Spin bowlers across the county circuit are putting their hands up and desperately trying to force their way into the England reckoning.
England lost their recent Test series against Sri Lanka without a specialist spinner in the side and look set to enter the India series with Moeen Ali performing the spin role in the side.
Ali is a competent spinner and deserves more trust than England skipper Alastair Cook showed in him against Sri Lanka but he is a batting all-rounder and isn’t going to be the front line spinner to tear through top class Test batting lineups.
The simple fact is that with the retirement of Graeme Swann, there isn’t an outstanding candidate within the county game to step up to the plate and replace him.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that we have reached the T20 generation – a generation where not conceding runs is the main focus over taking wickets.
Modern spinners tweak the ball rather than spin it. Often spinners are tasked with opening the bowling in T20 cricket and aim to beat the batsmen with flight and cramp them for room rather than attempting to spin the ball past the bat. Spinners are often given a predominantly leg side field and as such fire the ball in at the legs for fear of being dispatched over the off side.
That works fine in the shortest form of the game but when transferred into the four-day or Test match arena, where batsmen can take their time and be more selective over their strokes, the current crop of spin bowlers are much less of a threat.
Nobody exemplifies this more than Kent’s James Tredwell, the current England one-day spinner. Tredwell is a master when it comes to one-day and T20 matches, with impressive economy rates and the ability to take wickets as the batting side look to attack him.
However in the County Championship it is a different story. In Division Two last season, Tredwell managed just 17 wickets at a horrendous average of 56.76 and this season has only played one game.
Tredwell shows the general trend that modern county spinners are extremely adept and effective in the one-day game but simply do not carry the same wicket taking threat as their predecessors when it comes to red-ball cricket.
There is a reluctance for spin bowlers now to throw the ball up outside off stump and attempt to give the ball plenty of revolutions to defeat the batsman. This is because bowling outside off stump in one-day cricket gives the batsman the room he needs to score. As a result, all spinners maintain a straight, defensive line to cramp the batsman for room – which is not a wicket-taking line in Test cricket.
The departed Graeme Swann was one of the last of the pre-T20 generation of spinners. Making his debut for Northants in 1998, Swann was brought up with the longer form of the game taking priority and as such was a bowler who spun the ball.
Monty Panesar, who would be England’s spinner if not for his off-field issues, also is a Test player over a one-day player due to his aggressive line and ability to turn the ball.
When you look at the names being banded about for the England spinners spot, not many of them have this ability to generate great turn. Adam Riley, Adil Rashid, Azeem Rafiq and Scott Borthwick for instance do not spin the ball much off the straight. This will make them ineffective when promoted to Test Match cricket.
Probably the next cab off the rank, Lancashire’s Simon Kerrigan, does possess this ability to turn the ball greater distances, but is probably too raw for the Test Match arena at this stage, despite being the leading wicket-taking spinner in Division One of the County Championship.
It is not a problem restricted purely to England and the England domestic circuit. Aside from Saeed Ajmal, there are not too many exceptional spin bowlers across the world.
The dominance of the shorter form of the game has been detrimental to the production of genuine wicket-taking spinners the world over. The days of Warne, Singh, Kumble and Muralitharan ripping the ball round corners have gone.
Economy over wickets is the way modern spinners who have been brought up on T20 have been forced to think, which has been one of the major contributing factors to the lack of quality spinners at the disposal of the England selectors at this time.