England have five spinners in their 30-man training group from which their squad for the West Indies Tests will be picked, and face a dilemma over who should get the nod. Four Wisden writers give their opinion.
For once, England have a spin selection debate for the right reasons. Whereas often in recent times England have only had one viable option, and have had to plump for simply the least bad option on occasions, now they have five budding twirlers. That Amar Virdi and Matt Parkinson, two slow bowlers with much going for them, don’t feature much in this debate only emphasises their strength in depth.
The question is made harder by the fact that there isn’t an incumbent. In England’s last Test, the fourth game against South Africa, they fielded five quicks, and while it was Somerset off-spinner Dom Bess who played in the game before that, taking a maiden five-for to boot, that appearance only came in the absence of Moeen Ali, who was taking a break from first-class cricket at the time, and Jack Leach, who was struggling with illness.
Here is how the four Wisden writers see England’s spin debate:
Jo Harman, Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor
This is a tough call on Dom Bess, who bowled so well in that series-clinching win at Port Elizabeth, and Jack Leach, whose England career stalled over the winter through no fault of his own, but Moeen Ali comes straight back in after a year-long absence. Moeen’s lack of recent first-class cricket has ceased to mean much given that no one has delivered a ball of any colour in earnest since March, and his record in England can’t be overlooked. He’s two shy of 100 Test wickets on English soil, with a strike rate superior to that of Swann, Laker and Monty (and Shane Warne, as it goes). Some rustiness is to be expected – he’s often a slow starter in series, particularly with the ball – but when in the groove, he remains one of England’s most influential players. It’s time to welcome him back to the fold.
James Wallace, Wisden Cricket Monthly staff writer
The bespectacled nurdler of that single, co-hero of Headingley 2019. Has experience of the heady heights and afflicted plights the game can chuck up in only a few short years on the international block.
The young, yeoman tyro, another ‘Somersonian’ with devilment in his digits and fire in his belly. In possession of what the Aussies call ‘spunk’ and the English (less wincingly) ‘vim’ or that elusive thing that sometimes gets Nasser to purr, “Ticker”.
The soon-to-be-statesman of the modern game, coiled and ready to spring out of self-imposed exile. Could saunter into most teams on the strength of either discipline. Who doesn’t love a comeback?
The other does it differently, the other way in fact. The untried leggie with a chance to play back-to-back Tests on his home wicket, if not, yet, in front of his home crowd. The mystery choice. The wild card.
Four blokes. Four backstories. One chance. Who to give it to? The bloke who runs the website has a fine head of hair, bountiful chestnut locks that dance off an angular jaw. But in his emails he has started to morph into Javier Bardem’s bob-sporting coin-tossing maniac in No Country For Old Men.
“Call it. I’m gonna need you to call it. I can’t do it for you”.
Chilling stuff actually. I’m going for Jack Leach. And into hiding.
Sam Dyer, wisden.com staff writer
If you look purely at bowling, Jack Leach is the best spinner in England. He can play the holding role or the attacking role, and he’s got the experience that the other options (sans Moeen) currently lack. And for all the people saying “but Ciderabad”, he’s obviously not played any Tests at Taunton and yet averages less than any England Test spinner to have taken at least five wickets since ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood’s retirement in 1982.
As far as I’m concerned the only argument against Leach is that, with Broad and Anderson likely both in the team as well, the Taunton Tendulkar would be part of a hefty tail. But I’m a firm believer in picking your best bowlers and letting the top seven take care of the run-scoring, so it’s got to be Leach for me.
Ben Gardner, wisden.com managing editor
Moeen Ali, where to start? A year ago, he had more Test wickets than any other spinner in the world over the past 12 months and had been England’s leading wicket-taker on both their winter tours, having also played a pivotal part in helping topple the No.1 Test side in the world on his recall. But he’d also just played his last World Cup game, was about to take another pummelling at the hands of the Aussies, and was in the midst of a career-worst run of form with the bat. Between then and now he hasn’t played a Test and resorted to bowling seam-ups in a County Championship game.
Still, while it’s easy to say the only thing that’s been consistent is Moeen’s inconsistency, with the red ball in England that’s not really true, and that Ashes aberration really was just that – an aberration. James Anderson’s injury, as much as anything, is what left him a shadow of his usual self at Edgbaston; as a complement to a four-man seam attack, and therefore relieved of holding-up-an-end duties, he’s invariably lethal. Moreover, he’s talking the talk, a reassuring sign for a player more prone to all-too-honestly doing himself down, and prosaic as it may seem, a tail with Jofra Archer at No.8 doesn’t really bear thinking about.