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Spin Doctors

by Justin Rourke

Spin Doctors are an American alternative rock band from New York City, best known for their early 1990s hit “Two Princes” but not the subject of this article.

A five test tour to India is imminent and the articles I have read are starting to give hope that Jack Leach will be fit, but we must be careful because 5 tests after a six month absence with a stress fracture is recipe for disaster. I sincerely hope Jack is back and well.

Rehan Ahmed seems almost certain to make the trip, it will be fascinating to see if he is viewed as a test starter. Much of which may depend on conditions and the balance of the team. He finished the Pakistan Series in great style but has hardly bowled in first class cricket since then.

The other name I read frequently is that of Lancashire’s Tom Hartley, I don’t know Tom, but it is a curious one for me.

The spin ‘dilemma’ is not new to English cricket, when I look back at my time watching them there have been a lot of spinners given some chances but very few get 30 games let alone 50.

This is actually as good as it gets unless you go much further back. Looking at other popular spinners in recent history, their test match records are pretty horrendous.

Just for context Leach is pretty good!

Test cricket is much more nuanced than just raw numbers. If you play in a strong batting side you will get more chance to bowl attacking overs in the 3rd/4th innings. If you play in a 5 man attack your job is different to that in a 4 man attack. Which countries and grounds did you play in etc.

The tactical aspect also plays a role, there a lot of good coaches who have come from Southern Africa in the last few decades. Most like to play attritional cricket and want a spinner to tie an end up. This is a view often heard in England where spinners are not really afforded flair – keep it tight, field well and bat at no8 (similar train of thought as not needing a wicket keeper, just a monkey with cymbals).

One aspect of test cricket on the wane is the ability to play the situation and move through the gears. Swann much like Warne would always be looking to take a wicket but had the ability to do that whilst not going at 4 or 5 runs an over. Personally, I’d take a bowler with a strike rate of 60 ahead of one with a better economy rate but higher strike rate.

The reality is that we have not selected and captained spin very well, and the main success was a strong willed character who came to the test game at a mature age.

Stokes and McCullum are not typical of the English game, they want to attack and they along with Rob Key will be pragmatic about selection because there simply are not enough spinners getting overs in England.

Much of the rhetoric around Tom Hartley is potential, bowls at good pace, is tall. These also are very modern trends. When Mason Crane made his test debut Shane Warne said: 

“His action is balanced nicely, he has momentum exploding through the crease which is good,” …

 “Normally younger spinners these days bowl flatter and faster because of white-ball cricket. But the nice thing about him is he bowls a nice line and spins the ball hard at 83kph [51mph], which is not too fast.”

Warne also had praise for Matt Parkinson

“I wouldn’t be surprised in that first Test match at the Gabba if he is pencilled in the XI. I think of the Australian conditions, the pace he bowls, the amount of bounce and spin he gets, I think he is perfectly suited to Australian conditions.”

Of course Warnie would be a little biased to leggies, but knew a thing or two about that art and was very consistent about the fact spinners do not need to bowl quickly. To some, like Rashid Kahn and Anil Kumble, it is natural but to others flight and guile are their weapons (along with actually turning the ball).

Rehan Ahmed looks quite the talent, England like that he bowls it flat, fields well and can bat which fits the bill for a spinner – the polar opposite to Matt Parkinson, although the latter has a far better bowling record. Imagine applying the batting test to Courtney Walsh, James Anderson or Murali … nope not picking you until your batting improves.

There are a few spinners in England worthy of consideration, if I apply the same logic as above but to first class cricket this is how they compare:

I would have Moriarty on the plane and still find it difficult to walk past Parkinson (although England and Lancashire have done so). The strike rates of Jacks and Hartley concern me, but ironically I think they might be at the front of the queue.

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