For 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.
ICC 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.
Haseeb Hameed has shown in three Tests a level that not many could have realistically expected from a 19 year old in his first series. He joins a long list of players who have made their debut in India and Keaton Jennings will be hoping to do the same in Mumbai on the 8th of December. Since India’s rise in status as a Test team in the 1970s, playing in the subcontinent has become one of the most unique challenges for batsmen from around the world. Batting in India is to enter the domain of some of the game’s greatest spinners from Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar to Anil Kumble and Ravi Ashwin. This spin challenge is made tougher by the weather and atmosphere, on and off the field, which is alien to most players who arrive from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Touring India is therefore tough for even the most experienced batsmen, which means that those who are chosen to debut in the country are often exceptional talents who go on to have stellar Test careers.
In the 1960s India were not the same beast as they are now. However, when the West Indies toured in the winter of 1966 the team they faced did include the spinners Venkataraghavan and Chandrasekhar who would continue to be an important part of the excellent 70s side. It was in this tour that a 23 year old Clive Lloyd made his Test debut, coming into the side for Seymour Nurse who had a finger injury. The West Indies won the three match series 2-0 with Lloyd making a significant impact on the first Test in Mumbai (then Bombay). The West Indies gained a healthy first innings lead of 125 in no small part down to Lloyd’s 82. However, it was in the second innings that Lloyd made the greatest impression, as his team faced a tricky chase of 192 on a spinning pitch, his score of 78* and unbeaten stand of 102 with Garry Sobers eased West Indies to victory after wickets from Chandrasekhar left them feeling nervous on 90-4. Lloyd’s superb match winning debut was elegantly summed up in Wisden;
“The performance of this bespectacled left-hander, who hit the ball with great power off the back foot, and the all-round brilliance of Sobers and Holford were the highlights of West Indies’ victory against defiant opposition.”
This performance was enough to secure his place when Seymour came back into the side for the second Test at Eden Gardens where a riot on New Year’s Day could not interrupt the West Indies wining by an innings and 45 runs, largely inspired by the bowling of Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers, with Lloyd scoring just 5.
The fixtures for Durham’s first Division 2 campaign since 2005 made miserable reading for the county’s supporters. Trips to Derbyshire and Leicestershire were the last thing on the mind of Durham’s players following their magnificent, hard fought win against Surrey at the Riverside which secured survival. Following the ECB’s draconian sanctions which have seen the club relegated, Durham now face a steep task to secure promotion as they begin the new season on -48 points.
However, all is not lost in the North East. Durham have the stand out squad in the second Division with opening bowlers Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions being arguably the best in the country. Further experience is brought by captain and club legend Paul Collingwood who extended his contract for another year to help Durham cope with the loss of star batsmen Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick. With these stalwarts alongside some incredibly promising young players – such as Keaton Jennings, Jack Burnham, Paul and Josh Coughlin, Adam Hickey, Brydon Carse and Barry McCarthy – Durham will go into every Championship game this season as favourites and expecting victory.