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County Championship 2023

‘Test cricket isn’t on my radar’ – Why Liam Dawson isn’t worried about England coming calling

Liam Dawson embraces his Hampshire teammate Mohammad Abbas
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 5 minute read

Liam Dawson has built up an excellent record in first-class cricket but it is now six years since his last Test match. He speaks to Yas Rana after a career-best performance against Middlesex about spin bowling in England and not fretting about the prospect of a Test return.

When Jack Leach went down in the build-up to the Ashes, Ben Stokes immediately fired out a text to Moeen Ali, an off-spinning all-rounder who had not played a red-ball game in two years. Two weeks later, when concerns heightened over the durability of Moeen’s spinning finger, Rehan Ahmed, an 18-year-old leggie averaging more than 65 with the ball in Division Two of the County Championship in 2023, was brought in as cover. If reports are to believed, the other option that England considered was Will Jacks, a batter who only seriously took up off-spin in first-class cricket last year.

The chain of events is hardly a ringing endorsement for the quality of spinners in county cricket. While the progression of the likes of Matt Parkinson, Dom Bess, Mason Crane and Amar Virdi – all spinners identified as bowlers of potential by England as recently as 2021 – may have stalled in recently, one spinner thriving without international recognition is Liam Dawson. Six years since his last Test, his bowling is reaching its peak only now.


Since the start of the 2017 summer, his last as a Test cricketer, Dawson has an impressive 137 first-class wickets at 28.35, while also batting inside Hampshire’s top six. In the same period, Leach has taken 167 wickets at 25.45 for Somerset on, for a lot of that time, have been more spin-friendly pitches at Taunton.

With a record like that and the absence of other options, Dawson would have every right to feel aggrieved by his latest England omission.

Last week, his good season stepped up a notch when he followed a first-innings 141 with a career-best match haul of 12-130. Did his England omission spur him on at all?

“To be honest, no, not really.” Dawson tells Wisden.com. “Test cricket for me hasn’t really been on my radar now for a long time. The way my cricket’s gone, my white-ball game has taken off the last few years in the franchise opportunities that have come. That’s been my big strength over the last few years, so Test cricket isn’t something that I’ve even thought about.

“I still really enjoy playing red-ball cricket for Hampshire and enjoying playing for a very good side and trying to win Division One but yeah, playing for England isn’t something that I even worry about.”

Dawson’s focus may be on white-ball cricket, but his first-class success is illustrative of the broader challenges facing spin bowling in the country. His development as a spinner is directly linked to his status as an all-rounder. While other spin bowlers struggle to break into their county’s XI in seamer-friendlier conditions in April, May and September – when the bulk of the County Championship is played – Dawson commands a spot in the Hampshire top-six in his own right, so is always selected in all conditions, a relative luxury for an English spinner.

“I think you get better just by bowling and bowling in matches,” he says. “You know, I think the early part of my career, my first five or six years I was sort of bits-and-pieces with the ball, I didn’t bowl loads, to be honest.

“It’s very, very difficult for spinners in England. I mean, you look at Mason Crane at our place. Think Matt Parkinson at Lancashire – there’ll be a number of spinners out there that probably should be playing but they don’t play because they’re out-and-out bowlers. It’s not ideal. That’s our domestic schedule. If you’re not bowling many overs of spin in April and May, there’s no point in wasting a spot on a spinner who’s probably only going to bowl maybe five or 10 overs in an innings.”

Dawson himself is unflappable, not letting either the plight of English spin or selection speculation affect him, something that he says hindered his game earlier in his career: “I worried about that way too much when I was younger, and it’s not healthy. I’m 33 now and I want to enjoy cricket and play as much as I can. And I don’t worry about playing for England anymore – it’s not a healthy thing to do.

“Every game you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to do well and you want people to see you’re doing well. You shouldn’t play cricket for that, you should be playing cricket to enjoy the game and if you do that you’ll end up performing and that’s something I’ve done the last few years. I’ve tried to enjoy it and my performance has been pretty good – it [possible England selection] is not something I worry about anymore and I’m not gonna worry about it.”

It’s a laudable philosophy for someone who has experienced one of the more curious England careers: 20 caps over seven years across formats, three World Cup call-ups (but two as a travelling reserve), of which two came in a four-year spell without an international appearance.

There has always been a sense that England would trust Dawson in an emergency, but also a feeling that they know how good he is and what they will get from him, and he hasn’t been given the chance to elevate his status as reliable deputy to leading man despite building a domestic record few can rival.

In another era, it would have been Dawson, not Moeen or Ahmed, on the receiving end of the captain’s S.O.S calls, but the Hampshire all-rounder is more than content with his lot, leading his county’s title charge, making a living on the franchise circuit.

He’ll be there if England come calling, but he’s not losing any sleep about whether or not they do.

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