Here it is…
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. And 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 8 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 an old fashioned style of leg spin 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 leg break which often got slapped to cover point. This attacking style has never been popular among captains or selectors though.
I like him as much for his unconformity and outsider status as his brilliant wrong ’un and massive turning leg break. He never really fitted in 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’. Has been banned several times for discipline, read 24 novels on a tour of Pakistan barely speaking to team mates and famously has 3000 bottle 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 as one of Australia’s greatest leggie’s alongside Benauld, Grimmett and O’Reilly. No really, he would have been. MacGill has a test strike rate of 54 which is astonishing for a slow bowler, the best in modern cricket in-fact. The myths that he was inaccurate and expensive are of course overstated – a test economy of 3.2 is hardly cannon fodder.
Even in his latest incarnation, as a forty something twenty 20 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 per over.
So all raise a glass of something complex to Stuart MacGill, an old fashioned leg spinner, who refused to fit in and while limited opportunities meant he never became what he could have been, he still notched up performances and a record that most of the new breed of Aussie spinners can’t hope to match.