English cricket has a longstanding reputation of tradition, whether that’s in the form of pinching Ireland’s best players, losing at the WACA or just not allowing women into Lord’s unless they’re doing the cucumber sandwiches. Anything which falls outside of these traditional areas is treated with a great deal of cynicism. Carribbean strokeplay? Not in the MCC coaching manual. Getting ahead of the run rate in ODIs? Nope. Mystery spinners? They should be taken outside and shot for their crimes against nature.
There has been a very gradual erosion of some of these views over time – such as the eventual acceptance of the ‘scoop’ shot – but it remains a slow process, like fetching the ball back after Jade Dernbach has just bowled. And with regards to mystery spin, it’s even slower, with almost no movement in the last twenty years.
The doosra remains, in England at least, just above witchcraft in terms of acceptability to modern society. Anyone who can bowl it is immediately considered to be dangerously different from the norm. This can go in one of two ways: if it’s one of those dirty foreign types, then suspicion can immediately be cast upon their methods (think of Murali, Saeed Ajmal or Johan Botha); if it’s an Englishman, it’s a question of when, not if, they’re selected at international level.
England’s comedy mishandling of anything remotely different is another long-term tradition. Ever since one SK Warne first made Mike Gatting look like a fat bloke with no real idea of what he was doing, there’s been a curious misunderstanding about exactly what they (England) were now looking for. Warne wasn’t a phenomenon purely because he bowled leg-spin, he was a phenomenon because he was an absolutely superb bowler who just happened to be a leg-spinner. This has often been forgotten, with the selections of Ian Salisbury, Chris Schofield and inevitable future Likely Lad Scott Borthwick all owing more to Warne than anything the individuals had ever actually done.
Coming back to the doosra, there is another name that really should be added to that list of shame. Indeed, if we had any sort of long-term memory or research skills we’d have put him in our Unlikely Lad list before now; there’s a reasonable chance that we still will when we run out of players (i.e. any time soon). Anyway, his name is Alex Loudon and he was selected for a single ODI in 2006, based almost entirely on the fact that he could bowl a doosra . It wasn’t one of the great performances – he was run out without facing a ball and bowled only six overs, taking 0/36 as Sri Lanka won by eight wickets – but it emphasised England’s belief that if you can do something slightly different, no matter how badly, you’ll probably get a chance sooner rather than later.
Loudon soon drifted out of the game altogether, preferring to instead spend his time having sex with Pippa Middleton, and since then there’s barely been a single mention of the doosra amongst English spinners. The rise of Monty Panesar and then Graeme Swann (both finger spinners in a very traditional sense) largely covered up the absence of anything coming through from youth level. Instead of a generation of spinners bowling all sorts of mystery deliveries, there seems to be nothing more than a bunch of T20-friendly left arm filthers, plus the more classical Simon Kerrigan. All this despite England (via national spin bowling coach Peter Such) professing a willingness to work with bowlers who showed an interest in the doosra, in direct contrast to the Australian view on the subject.
The only English exponents in recent years are both of Pakistani origin: Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire and Moeen Ali. The latter is generally considered nothing more than a decent part-timer, who learned how to bowl it from Saeed Ajmal while playing for Worcestershire. Quite why no-one else has this knowledge is something well worth asking – there’s no sign of anyone else in the England squad picking it up and James Tredwell could certainly use a new weapon or two for his armoury – but it remains a good example of the sniffy English approach that looks set to continue for the forseeable future.
English spin-bowling seems to be at something of a crossroads. Without a serious exponent of the doosra in the national side, there’s unlikely to be any sort of upsurge amongst young spinners. With no coaches actively teaching the delivery it’s not going to spread either. The end result is that England will continue to misunderstand mystery spin for at least another generation, which is good news for any low quality leg-spinners who fancy a crack at Test cricket.