A year ago, when Graeme Swann and Monty were taking wickets for fun against India, England boasted arguably the best spin bowling duo in world cricket. How things have changed.
If England were playing a test in the subcontinent tomorrow, and two spinners were required, we’d probably field the weakest combo in the world – and I include Bangladesh in that equation.
If Shakib Al Hasan fancied changing his name to Alastair ‘Al’ Haslam, and suddenly qualified for England, I’d jump for joy. He’s better than anything we’ve got.
The plight of Swann and Monty just about sums up England’s year. We always assumed that Monty would automatically step in if Swann’s elbow deteriorated, but this seems incredibly unlikely now. England’s management simply don’t trust him – whether it’s because of his poor form or off-field issues.
Monty’s fall from grace resulted in Scott Borthwick’s premature test debut in Sydney. His poor performance – in which he looked anything but a reliable front line test spinner – showed that England’s cupboard is as bare as Matt Prior’s head. Surely we had someone better than this?
The problem, of course, is that we don’t. Just look at the spinners currently representing the England Performance Squad: Danny Briggs, Ollie Rayner and Moeen Ali.
Briggs is a useful performer, but he probably turns the ball less than Ashley Giles used to. Rayner is a more interesting prospect, because he’s 6ft 5, but like Briggs his first class average is over thirty. That leaves Moeen, who has improved his bowling immensely, but remains a batting all-rounder.
What makes the situation even more frustrating is the emergence of Ben Stokes, who finally gives us the ability to pick a balanced five man attack. It hardly seems worth it though if England resort to picking four specialist seamers in the absence of a quality spinner.
There is one slow bowler, however, with excellent first class statistics. Indeed, his record is better than any English spinner to grace county cricket in the last three decades. What’s more, he’s young, hungry and could step into the test team tomorrow if required. Are you excited?
Well, I’m sorry if this disappoints you but his name is Simon Kerrigan. He’s taken 174 wickets in 52 first class matches at an average of 26.68, an economy rate of 2.8 and a strike rate of 57. What’s more, he’s just 24 years of age. He’s going to get better!
Kerrigan’s career statistics are excellent. He’s head and shoulders above his rivals. In fact, his first class average is almost six runs better than Graeme Swann’s.
So why isn’t he a shoe in for the England side? It’s because, six months ago, he had by far the worst game of his professional career at the worst possible time – that is, on his test debut, with the whole world watching.
It wasn’t just the fact that he bowled badly either. His action looked terrible: he didn’t put any body into his bowling and his method looked about as repeatable as private conversations between David Warner and Joe Root.
It was a dead-set horror show.
But is it premature to write off Kerrigan’s international hopes? Shane Warne didn’t exactly enjoy a sparkling test debut. Maybe the lad from Lancs can get his act together and come back stronger. Stranger things have happened.
I just hope his coaches don’t try to change him too much. Kerrigan is obviously an unorthodox bowler, and evolution is probably the way forward, not revolution.
It must be tempting for coaches to look at his action, shudder, and try to reinvent the wheel. This would probably be a mistake. Let’s not forget that he’s taken 174 wickets bowling in his own unique style.
Perhaps, in the short term, the best thing the coaches can do is get inside Kerrigan’s head and rebuild his confidence. It might not be easy, but it needs to be done.
England need Simon Kerrigan. There’s no legitimate alternative out there.