While being the world’s number one Test side, defending world T20 champions and the soon-to-be best ODI side in the world (as proved by a crushing demolition job against the mighty Hyderabad XI) is a lot of fun, it’s also made us pine for simpler times. The days of England being a joke outfit, losing to the likes of New Zealand and being regularly bowled out for 180 in the first innings made us into the rounded individuals that we are today, able to treat the two imposters of triumph and disaster the same.
Yes, that’s right – we know a thing or two about poetry as well. Here’s a nice rendition of Kipling’s most famous work:
Of course, that spectacularly rubbish team was made up of some spectacularly rubbish players, those who simply weren’t destined for great things. While the stories of Alec Stewart and Michael Atherton are interesting, they’re nowhere near as interesting as the stories of the dross that they were forced to rely on. This article is the first in a series looking at that dross, as well as an opportunity to use a cunningly not-stolen title.
And what better place to start than a man described by a low-quality rival blog as the worst specialist bowler in the history of test cricket?
Shane Warne has a lot to answer for. Not only did he spend most of the 90’s and 00’s bamboozling England’s batsmen, but he also managed to bewilder the selectors.
We’ll come back to that point shortly enough, but let’s start at the beginning. In 1992 England were hosting Pakistan but had struggled to bowl them out in the first test at Edgbaston, using an ‘attack’ consisting of Defreitas, Lewis, Pringle and Botham. The spin options for that game were two other players who may well pop up in future WHTTUL articles – messrs Hick and Ramprakash.
In the meantime, one IDK Salisbury was enjoying a bodacious (in the young person’s vernacular of the time) season for Sussex in county cricket, finishing with 87 First Class wickets at under 30. With hindsight, that says more about the standard of the County Championship at the time than anything else.
In came Salisbury for the second Test at Lord’s (alongside Devon Malcolm) and he actually did okay, finishing with match figures of 5/122 as Pakistan edged home by two wickets. Sadly it was all downhill from there. In the third Test at Old Trafford he took a distincly less impressive 0/184, being outbowled by the prodigious talent of Tim Munton, before being dropped for Neil Mallender for the fourth Test.
At this point common sense would have suggested that Salisbury needed some time in domestic cricket to work on his game. Of course, common sense had long since been abandoned by the selectors and Salisbury found himself in the tour party to India the following winter. Two crushing defeats later (with Salisbury picking up 3/230) and he was back out of the side, this time replaced by John Emburey.
In normal circumstances, the story would probably have ended there. However, England returned home to face Australia in a series that was dominated by Shane Warne. Warne’s 34 wickets (including the so-called ball of the century) gave England’s selectors a clear idea: legspin was the way to go.
Unfortunately that’s only half the truth: good legspin was the way to go and Ian Salisbury wasn’t a good legspinner. He could turn the ball but he lacked the control required – playing him was simply a question of waiting for the long hop or full toss and dispatching it. There was no need to do anything else. Should the surprise straight one make an appearance it could be calmly defended.
Spurred on by Warne’s success, England recalled Salisbury for the 1994 tour of the West Indies where he actually did slightly better, before yet again losing his place after the legendary 46allout debacle. Had the internet been around properly in 1994 we’d probably have been blogging the hell out of it shortly afterwards.
And so it went on – back in against South Africa in July for a single test in which he yet again failed to impress. His bowling average was up above 58 by this point, a horrific figure for a front line bowler. It was pretty clear that it was simply never going to happen at the top level.
And yet, like an X-Factor judge cynically trying to prop up their career, England kept coming back to the wrong man. Two more tests followed in 1996, two more in 1998 and three more in 2000 (after a brief flirtation with Chris Schofield proved equally unsuccessful). Fifteen matches in total, with just 20 wickets at 76.95. For comparison, even hideously malformed Aussie allrounder Steve Smith has a better bowling average than that (73.33).
Even with hindsight, it’s hard to understand what the selectors thought was going to happen. Did they really think Salisbury would rock up one day and suddenly have amazing control over his variations, bamboozling top class batsmen with his flight and guile? Or was he simply a beneficiary of a selection policy that repeatedly valued having a mystery spinner ahead of a good one?
It was during late 2000 that Ashley Giles made the England’s spinner’s position his own, to eventually be replaced by the clearly superior Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, and Salisbury was mercifully never asked to stink up the Test arena again.
It’s probably fair to say that England have never really ‘got’ legspinners. Adil Rashid looked set for a run in the team until suddenly disappearing from sight like an Ian Salisbury full toss. Scott Borthwick may do slightly better. Whatever happens, we’re prepared to bet that he doesn’t end up overtaking Salisbury’s astonishing record.