England’s spinners bowled pathetically at times against Pakistan but I actually felt a bit sorry for them because they have been produced by a system that does not arm them with the skills to prosper in international cricket.
We can blame and point the finger at Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Samit Patel for bowling poorly and failing to back up the excellence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
But the English game has only got itself to blame for the current state of our spin bowling stocks.
Only one in five overs in the county championship last summer were bowled by a spinner. Four day matches are crammed into April, May and September when the pitches are damp or dewy so not conducive to spin.
How often in county cricket does a spinner have the chance to bowl on flat wickets on days one and two? Hardly ever. It is a problem because that is when they have the chance to bowl maidens to get into the game so they can feel in rhythm to bowl their team to victory on the final day.
We are living in an era in county cricket where winning means more than it did in the 1980s and 1990s. I can’t remember a coach being sacked back in those days for poor results. They knew they were in a position for a long period of time and their primary job was to produce players for England. Moving to two divisions has made the game more competitive but it has bred short termism.
Counties now produce juicy pitches so they can win. With a Duke ball and on grassy surfaces guys bowling at 76-80mph like Jesse Ryder, Darren Stevens, David Masters and Steve Patterson offer control and penetration. They are more likely to earn wins which means coaches and captains keep their jobs. But that is not good enough for Test level where matches are mostly played on flat pitches and bowlers have to be able to build pressure to take wickets rather than rely on the surface to help them.
What England needed in the UAE was a Monty Panesar landing it in the same place ball after ball; someone able to fire the ball into middle stump all week but the spinners are not out there who can produce that anymore.
The structure of our domestic game leaves them bowling on green tops so for weeks they hardly get any overs under their belts. Then suddenly they play on a dry pitch and are expected to bowl teams out having not had enough match practice. The spinners are not used to bowling the 20 to 30 overs at 1.5 runs an over to stay in the contest. All bowlers become confident by repeating their action. They train the brain to deliver a skill such as changing finger position to spin the ball out of the front or side of the hand or bowling an arm ball. It helps them keep it tight and apply pressure on batsmen. But if they are not getting that exposure at home then we cannot expect them to turn up in the UAE against top Pakistan players of spin and suddenly win England a Test match. It is just not feasible.
But it is not just the county game. What have England done over the past few years when they have felt a bit of pressure and needed to win? They have produced green pitches to try and help the seamers swing it. It is how we won the Ashes last summer at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston.
Let’s just produce the best possible wickets for Test and county cricket. A Test match is meant to last five days so produce pitches that will do that.
England’s four seamers are highly skilled. They will be excellent on every surface but it is only by changing the conditions that we will give the spinner a chance to bowl more consistently.
We have to look at the system. If spinners are not able to bowl the overs in county cricket then play some county cricket overseas. The English game is rich enough to afford to arrange matches in hotter, drier conditions where the ball turns in February or March.
If we do not start thinking differently then young spinners will simply continue to be mauled when they step up to Test cricket. Look at Scott Borthwick. He played as England’s spinner in an Ashes Test in Sydney in January 2014. Since then he has bowled only 332.3 overs in two seasons of county championship cricket.
At home in Durham he has bowled just 109 overs (16 games) which is barely more than Paul Collingwood (82.1 overs) with his dobbers over the same period. Borthwick is not being given the opportunity to learn his craft.
At the moment Gareth Batty is probably the most consistent England qualified spinner in county cricket. But you are not going to go back to him now at the age of 38. So in reality England have to stick with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
Teams around the world have now had the opportunity to study Moeen’s bowling and worked out how has he taken wickets. They have realised they do not have to attack him. That is when he gets batsmen out. Just wait for the bad balls. No disrespect to Moeen, but as a right hander why wouldn’t you just want to keep facing him? Just milk him. He has to learn something a bit different by changing angle or bowling a bit quicker through the air. He has talent to work with. He just needs more bowling.
Rashid is the same. England have to sit down with him and work out why he bowled so many bad balls against Pakistan. That is a mental thing. His skill levels are good. He does not normally bowl bad balls like he did here and the same for Moeen when he plays for Worcestershire. Perhaps they panicked or froze against Pakistan. But England have to learn from these three games and work out how to improve Moeen and Rashid so they are better prepared mentally, physically and technically for the next time play for England. They are the best we have got, there is no point putting them on the scrapheap because there is nobody else waiting in the wings.
The whole game has to be looked at. If not then we will go overseas for years to come and our spinners will do nothing in spinning conditions. England cannot be the best team in the world again unless that issue is addressed.