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Who sits alongside Warnie as Australia’s best ever Test spinners?


Historically, Australia’s Test cricket spin bowling production line has been about quality, not quantity.

There aren’t a tonne, but those who have made their mark have done so with a bang.

Is it any surprise that the land which produced Dennis Lillee, Mitchell Johnson and Glenn McGrath, where pitches are as dry and arid as the climate, can also be a spin bowling nursery? Aside from a select few, many of the men tasked within spinning the ball for Australia’s Test outfit are largely forgettable, resigned to being a historical afterthought.

Compiling a list of Australia’s greatest ever fast bowlers requires thousands and thousands of words and hours of time we simply do not have. Piecing together the five greatest spinners to don the ‘baggy green’ is a less arduous job.

Naturally, Shane Warne is an obvious number one pick; placing the king anywhere else would be a heinous crime worthy of having your citizenship revoked.

Who features alongside the ‘King of Spin’? Here are our five greatest ever Australian test spinners.

Warnie, Test, cricket, spinners
Australia’s finest ever athlete? Shane Warne is crickets greatest bowler

Australia’s greatest ever Test cricket spin bowlers

Honourable mention

The beloved Kerry O’Keeffe unfortunately just misses out. If this was Australia’s funniest spin bowlers, he’d be a shoe-in for top spot.

So let’s get to the top five.

#5 – Clarrie Grimmett

Games: 37

Wickets: 216

Average: 24.21

Between World War One and World War Two, no international spinner was more feared than Clarrie Grimmett. The leggie was the first man to claim 200 Test wickets, with his final tally of 216 placing him 16th in Australia’s all-time standings. 

By all reports, Grimmett was a bowler of great variety, capable of taking over a game, with his ability to contort the ball’s trajectory at will. In modern cricket, leg spin is a rare, difficult to execute art. One can only imagine the conditions Grimmett had to bowl through during his 11-year career.

#4 – Richie Benaud

Games: 63

Wickets: 248

Average: 27.03 

Before he became the voice of cricket, and consequently Australia’s voice of summer, Richie Benaud was one of world cricket’s finest and one of very few trusted with being Australia’s Test cricket captain.

Richie is a part of two illustrious clubs; in 1963, he became the first player to record 2,000 runs and 200 wickets and subsequently one of just five Australian leg spin bowlers to take at least 200 Test wickets. He retired claiming 248 victims at an average of 27.03.

Perhaps it is testament to Richie as a person, and commentator, that his on-air persona is remembered more than his cricket. If anything, such a fact has robbed younger audiences of accurately remembering he’s one of Australia’s greatest ever spinners.

#3 Stuart MacGill

Games: 44

Wickets: 208

Average: 29.02

Stuart MacGill’s career is one of beautiful tragedy. Representing your nation once is an honour, to do so 44 times is a testament to immense skill. For MacGill, it represents his immense willpower to keep aiming for the top, despite very evidently being viewed as Australia’s second-string spin option.

An alternate universe exists somewhere far, far away, where MacGill is unequivocally Australia’s greatest ever spin bowler, unrivalled in his accolades and renowned the world over for his technical efficacy. But, born too early, or too late, for this to happen, he spent much of his career stuck behind Shane Warne.

In 2003, with Warnie serving a 12-month ban, MacGill stepped up and took 57 wickets, two shy of that year’s leading wicket-taker, South Africa’s Makhaya Ntini.

One can only sit back and imagine what a Warne-less MacGill’s retirement figures would look like.

#2 Nathan Lyon

Games: 122*

Wickets: 496*

Average: 31*

“Niiiiiiice Gary.” If Matthew Wade’s career will be remembered for anything, it’s that famous cry which has taken on a life of its own. Gaz, the man formerly known as Nathan Lyon, is Australia’s finest ever exponent of the art of off spin.

Australian cricket throughout the mid-to-late 2010s and early 2020s has been a rollercoaster of roaring success, crashing failure, and heartbreaking controversy. Remaining consistent throughout the chaos was, and still is, Nathan Lyon, plugging away at his craft with minimal fuss, collecting wickets, limiting runs, building pressure, and most notably, enjoying the ride.

A former groundskeeper, who looks about as unassuming as an Australian man could, Gaz was called into the Test side with just six first class games under his belt. In his first ball under the bright lights, and with nearly a decade of spinning malfunction preceding him, he dismissed Kumar Sangakkara. Does it get much better?

Well, 122 games and 495 wickets later, only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have more. It did, in fact, get a lot better.

A fully fit Nathan Lyon is arguably Australia’s most important bowler. His ability to singlehandedly tie down an end allows Pat Cummins to effectively rotate his fast bowlers, meaning even when Gaz isn’t taking wickets, he’s still influencing matches.

Just how much longer we get to witness Nathan Lyon casually ambling into the bowl remains to be seen. So every ball, over, and wicket, must be savoured as if it’s his last.

Todd Murphy means the search for Gaz’s replacement mightn’t be as extensive and fruitless as finding Warnie’s, but when the time comes for the curtain to fall on Nathan Lyon’s remarkable career, Australian cricket will be worse off for it.

#1 Shane Warne

Games: 145

Wickets: 708

Average: 25.41

You’re a fool if you thought anyone other than Shane Warne would top this list. He is not just Australia’s greatest ever spin bowler, he’s cricket’s greatest ever bowler. One isn’t awarded the title of the ‘King of Spin’ if one isn’t just that.

Admittedly not the greatest cricketer in his junior years, Shane Keith Warne worked tirelessly to improve his game until he had enough variations in his arsenal to bowl an entire spell. He struggled to cement himself as a Test cricket mainstay in his formative years, taking 1/150 on debut against India.

That was until a life-changing, earth-shattering Ashes tour of England in 1993. With his first ball of the series, Warne dismissed Mike Gatting with what was later dubbed the ‘Ball of the Century.’

A delivery so good it left his hand in Old Trafford, drifted briefly into Bolton, before scything in front of a helpless Gatting and into his off stump. It became the defining moment of Warnie’s inconceivably immense career, a feat indicative of the divine skill concealed within.

Warnie was in a league of his own. So much so that, in 2000, Wisden voted him as one of the five greatest players of the century alongside Don Bradman, Garfield Sobers, Jack Hobbs, and Viv Richards. Of that cohort, he was the only active player.

shane warne, spin bowlers, test cricket

What endeared Warnie to most fans, and even made his feats more remarkable, is that strip all the fame and accolades away, he was an everyday bloke, with a semi-bulging gut, frosted tips, and an unparalleled love for Toobs, who just happened to be great at spinning a cricket ball.

Undoubtedly one of sport’s greatest mavericks, with off-field escapades rivalling the on-field feats, the world of cricket is weaker without Warnie’s presence. A competitive wizard yes, but most importantly a loveable larrikin.

Picture of Kyle Robbins
Kyle Robbins
Kyle is a senior sports writer and producer at Only Sports who lives and breathes sport, with a particular burning passion for everything soccer, rugby league, and cricket. You’ll most commonly find him getting overly hopeful about the Bulldogs and Chelsea’s prospects. Find Kyle on LinkedIn.

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