Rayner’s moving nearer to Test call
THE OLLIE Rayner fan club swells with every benign ball that England serve up to Virat Kohli and company in India.
He has prised the Test door open a little further after touching back down in Blighty with a Lions tour under his belt – but the Middlesex off-spinner insists a call-up is not consuming his thoughts.
That Moeen Ali returned miserable figures of 2-174 in Mumbai, while his counterpart Ravi Ashwin took 12 wickets, suggests England missed yet another trick by failing to call up a specialist spinner in place of the injured Zafar Ansari.
The misery in Mumbai prompted Nasser Hussain to bang the drum for Rayner and Somerset left-armer Jack Leach.
As the clamour for his inclusion grows, Rayner, 31, is taking it all in stride.
“It’s a very dangerous place to be when you start thinking about it,” said Rayner, who took 51 wickets for title-winning Middlesex last season. “If it turns up down the line then it’s a great bonus, rather than it being a disappointment if it doesn’t happen.
“Twice this winter it’s shown you can get your chance – Keaton Jennings got selected while with the Lions and Gareth Batty played at 39. It shows that they will never close the door if they want to shake up the team.
“I said at the start of the year that it was my last-chance saloon, and if I could prove myself, I could be in a good place. But if it turns out the Lions tour has just made me a better county cricket player, then I’m happy with that.”
Rayner worked with ECB lead spin coach Peter Such to develop his top-spin while in Dubai as, measuring 6ft5, he admittedly has trouble mixing up the flight of his bowling.
That Rayner had his best season so far after the coin toss rule was changed was no coincidence, as he bowled some 400 more balls in the Championship.
“Some people would say I’ve improved and over the last year I probably have – slightly,” said Rayner. “When I was younger I was arguably better than I am now, before I had to do some correctional work in my action.
“I came up to Middlesex when I was 25 to be a front-line spinner and I needed to get out of the environment at Sussex. I was only ever going to be second in line behind Mushtaq Ahmed.
“But if you bowl more balls, you’ve got more chance of taking wickets.
“The captain has used me well and I’m enjoying things like bowling before lunch – I’m enjoying being given that responsibility with the ball.”