No Quick Fix To England's Spin Issues
In spite of Moeen Ali’s recent exploits in Southampton and Manchester, the absence of a genuine frontline spinner in England's Test team continues to be a topic of much contention.
As much as the clamouring to include a genuine spinner has undeniable merit, the dark reality is that the slow-bowling cupboard is bare.
Analysis of this season’s County Championship stats paints a gloomy picture as in the top division only New Zealand's Jeetan Patel can claim a spot in the leading 20 wicket-takers.
In the second tier excluding the mystical Saeed Ajmal - who boasts a remarkable 63 wickets at 16 - no other spinner makes the top 10, although more encouragingly is that four reside in the top 20: Dean Cosker, Gareth Batty, Adam Riley and Monty Panesar.
Of those four however, two are the wrong side of 30 - Cosker and Batty - while Panesar’s issues are well publicised.
Riley is an undoubted prospect. The 22-year-old currently has 32 wickets in 2014 at just under 30 but calls for him to be thrown into the frame - to learn on the job as it were - are hugely wide of the mark.
As Australia learnt the hard way after Shane Warne retired, Test cricket is no place to be nurturing slow bowlers still at the relative beginning of their development curve. Prior to unearthing the steady Nathan Lyon any spinner who showed a glimpse of potential was thrust into the firing line only be axed almost as quickly.
A fast bowler wouldn’t be selected on the back of a mere handful of games, which makes the calls for the likes of Riley to be fast-tracked all the more baffling given that the general perception is that the maturing process for a spinner is somewhat slower.
Cosker and Batty have been equally talked up and both are wily customers, but with no disrespect intended neither offer any long-term viability.
The selection of Simon Kerrigan in the squad for Lord's only highlighted England’s lack of options; the Lancashire man has hardly set the world alight in 2014 having made the step up to top flight cricket and a mediocre return of 28 wickets in 12 games bears testimony to that.
Kerrigan and his spinning counterparts have not been helped by pitches that have on the whole not been conducive to turn – even the majority of final day surfaces haven’t allowed spin to become a significant factor in proceedings.
Such has been the dearth of spinning wickets that a recent surface at Colchester drew substantial press for the slow-bowling assistance offered – with the bulk of reviewers giving the out-ground pitch rave write-ups for the contest it generated.
As Ravi Bopara hinted post-game, perhaps out-ground cricket offers a vehicle for slow bowling to be nurtured.
Highlighting the bit part role spin is playing in the domestic first-class game is that several Division One counties are like England making use of bowlers only a step beyond part-time level. Nottinghamshire, Sussex and Durham are among those who have dispensed with a frontline spinner.
Even for Yorkshire, Adil Rashid has developed into a batsman who bowls rather than the out and out leg-spinner he threatened to become.
Arguably spinners are also hindered by a lack of trust given it has become common place for slow bowlers to be removed from the attack upon taking a wicket in favour of a quick man.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, the Championship is currently in the process of a month-long break, coinciding with the point of the season where pitches are at their driest and thus when spin bowlers would be most likely to take a leading role in proceedings.
It goes without saying in order to develop, slow bowlers need overs and currently that is simply not happening on the domestic circuit.
Conversely, the opposite can be said in relation to limited-overs cricket, where spinners are proving a potent weapon. Arguably, this is damaging their advancements in the longer format.
For a number of years Danny Briggs has been a key cog in Hampshire’s Twenty20 success but has enjoyed only minimal four-day success, while Will Beer, despite impressing in Twenty20 cricket has only once been trusted in Championship cricket this season.
Similarly Somerset’s Max Waller, despite being a virtual Twenty20 ever-present, has played just eight first-class games since debuting back in 2009.
England are not alone in their spinning strife. Unearthing Lyon was a painful process for Australia, while South Africa after several trialists appear set to utilise JP Duminy’s occasional yet improving off-spin for the foreseeable future.
Anyone hoping for a quick fix to find the heir to Graeme Swann’s immeasurable mantle will unfortunately be left disappointmed, for there is nobody close to a readymade solution waiting in the wings.
At the same the current domestic situation means the unearthing of a new spin king is likely to be a lengthy and arduous process.
As exasperating as some may find the persistece with Moeen, the Worcestershire man currently signifies the most workable option – further to that as recent evidence testifies his developing spin is more than holding its own in the Test arena.
© Cricket World 2014
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