Saqlain key for Mo says Swann
ENGLAND may be riding the crest of a wave after their series win over South Africa and comprehensive first Test victory over the West Indies – but former bowler Graeme Swann says they are still stuck in the dark ages.
The 3-1 series win over South Africa moved Joe Root’s men up to third in the ICC Test rankings – thanks in no small part to Moeen Ali, who became only the second Englishman after Sir Ian Botham to claim 25 wickets and score more than 250 runs in a series.
And Moeen’s rise to being one of the best spin bowlers in world cricket has a lot to do with the role of former Pakistan international Saqlain Mushtaq.
Saqlain is with the England camp on a consultancy basis and has helped turn Ali from a parttime bowler into a vital member of Root’s attack. But Swann has questioned England’s decision not to hand Saqlain a full-time contract.
“Saqlain isn’t on a 12-month contract, which is a joke,” Swann said.“It’s been a great appointment because he’s done so well for Moeen. I couldn’t think of a greater man to have helping him.”
The relationship between Moeen and Saqlain has plenty of similarities between that of Swann and another former Pakistan spinner, Mushtaq Ahmed.
Swann, who took 255 Test wickets at 29.96, says that his relationship with Mushtaq played a key part in his career and the ECB should look to provide Moeen with all the tools he needs to succeed.
Swann believes the role of Saqlain is important not just for his knowledge and experience on the cricket pitch but also to play the role of psychologist – just as Mushtaq did for him.
He added: “We never, ever spoke technically. So when I say spin coach, Mushtaq was like my mentor, he was like a mate to talk to. He was my psychologist without having an MD after his name. The ECB need to get out of the Dark Ages. Give the players what they need to perform.
“People think psychology is seeing a shrink, sitting down and talking about fears and anxieties. It’s the exact opposite. It’s about getting the best out of your mental state, so getting onto a field knowing you’re going to perform on that day is no different in Test cricket as it is in a club game on a Saturday when you’re 15 years old.
“You’re the best player when you’re 15, even though you’re playing against men, and you know it. You have a natural aura and an arrogance about you that gets gradually chipped away by the English system because you’re told ‘don’t be cocky’.”
Ahead of the South Africa series, Moeen indicated he wanted to bat higher up the order and did not consider himself the No.1 spinner.
And England coach Trevor Bayliss seemed to agree with him as Liam Dawson was brought into the team as a spin bowler leaving Moeen as a batsman who “bowls a little”.
The whole episode left Swann deeply unimpressed. He said: “Moeen is a brilliant lower-order batsman. Leave him be – just don’t talk about him. If he doesn’t want to be the limelight, don’t make him the limelight. But don’t insult everyone’s intelligence by saying Liam Dawson’s a better bowler than him, especially not Liam Dawson’s intelligence. That was embarrassing.”
With the Ashes looming large on the horizon, Swann does not see any reason to make any major changes to the England squad.
With four Test wins so far this summer, Swann believes England have a settled squad and would not be in favour of bringing Mason Crane into the attack just yet.
“To bring Mason in, it would be a big risk,” Swann added.
“A couple of years down the line I hope Mason is tearing up county cricket, tearing up all cricket he plays.
“The fact that he went to Australia and the positive Press that he got in getting into the state side as well is a good sign.
“But don’t just automatically think ‘brilliant, we’ve got a leggie, get him in’. Just look at how many spinners we’ve ruined over the years by just throwing them in when they’re not ready.”
Graeme Swann was speaking in association with Specsavers – title sponsor of the County Championship. For information www.specsavers.co.uk
Advice: Graeme Swann