English cricket often seems to be accused of having a dearth of talent when it comes to spin bowling. The national team’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game, Moeen Ali, is a batsman who bowls and 39-year-old Gareth Batty (Test Match bowling average: 66) has just been recalled to the Test squad. Such things contribute to the assumption that there are no genuine quality spin bowlers on the English county scene. Silly Point assesses whether or not such an assumption is a fair one.
Moeen is England’s first choice spinner in all forms of the game but averages in excess of forty in both Tests and ODIs. England’s second choice spinner Adil Rashid also averaged in excess of forty in both forms of the game before dragging his ODI numbers down during an excellent series for him personally in Bangladesh this month. In doing so he might now be considered England’s number one spinner at least in ODIs. The next couple of weeks will determine whether or not that will, for the first time be the case in Test Match cricket as well. Liam Dawson has made only a couple of international appearances and averages thirty-five plus in First Class and List A cricket. His value to Hampshire is primarily with the bat. James Tredwell, no longer required by England, averages below thirty in both Tests and ODIs! All these players are considered all-rounders and their ability with the bat plays a crucial role in getting them into the team. If we explore the other options available to England in the county game we’ll quickly see that England’s perceived dearth of spin talent is a myth. Ollie Rayner, though no mug with the bat and Jack Leach might not be expected to contribute the volume of runs that the likes of Moeen and Rashid might but if they were to take international wickets at fewer apiece than England’s current incumbents are they not more worthy of a place in the team?
This is not to belittle the likes of Moeen and Rashid both of whom have a lot to offer England in all facets and all forms of the game but England’s reluctance to select specialists and or explore alternative options can be frustrating.
Let’s start with off-spinner Rayner who to be fair can bat a bit (First class average 22.00 including two centuries) The German born thirty-year-old has 254 First Class wickets to his name at a more than respectable average of 32.74. That’s about two runs less per wicket than Rashid (34.70) and nine, yes nine runs less than England’s first choice spinner Moeen (41.62)! Moeen’s Test average is even higher at 42.03 but he compliments this with more than handy batting figures of 1,454 runs at 34.61 including three centuries. In 2013 Rayner recorded analysis of 15-118 including 8-46, both career bests, against Surrey at The Oval. In 2016 Rayner’s best effort was 6-79, one of three five-wicket hauls as he finished Middlesex’s victorious County Championship Division One campaign with 51 wickets from thirteen matches at just 23.57. His age, thirty, is no reason to dismiss him. He could be primed to put together all that he has learnt during his domestic career and take it on to a five-year plus international one. If not for England then surely he can get a game for Germany!
Only seven players took more County Championship Division One wickets than Rayner last term. The only English spinner to do so was Somerset’s slow-left-armer Jack Leach. The twenty-five-year old accumulated 65 wickets at 21.88 including five five-wicket hauls as Somerset pushed Rayner’s side for the title ‘til the very last day of the season. For the record only Jeetan Patel took more County Championship Division One wickets than Leach last term. 2016 was Leach’s breakthrough season as he more than doubled his career First Class wicket tally, now 107 at 25.68. Maybe he needs to show that this season wasn’t a one-off before he gets the England call and his Somerset captain Chris Rogers’ less than ringing endorsement can’t have helped his international chances. On the batting front however the likes of Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett were picked for England on the back of one good season though both have spent time with England Lions or underage sides. Leach hasn’t and Simon Kerrigan’s introduction to Test cricket means that the England selectors like to get a close up of their potential international players first so that they can judge their character let alone their ability. Leach joins Rayner in the England Lions squad this winter.
On the subject of Kerrigan, he has 305 First Class victim to his name and his First Class bowling average of 30.05 is lower than Rayner (32.74) another forgotten man in Danny Briggs (33.70) current Bangladesh tourist, Zafar Ansari (34.45) Rashid (34.70) Scott Borthwick (35.75) Liam Dawson (37.47) Samit Patel (39.39) and of course Moeen (41.62). Ravi Patel, Josh Poysden, Stephen Parry, Adam Riley, Rob Keogh, Graeme White and Jack Taylor also all average a lower than Moeen sub forty in First Class cricket. Last year Kerrigan took 35 County Championship Division One wickets at an average of 37.89. Not brilliant but by no means a disgrace. He’s still only twenty-seven-years-old. It was a chastising international debut (8-0-53-0) against Australia at The Oval in 2013 for Kerrigan but where as many England supporters thought that the national team had progressed from a time where players were written off after one poor performance Kerrigan seems to have been well and truly left behind. Last year on Test Match debut and on spinning terrain, Adil Rashid recorded record-breakingly bad figures of 34-0-163-0. Of course unlike Kerrigan the Yorkshire leg-spinner got a second innings chance and on a worn pitch took 5-64.
Back to Leach’s Somerset. It was another Taunton man, nineteen-year-old Dom Bess that topped the County Championship Division One bowling averages last season (See previous post: Six to Watch for more about the England Under-19 International)
The off-spinner only made two appearances in the County Championship but his performances courted plenty of attention. He recorded figures of 6-28 against Warwickshire on debut before taking 5-43 against Nottinghamshire, both at Taunton. Former England batsmen Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Michael Lumb just some of his victims in those two matches. As a result of his 2016 performances Bess has 13 career wickets at 20.30 per victim.
Bess isn’t the only youngster tearing down the spin dearth myth. Kerrigan’s Lancashire’s teammate, nineteen-year-old leg-spinner Matthew Parkinson exploded onto the scene in 2016, recording figures of 5-49 against Warwickshire on debut. Like Bess, Jonathan Trott was among his debut victims. Parkinson’s First Class stats currently read 10 wickets at 36.30.
Another nineteen-year-old leggie is Hampshire’s Mason Crane. 31 wickets at 45.45 with a best of 3-19 in 2016 may seem a little underwhelming but to gain that experience in County Championship Division One at such a young age will only have helped his development. His career figures currently stand at 45 wickets at 40.75 apiece. These are early days in the careers of Bess, Parkinson and Crane so of course there statistics are a small sample size.
Having focused primarily on First Class and Test Match cricket lets switch our attention to the short stuff. In limited overs cricket it is expected that a player’s bowling average will be lower than in First Class cricket. It’s also more understandable that batting credentials might come into the equation. Liam Dawson averages 32.38 with the bat in List A cricket and 35.84 with the ball. He’s next in line in the pajama stuff after Moeen (26.16 and 44.34 in ODIs) and Rashid (27.25 and 35.17)
Northamptonshire’s Graeme White averages 25.79 with the ball in List A cricket, Gloucestershire’s Jack Taylor averages 28.03 and 24.25 with the bat, Surrey’s Zafar Ansari 31.97 and 34.12.
If we consider a broader spectrum, amongst the other Test playing nations, do the likes of Australia’s Jon Holland and Steve O’Keefe, New Zealand’s Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi, South Africa’s Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer, West Indies Sulieman Benn and Devendra Bishoo or Zimbabwe’s Graeme Cremer or John Nyumbu leave English spinners in the shade?
Of course there are less players from smaller populations representing fewer teams in most of the other Test nations mentioned than in England’s eighteen team First Class structure but the quality spin representation at domestic level is proportional.
As for England, the players are out there. Some can bat, some can’t. Some are in their teens, some are in their thirties. Some have played for England before, some haven’t. Some may have already produced their best, some haven’t.
When there’s eleven players in the team and the aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible, somebody’s got to keep wicket, the climate is accommodating to and the pitches are tailored to suit fast bowling then there are only going to be so many spinners around, some of which will be better than others. There may not be as many quality spinners as there are grains of sand on a beach but there are enough diamonds in the rough!