The Championship Returns, But Will It Finally Unearth A Decent Spinner?

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Today is a special day: the start of a new championship season! Let’s all enjoy it before the counties either go bankrupt or get turned into shiny new mobile phone sponsored franchises.

Rather than doing an in depth championship preview – I’m sure you’ll have seen plenty of these by now – we’re going to focus on one particular thing the championship really needs to do: find England a test class spinner. Here’s new guest writer Lautaro Musiani with his thoughts …

As the sound of leather on willow starts to resonate at county grounds across the land, the days are not the only thing drawing out; England’s search for a premier spinner is getting longer too.

The India and Bangladesh tours posed more questions than a quiz show. The England team have found a fair few things on their subcontinent tour: a new captain, two accomplished opening batsmen, and the ability to lose after scoring 500 amongst other things. But we still can’t find a single bloke we can call a bona fide test class “spinner”.

As much as we all love Moeen, he was always only a temporary option (read “full time as long as the seamers do the trick”), a batsman who could bowl a bit. He does a good job with Rashid in ODIs but test cricket is another matter.

Since 2014, five spinners have debuted (some might very well argue they were only spinner-batsmen). Ali has played the most games with 37 and Rashid a far second with 10. Mo has taken 98 wickets while Adil has a tally of 36 with his leg-spin. Prolific they are not. 

In the recent India series, six spinners were used and they returned 40 wickets at an average of 48.10. This was the second worst return of an English spin attack on Indian soil. The leg-spinner was the highest wicket-taker in the team with 23 scalps albeit at a run rate of 3.70.

It’s particularly telling that England’s spinners leaked about one more run per over than their rivals. Most worryingly, their lack of consistency didn’t give the skipper control from one end while the seamers attacked from the other end.

Many (mainly fans to be fair) have campaigned for the inclusion of a young spinner and argued against the inclusion of bits and pieces cricketers or older players – although who doesn’t love a Gareth Batty celebration?

But who should the selectors turn to? The Simon Kerrigan saga is still too close for comfort, but Bayliss is a fairly proactive coach so my hopes are high. Let’s have a look at the current crop of spinners available and assess their chances.

ADIL RASHID

Although he has never played a Test Match in England, I believe Rashid is likely to be picked for the starting XI against South Africa. 23 Test wickets in India and strong limited over performances will surely help him. If he bowls as he has so far, I’m sure he’ll play at Lord’s in July. He’s a leggie after all, and as most club cricketers slash pint drinkers would say, “he’ll buy us wickets”.

MASON CRANE

A long shot, yes. But when you consider that Scott Borthwick was selected for the Sydney test after a few performances in grade cricket, suddenly it doesn’t seem such an irrational idea. The young Hampshire leggie made his debut for New South Wales after having a bumper season in club cricket, being the club’s first overseas since Imran Khan. Not bad. Selection for the South team and an ever-improving 2016 season have done his chances no harm. I’d love to see him be involved with the squad in one way or another.  

ZAFAR ANSARI

The former Cambridge student already has 3 test caps to his name and will be keen to start the championship season well. He was perhaps out his depth slightly in India and Bangladesh but judging by England’s love for spinners who can bat, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few fifties and a couple of decent bowling performances get him back in the reckoning. 

LIAM DAWSON

The Hampshire 27-year-old has a solitary Test cap and is mostly seen as a limited overs specialist. His control is his most valuable asset and that’s something the national side need. In my opinion, he’s way down the list but having scored a test fifty and shown determination in India he’ll be in the mix. I believe he’s better suited to the ODI side than the Test team but we’ll see.

MOEEN ALI

The man with the coolest beard in world cricket has a safe place in the squad. His off-spin has been improving and even though he wasn’t at his best with the ball in the subcontinent, his batting has cemented his place. He’s been England’s saviour many a time and I only see him being dropped for a like-for-like replacement – even though relying on batting all-rounders isn’t exactly ideal. 

OLLIE RAYNER

51 First-class wickets in the 2016 championship earned the Germany-born offie a place in the England Lions winter programme. The physically imposing offy performed creditably this winter and will be hoping to emulate his 2016 form this year. There have been concerns about his lack of spin on the ball, but at 31 years of age he’s probably at his peak. I believe Rayner has an outside chance of a call up.

JACK LEACH

This man was undoubtedly the revelation of 2016. From parking trolleys in a supermarket in Taunton a few years ago to 65 wickets in Division One and almost a historical first-ever championship victory for Somerset. Throughout his career Leach has experienced lows and highs repeatedly. He has been picked, dropped, and picked only to be dropped again. And he once even fractured his skull in the bathroom!

Being overlooked for the subcontinent tour was not a low in itself. The real low is the reason he wasn’t picked; his action was found to be illegal. Ahem. Nobody had ever shown any concerns before, let alone called him a “chucker”. Apparently it was a small technical issue that has now been corrected. But has remodelling actions ever gone well? I fear Leach is now in the dumps and a test debut looks very unlikely.

The problem for England is that none of the above candidates currently look like viable options. However, much can change over the course of a season. “Sucking at something is the first step to being good at something” and spinners will only get better if they play. Therefore my message to the England test team is this: whoever you pick, please Joe, let them bowl!

Lautaro Musiani

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Lautaro Musiani

6 comments

  • Are there any England-qualified candidates peddling their wares in non-first class cricket – at home or abroad? There may even be another Sydney Barnes!

  • The main problem is we do not play hardly any Championship cricket in July and August when pitches are best for producing spinners. This year there will be week after week of 20/20 and virtually no proper cricket apart from April, May and September when spinners are almost surplus to requirements. It will only get worse when the franchise rubbish clicks in.

  • I come at this as a bit of an outsider, as an Australian who does not see much county cricket. Nonetheless what you are talking about seems a familiar story, when Australia went through all those spinners after Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg. In those years of spin plenty, Australia never had a five-man bowling attack, and it was only as Warne left that Andrew Symonds became a regular member of the team. Not long after he was out of international cricket for good, Shane Watson became a regular member of the team.

    It could have allowed for regular faith in one spinner, but before Nathan Lyon that was only really showed in one spinner for a limited period of time – Nathan Hauritz. England did not make the revolving door mistake with Moeen Ali, and now that they are looking elsewhere, and I would argue for Adil Rashid, they need to compare whatever spinner they do pick more to Moeen than Swann.

    As for the aforementioned Dobell tweet, it shows the importance of matches being played in a variety of conditions.

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