 as reverse-swing made more of an impact. Spinners averaged 65.41 across the three matches while the quicks took their wickets at 36.57.

National selector George Bailey believes Swepson will have benefited significantly from his length stints at the bowling crease even if wickets proved hard to come by.

“[It was] just a great challenge for Swep to see what that step up was like and to have the opportunity to pump a huge amount of overs and get that challenge of what it’s like to try and work top-order batsmen out,” he said. “Knowing Swep and chatting to him post it, he sets pretty high standards for himself. And I think given the impact he’s had with Queensland over the last couple of years when he gets an opportunity to bowl that much he expects to impact the result.

“So I know there was times he was a little frustrated that he wasn’t able to impact on the scoreboard from a wickets perspective but his ability to keep challenging and learn about what it’s like coming around the wicket, over the wicket, different fields to be able to set, how to try and break through against those world-class batters was fantastic. He’ll only get better at it. There’s no other opportunity that you can provide that can fast-track that learning than what he’s just had.”

There is a possibility Australia may consider three spinners during the Test series in Sri Lanka which would bring Ashton Agar back into the frame although the development of Cameron Green now allows them to field a balanced attack in a variety of conditions. They lost 3-0 on their 2016 visit, despite Mitchell Starc’s haul of 24 wickets at 15.16, having won 1-0 in 2011.

“Think the wickets will be slightly more sporting, especially with two matches in Galle, [they are] traditionally very spin-friendly wickets right from the first session,” Khawaja said. “Will be another challenge for us. Our record on the subcontinent over the last ten years hasn’t been great – winning in Pakistan was our first victory for a long time – but we’ve got a very well-balanced team.

“I’ve been around Australian cricket a long time, I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t believe it, think we’ve got one of the most balanced teams we have especially when we talk about playing spin in the subcontinent. This is one of the better teams we’ve had for those conditions.”

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