The search for the new Shane Warne (Steven Smith, Cameron White) and the new Glenn McGrath (Stuart Clark, Steve Magoffin, Peter George, Josh Hazelwood, Jackson Bird, Trent Copeland) is a recent development. These are merely fads – a modern world looking for quick fixes.
Generation after generation, Australia have been trying to clone another kind of player. A Royal Australian World War II fighter pilot, full back for Victoria, the best thing to ever come out of the suburb Sunshine and Michael Parkinson’s first man crush, Keith Miller.
Australian cricket has never quite found a player since who can bat top order and be a consistent wicket-taking bowler. Not Ricky Ponting bowling, not even Mark Waugh bowling, but a constant bowler who can take two to three wickets a Test, bowl proper spells, while giving them balance, variety and insurance.
Bowlers who can bat a bit have always been around for Australia, and they ruined the art of wicketkeepers who are batsmen. But a batsman who can bowl, really bowl, that is a mostly mythical creature. The cricket gods don’t bowl down many players that can average over 35 with the bat in the top six, and fewer than 35 with the ball while averaging something near two wickets a match.
In recent times, Australia had Steve Waugh, who was handy in good conditions, had a decent bowling average, but took fewer than 100 Test wickets due to many reasons. Michael Bevan tried for a moment, and even had a batting average higher than his bowling average. But his batting average of 29 and the fact he never really wanted to bowl ended with him leaving cricket.
Then there was Shane Watson. A teenage top-order player who could bowl at 145ks. The Australian selectors did well not to pick him at 15. Big things were hoped of Watson, but all those hopes on his broad frame seemed to collapse repeatedly. Currently he is not bowling, but soon he may be bowling again, before an injury that forces him from bowling, that will lead to him to wonder if he will ever bowl again, followed by a bowling stint in the IPL. The person who changes his profile from batsman to allrounder is probably the most tired in cricket.
In the mid 2000s Watson’s body was like the Pakistan top order against the new ball, and so the search moved on. Before he had even played for New South Wales, you could hear whispers or just read articles about Moises Henriques. He was, the next Keith Ross Miller. Henriques bowled a decent pace, was smart enough to captain the Australian Under-19 side. And batted top order.
His second first-class game, when he was still a teenager, he took 5 for 17. It wasn’t whispers any more. The New South Wales media could have talked up Henriques at this point if they were discussing the merits of arm guards. Not that it all went well, like many young allrounders Henriques’ early career was odd. Not bowling and batting at four one game, in at eight and bowling 20 overs in an innings the next.
Mostly he was playing limited-overs cricket. Not often starring, but doing enough as a young man with either bat or ball to grab some attention. If you looked at his career as a series of small highlights, you’d think there was a real player there. The talent was there, even if the consistency and big performances often weren’t.
After nine first-class games, he played limited-overs cricket for Australia. He bowled okay, made no impact with the bat, and was sent back to domestic cricket to develop his game.
Now this is the bit in the superstar’s career where he goes back, fixes his game, and gets picked soon after and by the age of 26 he is a fixture of his national team. Henriques went back, and didn’t really improve. In 39 first-class games he’s taken only one more five-wicket haul. And despite his bowling average of 27, he only takes two wickets a game. Which as a batting allrounder is okay, but his batting average in first-class cricket is 30.
Australia ignored him, but New South Wales persevered.
Dan Christian went. John Hastings went. Ed Cowan went. Peter Forrest went. Phil Hughes went. And even Usman Khawaja went. All young New South Welshmen who left for opportunities, new or more, while Henriques didn’t make a first-class hundred for his state.
First class wise, his batting was rooted in the handy half-century. His bowling seemed to lose all venom as he veered into bowling straight medium deliveries that even club cricketers don’t fear. In List A he became a rare wicket-taker who could be fairly economical. As a batsman he barely made a mark at all.
Outside of Australian domestic cricket, Henriques was famous for being the man who gave us Kieron Pollard at the first Champions League. In his last 12 balls, Pollard faced ten from Henriques. One a wide, and one dot ball, but also the three fours and five sixes that took him from 7 off 7 and left him at 54 off 18. Pollard could not have made any more mess from Henriques if he had a chainsaw and some plastic matting.
That was about the time the hype stopped. Anyone who saw that match, or heard about that match, or even saw the face of someone who watched that match knew that Henriques would take some time to recover. Occasionally he would appear in the IPL or county cricket. It was rarely pretty.
Then this year Henriques was being talked about again. This time it wasn’t as an all-round superstar, no one could make that claim anymore. But they could say that despite his record, and an average of eight with five county matches for Glamorgan in 2012, he finally seemed to be coming of age: improving, understanding his game, becoming a player not a potential.
The best way to prove this was to start the Shield season with 161* against Bird, James Faulkner, Luke Butterworth and even Jason Krejza. He backed that up with three more fifties in his next five games. Bowling wise he didn’t do much work, but still took 14 wickets at 18.
It still took luck. Had Shane Watson planned to bowl, Henriques would probably not have been in India. Had Andrew McDonald been fit, Henriques would probably not been in India. Had Steve Smith or Glenn Maxwell bowled well in the warm-up matches, he would not have been in this side.
The man who was once thrust into Australian colours based purely on potential, now had made it on the back of actual performances and luck. Henriques is now no longer seen as a top-six player. But at No. 7 in his first Test match, he batted like one.
R Ashwin had tortured the Australian top order, but Henriques did not look outgunned. He was solid as rock on the back foot, safe as he needed to be on the front, never allowed himself to get bogged down and put away the bad balls when he had to. It had the composure, discipline and authority that few players younger than 30 have brought to the Australian team in these Argus times.
Even with a dirty low down slog-sweep to end the innings, compared to Usman Khawaja’s headline grabbing 37 and Rob Quiney’s composed 9, Henriques’ innings was a proper Test innings. Those innings were in the safety of home conditions, not in the mysterious subcontinent. If Channel Nine still have the cricket rights next year, someone over there might be making a “68 reasons to love Moises Henriques” poster in a few months time.
Who knows if this is just a lucky one-off from a man who has been given a tour by chance, or the making of proper Australian Test player. It is now clear that Henriques is not the special talent that can join the batting allrounder’s Valhalla.
At this point in Australian cricket, hoping for a Keith Miller would be optimistic. However, they will happily accept any assured away performances from a 26-year old in his first Test. That said, if Henriques does take 5 for 12 in the first innings of this match, the title of the new Keith Miller will be a lot closer.