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Following hot on the heels of Vincent Kwesi’s diatribe about The Myth Of Kevin Pietersen comes a second piece, this time from someone called Richard Gardham, presumably because that’s his name. Sadly Richard was less creative when it came to titles, hence his article is rather prosaically called ‘Article On Spinners/Gareth Batty’.
The cupboard’s bare! This is the cry we keep on hearing when it comes to England’s spinning options. It’s all Graeme Swann’s fault. Had we had four years of Richard Dawson or Ian Salisbury twirling away for England, throwing in Simon Kerrigan or a misfiring Monty wouldn’t seem so bad. But Swann has ruined everything: England, TMS and our understanding of the drink-drive laws when cats are involved. ‘The best spinner available’ is no longer good enough when it comes to England. We’ve become accustomed to something special. And special is something we’re short on supply of at the moment.
But is the cupboard bare? Not quite. In a country with 18 professional cricket teams, our cupboard will never be entirely bare. We have options. Options that in 2001 possibly wouldn’t have seemed so bad, but in this godforsaken post-Swann environment aren’t good enough, dammit. But we need a specialist spinner. Not bothering with one isn’t an option. We can’t tour the Indian subcontinent without a frontline spinner. We can’t travel to the baking heat of the West Indies or Australia expecting our quicks to bear the burden of all of the bowling. We can’t play Tests as tightly packed together as in this series against India relying on increasingly brittle seamers flogging away on dead pitches. We need to play ‘the best spinner available’.
So 18 counties means 18 spinners straining their wrists and index fingers for the honour of bowling to BJ Watling next summer on a non-responsive track at Headingley, right? Well, not quite. On a county-by-county basis, the runners and riders (and non-runners and fallen riders) are as follows:
Peter Burgoyne impressed in spells for Derbyshire last season, with his textbook action winning him lots of admirers among the BBC county cricket commentators. Sadly, however, he’s’ yet to appear this season with “stress-related issues”. At 20, however, he’ll hopefully come back to fulfil his potential to some extent. David Wainwright‘s time has possibly gone. He did get Lions recognition while with Yorkshire and is a well-liked, quick-thinking cricketer. At the time of writing, his 20 wickets this season have come at 43. Not the type of form to get Mike Newell spending his day off chugging down the A52.
Scott Borthwick has played in one test, which is probably one test too many at this stage in his career based on his bowling ability. Ten wickets at 51 this season suggests that a) England got it wrong, and b) a recall shouldn’t be imminent. He appears to no longer be playing second fiddle in the spinning stakes to Gareth Breese, which is a good thing but is he really going to concentrate fully on his bowling while batting at three?
Monty. Monty, Monty, Monty, Monty, Monty. What a waste. Should have 300 test wickets in his sights at this point. His 26 wickets at 31 this season isn’t a bad return but doesn’t reflect his talent given that these are second-tier wickets. Come on Monty. You should be comically running out of the way of bouncers, not pissing on them. Elsewhere at Chelmsford, there’s Tom Craddock, a leggy who impressed in the friendly against England last season. He’s barely played this season, however, with one wicket in his only game.
I broke into James Whitaker’s car a couple of weeks ago [Editor’s note: he may well have done; it’s definitely not 51allout’s fault if he did] and made off with his SatNav and a signed Ronnie Irani autobiography. From the information gleaned on the SatNav’s history, I can reveal that the last time he drove to Bristol was in 2004, and that appears to have been to see an REM tribute band (Are We Them? seeing as you asked). He’s unlikely to bother with Nevil Road much for the remainder of this season either. Nothing to see here.
Dean Cosker is 36 and probably too old to worry the selectors. But his 32 wickets at 25 this season would suggest that he could be of some use as a stop-gap bowler. There are other options in the ‘play the grandad’ field though, both of whom come with international experience. Andrew Salter is the heir apparent to Cosker. His figures so far this season don’t suggest anything too exciting in the short term, however.
