England’s recent tour in Bangladesh revealed the side’s biggest weakness: their spin attack. On a pitch where Bangladesh spinners were able to restrict the run flow and take wickets, England spinners struggled. Leg spinner Adil Rashid managed to take only seven wickets in the two Test matches at an economy rate of 3.81. On a slow pitch these numbers are decent and unacceptable compared to young Mehedi Hasan’s numbers or even Shakib Al Hasan’s.
For England, it was not only Rashid’s performance that is a cause of concern. Debutant Zafar Ansari also failed to impressive. The let-arm orthodox spinner managed only two wickets in two games and gave away runs at a rate of 4.5 per over. This could prove costly when the team face the formidable Indian batting line-up in the first Test which begins on November 9 in Rajkot.
After Moeen Ali, who is a specialist batsman, England lack a quality spinner and Rashid and Ansari have failed to perform exceptionally well in the sub-continent so far.
England have struggled to find a replacement for Graeme Swann, who retired in 2013 during the disastrous Ashes series in Australia. England have not produced a single quality spinner since then.
If one tries to find the problem England faces to produce spinners, it lies at the grass root level in England where fast bowlers are preferred over spinners, which has hurt the country’s ability to produce decent slow bowlers over the years. In a recent interview to ESPNcricinfo, Swann iterated his frustration when he said that English spinners are “treated like third class citizens.”
“There is no sort of system in place to provide the backing that spinners need… And because of that, we are bad players of spin. It’s a whole melting pot,” Swann said.
While selecting the team for India tour, England seem to have again favoured fast bowlers over spinners. James Anderson, who was initially not picked in the squad is set to join the team in India. But the exclusion of Somerset’s left arm spinner Jack Leach, who had a brilliant domestic season, has raised several eyebrows. Leach critics said that the bowler was not selected as he took his wickets on “turning surfaces”. That perhaps should have been an ideal reason for his selection as surfaces in India are likely to turn on Day 3 itself.
But England cannot think about all that now. When they take field on Wednesday, Moeen will be spearheading the spin department. Though he made India batting look ordinary in England in 2014, his recent outing against Bangladesh doesn’t provide a great picture. In an interview after the Test defeat against Bangladesh, Ali said, “I am nowhere near where I want to be as a spinner.” Moeen’s words lack confidence and may not inspire his team-mates as well.
With the likes of Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara, who are excellent batsmen of spin, the England side are most likely to struggle. But that’s what they said about the team that toured India in 2012-13 until Monty Panesar arrived.