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From Krejza to Ashwin: The best Test spinner debuts in the 21st century

Spinner debut
by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

Revisiting some of the best Test debuts from spinners – impressive maiden performances that either formed the foundation of successful careers or turned out to be a bright start to an ordinary end.

Axar Patel’s bumper debut series might be remembered for a long time, but there have been other equally significant early contributions by spinners in the 21st century. Recalling some of the best of spin debuts since 2000:

Jason Krejza

12-358 v India, Nagpur 2008

A debut to remember in a Test career that finished nearly as soon as it began. At Nagpur, Krejza’s off-spin pierced through India’s line-up 12 times, including an eight-for in the first innings that also saw him concede 215 runs. Krejza claimed the wickets of the who’s who of Indian cricket (also comprising of a screamer to dismiss VVS Laxman), but played just one Test thereafter.

Ravichandran Ashwin

9-128 v West Indies, Delhi 2011

By the time he made his Test debut, R Ashwin was already a World Cup winner, but it took little time to realise that the longer format suited his style. On home soil against West Indies, he picked up three wickets, before running through the visitors’ batting order in the second innings with a six-for, which set the platform for India’s win. He ended the series topping the wicket-charts with 22 scalps (as well as scoring a Test hundred).

Akila Dananjaya

8-44 v Bangladesh, Dhaka 2018

His bowling action has been called into question, but there’s no denying Dananjaya had a rousing start to his Test career. In just 15 overs across two innings, he swept through Bangladesh, clearing the middle and lower order to end up with eight wickets. His 5-24 in the second innings is a record for the least runs conceded by a spinner for a debut five-for.

Ajantha Mendis

8-132 v India, Colombo 2008

The Sri Lanka mystery spinner became a hot property in no time when he emerged on the scene, breaking Alec Bedser’s record for the most wickets in a three-Test debut series by a bowler (26 @ 18.38). In his first game itself, Mendis tore into India’s star-studded batting line-up with two four-wicket hauls.

Nauman Ali

7-73 v South Africa, Karachi 2021

The latest member on this list, the left-arm spinner made his debut at the ripe old age of 34, becoming the fourth-oldest bowler to take a debut five-wicket haul, against South Africa earlier this year. Forming the perfect combination with Yasir Shah, he claimed five in the second innings of the 2021 Karachi Test, a fruit to his toil in domestic cricket over the years.

Yasir Shah

7-116 v Australia, Dubai 2014

About six years before Nauman, Yasir Shah himself had an impressive beginning to Test cricket in the UAE. Replacing Saeed Ajmal, Yasir followed a three-wicket haul with another four in the second innings. It marked the start of the career of one of Pakistan’s most prolific spinners, also signalling an end to Ajmal’s Test career.

Sohag Gazi

9-129 v West Indies, Dhaka 2012

The result ended in West Indies’ favour, but Bangladesh found a new weapon in their left-arm dominated department with the off-spin of Gazi. A six-wicket haul in the second innings against West Indies signalled a sign of things to come (two years later, he became the first player to hit a 100 and take a hat-trick in the same Test), but his career unfortunately hasn’t progress much beyond that.

Mehidy Hasan Miraz

7-138 v England, Chattogram 2016

Mehidy Hasan recently became the fastest Bangladesh bowler to 100 Test wickets, but the foundation of his fine run was set in his maiden Test itself, when he tormented the visiting England batsmen on their tour to the country in 2016, picking 19 wickets in his debut series. Six of them came the first time he bowled in Test cricket, removing five of the seven top-order batsmen from Alastair Cook’s side.

Mark Craig

8-188 v West Indies, Kingston 2014

The first known player to hit a six off his first ball in Test cricket, Craig made quite an impact with the ball, plucking eight West Indies wickets with his turn and bounce in Kingston with his off-spin. A four-wicket haul in the first innings was followed by another four in the second, ending with the best figures on debut by a New Zealand bowler.

Ajaz Patel

7-123 v Pakistan, Abu Dhabi 2018

In a thrilling Test that ended with a narrow New Zealand win against Pakistan, Ajaz Patel emerged as a star on debut. After playing more of a supporting role in the first innings with two wickets, Patel headlined the show with a five-for that derailed Pakistan’s chase, including the final wicket of Azhar Ali that brought an end to their resistance.

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