Danny Briggs remains a very promising bowler, and 23 wickets at 27 this season in the County Championship show that he’s more than just a limited-over specialist. He’ll hopefully be in the selectors’ thoughts to some extent. It would be nice if he could get a few more overs under his belt for Hants. Sharing spinning duties at the Rose Bowl to some extent is Liam Dawson. Despite being of fine England U19’s stock, Liam has a mere 13 wickets at 25 this season. It’s a shame that he’s yet another player who’s decided that concentrating on batting will serve him better than concentrating on spin bowling.
Kent still hold two options for England. The most talked about is Adam Riley, who holds promise, but only promise at this stage. Aged 22, 32 wickets at 28 this season is impressive enough. He will be monitored closely but appears to rightly be behind Kerrigan in the pecking order. Surely he needs to at least complete one season as Kent’s first-chioce spinner before we throw him in at the deep end. If England go down the ‘golden oldie’ route, James Tredwell wouldn’t be a bad option in a defensive Ashley Giles kind of role. He’s very rarely let England down when called upon, and ended up as a better limited overs option than Swann. The fact that Tredwell’s spent time on loan with Sussex – despite moving up a division to do it – probably makes it a call too far for the selectors.
One for 150. Nought for 78. Nought for 107. The more astute among you are probably expecting those figures to be something to do with Simon Kerrigan. And you’d be right to some extent. Those are the figures recorded by Shane Warne in his first two-and-a-half tests. So what am I saying? Basically, if we persevere with Kerrigan then he’ll go on to take 700 Test wickets and be regarded as one of the greatest spinners of all time. There’s no arguing with that logic.
OK, maybe there is. But I do have some sympathy for Kerrigan. He was thrown into what England were treating as a dead rubber but Australia were treating as the first unofficial test before the main event started back home in the winter. He was undoubtedly England’s best option behind Swann and Monty last August and his stats this season – 28 wickets at 36 – suggest he is close to remaining so. All spinners get taken apart at some point in their career. Kerrigan just happened to get it in his first Test. We should give him another crack at it to prove that he’s a better bowler than the dreadful one we saw at the Oval. He does need to stop bowling so many full tosses in his first few overs, however.
Elsewhere at Old Trafford, Stephen Perry might an option, but appears to be off the radar in the longer form of the game for Lancs, even though he looked half-decent for England in the West Indies. Steven Croft isn’t an option for his spin bowling alone.
Not much doing. Jigar Naik‘s stats – 12 wickets at 84 this season – suggest that even Notts won’t be tempted to poach him. James Sykes is getting a few more games of late, but, y’know, he plays for Leicestershire.
Lord’s plays home to two spinners who’ll probably be rueing the fact that they’ve had pretty underwhelming seasons. I saw Ravi Patel last season and liked the look of him. His 49 career wickets come at 33. This season, however, nine wickets at an average of 57 isn’t going to get him picked for England. He’s only 22 though. When I was 22 I was following the Levellers around the UK on tour. It smelt. Ollie Rayner had been bowling well enough last season to trouble the Lions. His two wickets at 156 this season suggest he’s going to struggle to emulate that feat this year.
Despite being the breeding ground that gave us Panesar and Swann, there is no real option at Wantage Road at the moment. Spinning is done by opener James Middlebrook (aged 37) and Matthew Spreigel (8 wickets at 45). Hopefully Saif Zaib‘s left-arm spin will develop to match his promising batting. Moving on…
Samit Patel has 19 wickets at 39 this season (to go with his four wickets in five Tests at 64), as well as a ton of runs. I suspect he’s a similar standard spinner to Moeen Ali, but Moeen is now firmly established in the ‘batsman who bowls decent spin’ role. Notts seem to have nothing beyond Samit. Or maybe he’s just obscuring them on the team photo.
One name that hasn’t come up much in discussions revolving around our spinning hopes is George Dockrell. Maybe that’s because he’s Irish, but he has expressed an interest to qualify for England in the past. No doubt the fulsome praise of how that goes from Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin will only serve to whet his appetite for playing for England further. George was getting huge praise a couple of years ago, and looked at home in international cricket when playing for his motherland. His 21 wickets at 32 this season is an impressive return, and at 21 he’s an exciting option should he choose to leave behind his Australian-born team-mates at Clontarf.
