Sport

As the Queensland Bulls vie for the Sheffield Shield, Mitchell Swepson talks about growing up watching Warnie and the finesse of leg-spin. By Richard Cooke.
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Spinning gold: Mitchell Swepson, 24, cricketer

Twenty20 cricket’s taking off, and the leg-spinners are doing so well in that format of the game. I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of young leg-spinners who are able to turn the ball both ways coming through the domestic scene, and also on the international scene.

I grew up watching Shane Warne go to town on international teams. He influenced my bowling – it looked like a lot of fun. Leg-spin is a frustrating art at times, and Shane was obviously the best at it. He’s the benchmark. But I think it’s best if you can just try to improve yourself every day, rather than trying to get
to where he was. It’s almost unreachable.

I had a quick chat with Shane during the Indian Test tour. He was there commentating at the Pune Test, so I spoke with him for 10 or 15 minutes. He did most of the talking: I could tell that he absolutely still loves leg-spin bowling and can talk about it all day. He spoke a lot about the mental side of it, and body language and bluffing batsmen and things like that, which is something that most coaches don’t really talk to you about. Most coaches are more technical, so it was a great insight.

Not playing on that tour of India was absolutely not a problem for me. It was just a massive surprise that I got the call. I wasn’t really expecting it. I took the opportunity I could to bond with the guys that were in the squad, the coaching staff too, and just pick up so many things while I was bowling in the nets, and even sitting down watching a game. It was very lucky that I was there, and I’m very grateful I got that opportunity.

The toughest thing with leg-spin is to be able to stick with it. Just accept the fact that you are going to have bad days, but when the good days come there’s nothing more rewarding. Sometimes, the ball just isn’t coming out of the hand well enough, and as much as you approach it technically, and think, “I’m doing this wrong, I’m doing that wrong”, it’s such a finesse thing, that it doesn’t really work. It’s something that can frustrate the hell out of you, because you put in so much hard work, and it just doesn’t work out sometimes.

The wickets in Australia are really batter friendly. This back half of the Shield season we’ve used Dukes balls, which swing around corners, so the quicks are getting something there, but the poor old spinners aren’t really getting much out of it. You have to find other ways, and pull out other tricks. I just never have the ball in my hand, because the fast bowlers are doing so well with the ball swinging around.

This Bulls team have been together now for a good two or three seasons. It’s now starting to pay off. I think our average age in the team is sort of 24, 25, so we’re a fairly young team. Just knowing each other’s game has been really helpful for us and we’ve been lucky enough to have some top players – like Matt Renshaw – play for us the whole time.

The Big Bash has taken the fan base of domestic one-dayers away. I do think that it’s starting to become Tests or Twenty20, and that middle format is getting a bit lost there. But I don’t think it will ever stop. I think it’s too good a game, and it’s got so much history there that it should ever stop being played. But I think T20 cricket and Test cricket are sort of at the forefront for most of the fans, and most of the players if I’m honest.

I was probably lucky that I never got labelled as the “next big thing”. I was given great opportunities by my state. Coming up through the junior system and playing representative cricket for both my region and then my state was a big deal for me. I did put pressure on myself a lot, but I don’t think the pressure really came from other people.

Most leg-spinners are the same – they’ll put a lot of pressure on themselves. Young spinners coming through out of the Queensland system, you see them put so much pressure on themselves to perform and do well. I think you have to remember that spin bowling is sort of like fine wine – you just have to put in that extra time and it sort of gets better with age. Look at Nathan Lyon [who is 30] now, he’s now bowling the best he’s ever bowled in his life. It’s almost an obsession in a way.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: Sheffield Shield final, day 2 – Queensland Bulls v Tasmanian Tigers

Saturday, 10am (AEST), Allan Border Field, Brisbane

Horseracing: Golden Slipper Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.15pm (AEDT), Rosehill Gardens, Sydney

• AFLW: Grand final – Western Bulldogs v Brisbane Lions

Saturday, 12.35pm (AEDT), Ikon Park, Melbourne

• AFL: Hawthorn v Collingwood

Saturday, 7.25pm (AEDT), Melbourne Cricket Ground

Motorsport: F1 Australian Grand Prix

Sunday, 4.10pm (AEDT), Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne

Soccer: Australia v Colombia

Wednesday, 6am (AEDT), Craven Cottage, London

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 24, 2018 as "Spinning gold". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

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