Excluding Laker and Swann, just when have our spinners shone?
The editor of Cricket Statistician analyses recent events
Figures of 23 wickets at 37.43 and 10 at 64.90 respectively in the Tests against India for Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have raised again the cry:Where have the English spinners gone?
The main thing we all remembered here is how, in 2012/13 in India, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar outbowled the Indians, Swann 20 at 24.75, Panesar 17 at 26.82.We might also remember that Panesar had not been not picked for the first Test, where Samit Patel took 1-135 and England realised they needed Monty.
It was an indication of the distrust that recent English captains have felt about slow bowlers.
Spinners baffled England at home from the South African googly bowlers in 1906 up to Shane Warne by way of Bill O’Reilly, Lance Gibbs and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. But just how good, historically, is the England record for spinners abroad?
If you look at the list of bowlers with most Test wickets, the first English bowler is Jimmy Anderson in sixth place. The first English spinner is Swann, with 255, followed by Jim Laker on 193.
But Swann was a quite exceptional bowler, better perhaps than we all realised, capable of taking wickets anywhere, though his record in Australia was not quite so good.
It would probably be true to say that no English spinner in the years between Laker and Swann has had a significant and continuing influence: and even Laker rarely achieved much success overseas. His best season was his last in Australia in 1958/59.
But England had been blown away by pace then and immediately decided that was the way to go, picking and discarding spinners at will and playing three off-spinners in five Tests in 1959 (John Mortimore, Ray Illingworth, Martin Horton).
The current plan still seems to see Moeen as England’s No.1 spinner. In the Emirates against Pakistan last year, Moeen took 9 wickets at 48.66. In South Africa 10 at 48.5. In April 2015, in three Tests in the West Indies 6 wickets at 34.6.
Moeen’s batting gives him a second string, but his record as first spinner is not inspiring.
There is a vicious circle here. Early season English wickets do not help spinners, so they don’t get picked or don’t bowl much. Captains learn again to rely on their quick bowlers, the spinners don’t get enough work and so are unreliable.
They get most of their bowling later in the season on flat, slowish tracks and don’t get wickets or keep the runs down so the captain turns back to his medium pacers to keep things quiet.
Increasingly in England it looks as though spinners are kept for the T20, where they can be effective against batsmen chancing their arms.
But, history tells us, English spinners do not win Test series.
Influential: Graeme Swann took 255 Test wickets