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In a spin

by Justin Rourke

I wrote recently about wicket keeping, and the modern lack of appreciation for glove work as well as the perceived need to balance that with batting ability. It strikes me spin bowling has suffered a similar fate, certainly in English cricket.

In particular you feel that Monty and Tuffers suffered due to their lack of ability with the bat or in the field. I have less sympathy for the latter, anyone can become a good fielder but Courtney Walsh, Glenn McGrath and James Anderson are 3 seam bowlers we may never have had if batting was a pre-requisite.

I decided to have a look at the test match record of England spinners since April 1990:

No surprise that Swann is top, love him or loath him he is the best spinner we have had in years. Below him it is interesting … Ashley Giles attracts a lot of praise and he certainly fulfilled a role, but as a bowler his strike rate is poor and his economy rate good. This I think is the crux of the death of spin in England (the dreadful scheduling of the county championship is a factor too) but too often we measure our spinner by the ability ‘hold up an end’ (economy rate) and get some useful runs (batting) – so again would we ever have picked Jimmy if that was the criteria?
Wickets win matches, which is best measured by strike rate – so aside from Swann we have Moeen, Rashid, Leach and then Monty on that basis.

I was curious how much playing in England with our seam and swing friendly conditions was a disadvantage;

I have to say these 3 have done pretty spectacularly well!

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If you strip out the genius if Warne and Murali – the rest have a similar or worse record to our best thee when in the UK (since 1990).

So it would appear that spin does take wickets in England, interestingly of that list only Vettori would be considered to be a good batsman … maybe Warnie too.

So why are we so tough on our spinners? And why are we so unrealistic when they travel overseas?

These figures surprised me, again setting Swann aside the strike rates (and averages) are pretty poor – this is the opposite of what I expected having heard how hard it is to bowl spin in England all my life. The bounce of Australia and turn of Asia are supposed to be the spinners friend.

In truth I think much of problem stems from understanding what the captain and coach want from a spinner and then backing them, When we look back at the players in this table we forget Salisbury made his debut in 1992 and had a fantastic game against Pakistan. He gets some stick, I even read something that said he was the worst test bowler ever – garbage. Get on you tube and watch him bowl in 1992 – at the same time Warne was getting smashed. I am not saying he was in Warne’s league, but in that game there was not much between him and Mushy – maybe, just maybe he was worth sticking with.

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Tufnell is widely thought to be the most talented but was in and out of the side. I understand he could be a real pain in the a**e – but that has been levelled at Swann and Warne too, in fact they both say that part of their personality was a big factor in their success.

Monty and Moeen have at times been superb, but always under pressure … Right now we have a spinner in Jack Leach who has taken 34 test wickets at a strike rate of 60 but can’t get a game …

There is a lot to be said for picking your best 6 batsmen, best wicket keeper, best spinner and best 3 seam bowlers (especially when Stokes is one of your best 6 batsmen).

I hope Leach gets his chance, I hope Bess, Virdi, Crane and Parkinson are looked after too – it’s an art.

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