With still a few months to go for the return leg of the Ashes, the debate for England’s squad to tour Down Under has already heated up. While the preparations of giving adequate rest to the key members of the squad have already started, Aayush Puthran tries to figure out who could be their best bet as the second spinner in the squad.
It’s an awkward situation the England selectors find themselves in as they look to put their best bowling attack in order in their bid to win a fourth consecutive Ashes series when they tour Australia later in the year. On the one hand, it is the riches of talent available to them in the pace department coupled with the complicated issue of each bowler dealing with his various levels of fitness and recovering from injuries. On the other hand, it is just about finding one good spinner to compliment Graeme Swann.
Owing to Australian conditions, one might wonder whether it’s all that big an issue to not find an able second spinner given the standards Swann has set and the fact that, on paper, he will probably be more effective than all of Australia’s spinner put together. With Monty Panesar making things worse for himself with his off-field antics, it will indeed be a cause of worry for the selectors when they realise that Simon Kerrigan, James Tredwell and Samit Patel are their three best bets for the second spinners’ slot.
While Kerrigan still looks a good contender if one discounts his ‘eight overs of hell’ against the arch-rivals in the recently-concluded Ashes, his ordinary efforts have drawn enough flak to keep him away from any chance of returning to the scheme of things in the near future. It is hard to know whether Kerrigan has gained the selectors’ confidence that he is fit enough for top-flight cricket. As of now, he doesn’t seem a good enough spinner to replace Swann in case the off-spinner gets injured or come into the side as the second-spinner.
Tredwell, on the other hand looks impressive, especially after the way he has replaced Swann in the limited-overs formats. The big man is not afraid to toss the ball and generates good bounce to cause trouble to the batsmen. However, if he is selected, his chief role might come in as a second spinner at Adelaide and Sydney. Would England be interested in going with two off-spinners, along with having the part-time services of Joe Root? That is a question to ask. It seems quite unlikely.
If they indeed want a left-arm spinner to fill the void of Panesar, Patel is not a quality replacement but yet the best option they have. Patel’s ordinary skill-set as a spinner was well exposed in India, where Panesar showed the disparity that lied in the class of the two left-armers. Yet one can give it to Patel that bowling to Indian batsmen in their conditions is not something even legends like Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan have fancied. However, if utilised as an all-rounder in the side, Patel can prove to be a handy option to compliment Swann. But in case of an injury to the off-spinner, who has been dealing with a troubled back and calf problem lately, England would be found wanting for their lack of skills in the spin department. Patel’s match-winning three wickets for Nottinghamshire will do his chances good, but the Indian-origin spinner certainly doesn’t come across as the best option to lead their spin attack.
It is a hard pick for the English selectors. If they are reluctant to persist with Panesar, it would be ideal for them to select both Tredwell and Patel in the squad with the latter donning the responsibility of an all-rounder more than a back-up spinner.
(Aayush Puthran is a reporter with CricketCountry. Mercurially jovial, pseudo pompous, perpetually curious and occasionally confused, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of filter kaapi!)