|Snoop Doggy Nott my favourite...|
As both a legspin fetishist and amateur practitioner, I would more likely pick Snoop Doggy Dogg as my favourite cricketer than a batsman or seamer and to me MacGill represents the leggie's leggie and my personal favorite.
Warne was too freakishly accurate to be considered a 'real' leg spinner, real ones dish up at least one four-ball every few overs. And he didn't even have a googly to speak of, relying instead on straight balls to surprise Ian Bell. Anil Kumble …don't get me started on him, he barely even spun it.
No, MacGill is the leggie for me because he had all the traits of the club leg spinner - huge booze collection, poor fielder, genuine number 11 and ability to bowl one long hop every eight balls. He was a club pie-chucker given super powers after drinking a radioactive vintage bottle of Barossa Valley Shiraz. I swear there is a video of him on YouTube spinning a ball from square leg to point while glowing luminous green.
He bowled the old fashioned leg spin style I love: tossing the ball up, moving the batsman across the crease toward the on side opening him up - then bang! A googly, or if he thought it was expected, a big side-spun legbreak which often got slapped to cover point. Effective or not, this attacking style gives captains or selectors palpitations.
I like him as much for his unconformity and outsider status as his brilliant wrong ’un and massive-turning leg break. He never really fit the mold of an Aussie cricketer. A brooding, intense figure, he once fell out with the entire county of Devon while playing English minor counties cricket because they dared play for 'fun'. He was banned several times for discipline, read 24 novels on a tour of Pakistan barely speaking to team mates and famously has 3000 bottles wine in his cellar.
It is of course impossible to even consider MacGill without the shadow of Warne, toasted cheese sandwich in hand, looming over him. But try if you can.
Close your eyes and imagine a world where Shane Keith Warne (MacGill's middle names are Charles Glyndwr) hadn't been born. A cricketing “It's a Wonderful Life” where Mike Gatting was remembered as a decent player of spin and Daryl Cullinan as the tenth best South African batsman to play Tests. In this fantasy world, Stuart MacGill takes 650 wickets and is remembered alongside Benauld, Grimmett and O'Reilly as one of Australia's greatest leggies.
No really, he would have been. MacGill has a Test strike rate of 54, astonishing for a slow bowler and in fact the best in modern cricket. The myth that he was inaccurate and expensive are of course overstated - a Test economy rate of 3.2 is hardly cannon fodder.
|Image courtesy: cricket.com.au|
Even in his latest incarnation as a fortysomething Twenty20 gun-for-hire, he has reminded us of that skill. Even turning up rusty, in a batsman-friendly format bowling against teams containing slogger extraordinaires he has held his own, bamboozling the young ‘uns with his wrong ‘uns and going at 6 and half an over.
So all raise a glass of something complex to Stuart MacGill, an old fashioned leg spinner who refused to fit in. While limited opportunities meant he never became what he could have been, he still notched up performances and a record that most of Aussie spinners can’t hope to match.
Kristian runs the excellent blog "The Wrong 'Un" and tweets at @iamthewrongun. We highly recommend you take a look at both.