\"I think Nathan Hauritz is the number one spinner in Australia,\" leg-spinning great Shane Warne said at the SCG this week.
Sydney: Almost four years after Shane Warne finally departed the Test arena and with another Ashes series almost upon them, Australia appear no closer to figuring out how to replace him.
The inclusion of three spinners - Nathan Hauritz, Steve Smith and Xavier Doherty - in the bloated 17-man squad for the first Ashes test reflected that uncertainty, no matter how hard the selectors tried to argue otherwise.
Off-spinner Hauritz, who performed the role in England last year and has taken 63 wickets in 17 tests, took a hammering on the recent tour of India but remains the favourite to complement Australia's three-strong pace attack in next week's first Test.
"I think Nathan Hauritz is the number one spinner in Australia," leg-spinning great Warne said at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) this week.
"I'm sure he'll get the first chance but if he doesn't do well, then you've got someone like Doherty who's pushing, Steve Smith who's pushing.
"So there're options, which is a good sign for Australian cricket. I think Hauritz will get the first chance, I think he's deserved that."
Unfortunately for the 29-year-old Hauritz, he was unable to press his claim in Sheffield Shield action for New South Wales this week as pacemen dominated, leaving him to bowl just one over in a defeat to Tasmania.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Doherty, who made his international debut for Australia just two weeks ago in a one-day defeat to Sri Lanka, got more playing time for Tasmania and took two second innings wickets for 45 runs.
"Whenever I've worked with him, he's been very good," Warne said of Doherty, who is also 29.
"He's definitely not a big spinner of the ball and I know that's something he's been working on. I think this year he is spinning the ball a bit more.
"He's been around for a while. He's an experienced first class cricketer and I'm sure he'd do a good job if he's picked."
Leg-spinning all rounder Smith, 21, has bowled just 186 balls in two Tests and took two wickets for 118 runs for Australia A in England's first innings in Hobart this week.
From his very first Ashes delivery to Mike Gatting in 1993 - the so-called "Ball of the Century" - Warne bestrode the Ashes rivalry like a bleached-blond colossus and no country would have found it easy to replace his 708 Test wickets.
Former Australia captain Richie Benaud, whose spin bowling captured 248 wickets in 63 Tests, said developing great practitioners of the art took time.
The octogenarian broadcaster recalled Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly, another of Australia's great spinners, taking him to dinner soon after he made his Test debut in 1952 and explaining what he had to do - before adding that it would take four years to achieve.
"Shane Warne asked me what advice I had for him and I told him what O'Reilly had told me," Benaud recalled in the Member's Pavilion at the SCG this week.
"I gave him the four-year bit but he was so good he did it in two. But it did take him two years to do it.
"That's one of the problems with spin bowling; you've got to work hour after hour and then you may or may not become a spin bowling success. But it is a tough trade."
Hauritz, who shares Warne's blond hair but not his extrovert personality, said last week he had been working assiduously at his bowling since his confidence took a battering on the "massive learning experience" of the India tour.
"I've done a lot of work in the nets and the ball's looking a lot better," he told Reuters last week.
"You look back at your technique and check to make sure everything's okay but it's such a mental game cricket - it's 90 per cent mental, 10 per cent technical."
Whoever fills the role for Australia as they look to win back the Ashes, Warne thinks they will need to attack and will almost certainly be the second best spinner on the field.
"I think the spinners in both sides are going to have to take wickets; they're going to have to be aggressive," he said.
"England have got Graeme Swann, who's probably the number one spinner in the world."