Ansari In, The Best Spinner Out?

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I guess incredulity is part and parcel of being an England fan. Just when you think our management might be sane and rational people after all they do something daft again. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or so the overused cliche goes.

First of all, let me say that I’m all in favour of Zafar Ansari making his test debut. He might only be half the bowler Jack Leach is  – only England could exclude the best spinner in the country on the basis that he’s emotionally immature yet at the same time pick a teenaged opener – but we desperately need a left-armer and Ansari is the only one available.

England need to blood a left-armer because, in case you didn’t catch the India v New Zealand test series, the Indian team is packed full of right-handers. Oh, and did I mention that they eat part-time off spinners and erratic leg spinners for breakfast? You get the picture.

Unfortunately however the management have decided, according to cricinfo, that the best way to shoehorn Ansari into the side is to drop the only spinner who actually showed a semblance of consistency at Chittagong. Despite match figures of 4 for 110 (not bad considering his nervous start) Gareth Batty, the only true specialist spinner in the group, has been dropped.

I admit I wasn’t in favour of picking Batty for this tour, but after watching the first test I came to accept that we needed him – or at least someone who can land it on the strip occasionally. Instead we’re going into the second test with three spinning all-rounders – none of whom average under 34 with the ball in first class cricket. After relying on Moeen for the last two or three years, why are we still enamoured with batsmen who bowl a bit?

Although this shouldn’t come as a surprise, the strip in Dhaka is apparently very dry. You’d think that England would want a specialist finger spinner in the side. If someone had to make way for Ansari (and the management want to persist with Duckett at the top of the order) the man who should’ve made way is Gary Ballance. It’s not like Ballance has looked better at the crease than our plethora of all-rounders anyway. Dropping him wouldn’t have weakened the batting. Not really.

The one small mercy, although many will disagree, is that Buttler hasn’t been squeezed into the side. There were rumours that Jonny Bairstow might be rested or that Jos would play as a specialist batsman.

Although I’m not ready to give up on Buttler as a test player just yet, I don’t think he warrants a place in the current squad. He hasn’t scored a first class fifty for over a year and needs to prove he can dominate county attacks at first class level before he gets another shot at test cricket. Unfortunately that’s not something he’s managed in his career to date.

James Morgan

21 Comments

    • Reminds of the story of some poor sod in the 18th Century who was executed because the recorder failed to write “not” in front of “guilty”.

      Possibly apocryphal, and never something that’s likely to apply to an England selector.

  1. I think it’s quite sensible. Ansari need to get some game time and as a left armer could be very useful for the next few tests. So who to replace?

    Arguably it could be a seamer but then that’s nullifying England’s bowling strength (and comes at the expense of rotating a seamer in) so that doesn’t seem sensible.

    Dropping Ballance on the face of it seems like not a bad shout but as soon as they make that decision they really need to be giving Hameed a go instead to avoid his introduction being against India (unless they’re seriously entertaining the possibility of only three “specialist” batsmen for India).

    So really that just leaves rotating a spinner. It’s not going to be Ali as he’s batting at five anyway so his bowling is a bonus, so it’s between Rashid and Batty.

    For me there are two reasons to persevere with Rashid; his batting, and secondly (and more importantly) the fact that he really needs a run of games and a vote of confidence to see whether he can be a long term option. For obvious reasons Batty can’t be, and in a way his being the best performing suggests he’s most ready to hit the ground running.

    So my take it’s a sensible selection with an eye on the medium to long term.

    • There’s just one flaw in the plan though. And it’s the same flaw when it comes to resting Broad. England probably need their strongest XI to beat Bangladesh (judging by the last test). Rotating players, and using the match as a warm up for the India series is a dangerous game. After all, nothing will screw up preparation more than actually losing in Dhaka. That would be a disaster imho.

      • Is it even a given that Batty is the better player of the two?

        Looking at their records and recent form (including warm ups and recent domestic) – it really doesn’t look like there’s much in it.

        • Batty’s first class stats are somewhat affected by playing at Headingley and New Road for large parts of his career. I don’t think he’s a great bowled by any means but he was the most likely to land the ball in the right areas at Chittagong. England also gave him the new ball in the 1st inns, which suggests the management saw him as the premier spinner too.

  2. Broad’s going to be rested for Finn as well by most accounts. There was apparently some thought of resting Woakes for Ball as well but they’ve moved away from that idea.

  3. I have to admit that I’d drop Duckett down to 4 and “rest” Ballance (a long rest), bringing Hameed in to open. I’m pleased Ansari is playing, and I do think Gareth Batty had to do something special to keep playing (Mo batted very well in the first innings in Chittagong), so i can’t say I’m surprised by the call. Broad for Finn is a bit more worrying, given that Finn barely takes wickets these days. Ball might have been a better call.

