England’s head spinning selection policy this winter

jackleachFor England’s tours to Bangladesh and India this winter it has been clear that there has been a desire to get three spinners in the team. Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari were included in the initial touring squads. For the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong Ali, Rashid and Batty (making his first Test appearance since 2005) were selected. All three spinners bowled a similar number of overs with none of the three standing out in terms of wickets taken or economy rates and, if anything, they were all a little expensive. For the second Test England gave a debut to Ansari in the place of his Surrey captain Batty. Tamim Iqbal took a liking to the debutant, with his six first innings overs going for 36. Rashid was also disappointing in the first innings going for 4.40 an over. In the end Captain Alastair Cook could only rely on Ali to keep the runs down, he bowled 19.5 overs (more than Rashid and Ansari put together) and took 5-57. Cook’s inability to trust Rashid could be seen in the second innings with Ali opening the bowling, Ansari being introduced in the sixth over, and alleged front line spinner Rashid did not appear until over number 20. Rashid only bowled a short spell. He was not seen again until the 54th over where he cleaned up Bangladesh with four wickets in seven overs. Ali and Ansari both bowled 19 overs whereas Rashid only bowled 11.5.

Ansari was again selected for the first Test against India at Rajkot. His position in the side seemed unclear as he could not keep the runs down to the same extent as Ali and had nowhere near the wicket taking ability of Rashid. In the second innings at Rajkot Ansari was targeted and went for over five an over, meaning his place as a bowler did not seem justified. This scenario repeated itself at Visakhapatnam with Cook not even giving Ansari an over in the second innings. From this point, it was clear that he would not make another appearance on the tour. Batty was included for Mohali and bizarrely bowled more overs than Ali, though neither were particularly effective. With Ansari flying home to England and Batty unlikely to feature again it is clear that England need to rethink their spinning policy. In hindsight, it may be viewed as a mistake to have attempted to put three spinners in the side and England should probably go into the 4th and 5th Tests with five bowlers. Another problem that was more apparent at the time was England’s initial selection of spinners before Bangladesh. For most who keep up with the County Championship, the inclusion of Surrey’s Ansari and Batty seemed deeply odd and the recent call up of Liam Dawson has exacerbated this feeling that England’s selectors are looking for the wrong type of player to win Test matches.

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Who will become the next dominant force in Test cricket?

testmaceICC CEO Dave Richardson has been heading all over the cricketing world to present his large mace to the alleged number one team. The frequency of his presentations, recently to Misbah-ul-Haq, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli has made a mockery of the ICC’s Test Rankings as it is clear that no team can currently claim to hold the top spot. It is quite unusual for there to be such an equality between so many sides but this is what we are seeing at this current time. There are no great teams that can compare to the Australia side of a decade ago or Graeme Smith’s South Africa in its pomp, but this equality can produce a superb series, as was seen by England and Pakistan in the summer of 2016.

Of the ten Test nations, five find themselves within 13 rating points of each other (the relative value of these rating points is pointlessly complicated and it is not worthwhile attempting to understand how they work. It should just be known that between the top five teams it is incredibly close). At the time of writing, before the 4th Test between India and England, the rankings read as follows:

India – 115.

England – 105.

Australia – 105.

Pakistan – 102.

South Africa – 102.

So where does the balance of power move from here? It is perhaps ominous that the current top three are the so called ‘big three’ that control the revenue of the sport and over the next few years it would be difficult to bet against India becoming, for the first time, the dominant force in Test cricket.

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