A few interesting possibilities at the Oval. First and foremost is Gareth Batty, a man with a test career, lest we forget. Choosing a 36-year-old may seem uninspiring but so what? Australia’s choosing Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin last summer seemed uninspiring too. If Batty could tie down an end – much as Ashley Giles used to – while the seamers ran in from the other end, and could do it for the next 14 months or so, then he’s our best option. Chris Rogers’ steady, dependable presence helped Warner and the rest of the Australian top order to attack. Batty could serve a similar purpose for England in the bowling stakes. He has 28 wickets at 22 this season with an economy rate of about 2.2. Choosing Batty wouldn’t be a sign of weakness, it would just be the sensible thing to do and show bravery from Moores and his new selection team. Who knows what the spinning options will be in 18 months? Hopefully Kerrigan, Riley, Patel, Borthwick, Briggs, Rashid et al will have made a stronger case for Test match inclusion. Until then, Batty is our best option.
Another name who might be on that list in 18 months’ time is Zafar Ansari, who has 20 wickets at 32 this season. He’s only 22 and can bat too. Most certainly one to watch. Maybe we could get a petition going to get Jade Dernbach to only bowl his cutters and slower balls and become a full-time spin option, if only to end his career as a T20 death bowling ‘specialist’.
The need to call up James Tredwell on loan speaks volumes. Will Beer is unlikely to trouble anyone, really. Including opposition batsmen and Sussex selectors.
That Ajmal chap looks useful. If only… Moeen Ali takes on a lot of spin duties, and we know about him. And to be fair, his bowling has improved, Test by Test. But he’s not a frontline spinner. More like a very handy second spinner. Shaaiq Choudhry has barely bowled this season. Hopefully some youngster is watching and learning from Ajmal. But Worcs are unlikely to bother with anyone else bowling spin while they have the man from Pakistan (and Moeen).
As above, really. Jeetan Patel’s general excellence would suggest that there’s no real need for anyone else to bother. And Warwickshire rarely do. I hadn’t even heard of Paul Best until I looked him up on Wikipedia.
Ahhhh Adil Rashid. So full of promise, so full of disappointments. His 18 wickets at 35 this season don’t quite reflect a big improvement in his bowling. Still only 26 with nearly 350 first-class wickets, England can’t just give up on him. His T20 bowling has been terrific too. Hopefully fatherhood will see him become the bowler we all hoped he’d be. That said, I became a father relatively recently and my work has gone to shit ever since. Azeem Rafiq has sadly regressed over the past year. There was even some talk of him having the yips in the seconds last season. His bowling in his one County Championship game at Sussex this season thankfully suggested that that was untrue, but he was largely uninspiring and was replaced in the next game by 18-year-old Karl Carver. Azeem remains a very good T20 bowler, however, but at 23 needs to be established in a county side somewhere. Adam Lyth is probably the most improved spinner in the country this season. He’s a million miles off Test standard, but I just like to mention him because his mum and dad’s fish and chip restaurant in Whitby is utterly magnificent.
So there you have it. If we accept we have to play a frontline spinner – which we should – we have two options. Go with someone undercooked and stick with them through the sticky moments that will inevitably come with that. Or pick a spinner in his mid-30s – and that man should be Gareth Batty – in the hope that he will contribute to getting us back on a winning track. It doesn’t matter how you win a test series, as long as you win it. That is doubly true when the Ashes are at stake, as they will be next summer. And if winning them with a by-then 37-year-old spinner is what we have to do, then so be it. If you think that any Australian’s celebrations were tempered last winter by the fact that their victory was built to some extent on 36-year-olds Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers, you’re very much mistaken. Picking the best players available to you is never wrong, and there’s not a better spinning option for England at the moment than Gareth Batty.