  4. Got to be honest I wasn’t impressed with Batty when he adopted the leg stump line with two or three leg side fielders in for the catch. I get the logic but the batsmen just sat back and played him comfortably. Whose plan that was I do not know, Cook or Batty’s but in my opinion it was pretty poor. Far better to still have a leg slip and attack the off stump, at least you can get a wicket either side of the bat, coming round or over the wicket.
    I felt for the spinners as Cook is not a natural captain for spinners, he does not have a feel for the game in that sense. Bangladesh should have never been allowed to get as close as they did but his defensive field placing meant they could accumulate safely with little risk.
    I remember Warne writing an article a while back about how to defend aggressively. I have attached it. He hits the nail on the head. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/cricket/international/england/9672952/India-v-England-five-point-plan-to-help-tourists-win.html
    Warne was probably the best test match captain that never was.

      • Without wanting to sound like too much of a nark, it’s always worth remembering that Australia was well on the way to losing the second test of that series until the last day was lost to rain, and they won the third test after the groundsman got the hump about being told how to prepare the pitch, and instead delivered as near as he could to a greentop. They did outplay India to win the first test (and India won the 4th on a horrible dustbowl). Fair to say it wasn’t entirely down to good planning. That would have been Warne’s only test series win in India by the way.

  5. I had not realised that Leach had been overlooked for ’emotional immaturity’. This seems astonishingly inconsistent for a team containing Stokes and Root. And if this had been a basis for selection in past years we would never have seen the likes of Botham, Flintoff or Gower. And whilst I may criticise Stokes regularly I would hate to see a team made up wholly of personalities like Gooch, Cook and Anderson – however brilliant they may be as cricketers. But I suppose selection based on ’emotional maturity’ may be a step up on selection based on which county you played for or which school you attended (or whether you have the ‘right’ family in the case of selecting a captain).

      • Yes, another symptom of MCC mismanagement. I played for the LSE in the 70s. At that time there was a University of London side selected from the constituent colleges which played Oxford and Cambridge each year and regularly won. Today the London team is relegated to playing the Oxford and Cambridge 2nd teams despite having access to a far stronger pool of cricketers than either – and just because the MCC have funded Oxford and Cambridge based MCCUs but not one in London. In my year we had 3 first class cricketers at the LSE alone and there were others at other colleges. How can the MCC hope to identify the best players if it neglects the strongest pool in the country (the strength being a simple result of pool size and some very strong overseas players at the likes of the LSE)?

  6. 2016 averages:

    Ansari
    22 wickets @ 31.41, economy 2.92, 2.2 wickets per match

    Leach
    65 wickets @ 21.88, economy 2.7, 4.3 wickets per match

    ???????? – or should it be !!!!!!!!

  7. I think the bizarre Leach question has been covered on these pages before. One might have thought that a tour of Bangladesh, amid the highest security, might have been the ideal opportunity for him to developed the desired maturity? Baffling.

    • Very good point. I believe Ansari has been saying that the necessarily tight arrangements for this tour has made it all the easier to feel part of the group and to be welcomed into it. Surely a good management team can cope with someone who has a bit to learn about growing up? If he isn’t doing so already, then Batty as a hugely experienced cricketer and a current county captain, should surely be taking these youngsters under his wing, even if he isn’t himself in the starting lineup?

    • The countervailing argument is that Cook’s handling of spinners is bad enough to ruin the confidence of a young player at this level, so it might have been a lucky escape for him.

      • Mmm. You may be right but I feel it depends if you think that any spin bowler since Swann (or Monty when healthy) has approached Test match quality. I don’t. I have played with club cricketers who are or were consistently better than Moeen. I don’t see how a captain can set a field at Test match level against people who play good spin quite well and poor spin very well when they are serving up at least one bad ball an over.

        It’s only a personal opinion but I feel the current spin bowlers cannot give Cook any form of control. In a low-scoring game he must have that. If he sets the fields he should for a decent spinner on a helpful wicket there is a very strong chance they will go at 4 or 5 an over and the game has drifted way in half a session. So he sets defensive fields for bad balls. I do not think Cook is a great tactical captain and there are probably different approaches to try but the problem is the game is played in the mind at this level and the opposition knows these guys can’t bowl consistently well so they tuck in and don’t fear them. Battle half lost.

        I know what you are getting at with Leach but if he gets a go and he is as good as people reckon, he should say “this is the field I want for this guy” and then if Cook won’t give it to him (at least until it is shown not to work) I agree with you!

  8. Have to say that Duckett to 4, Hameed to opener and Ballance dropped – which many here have been calling for – seems entirely sensible this morning….

    Duckett does not look like a test opener, and in these conditions at least, Ballance does not look like a test batsman.

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