With a winter tour to Sri Lanka looming large, who are the candidates to join Monty Panesar on the plane?
After taking 6-67 on debut to bowl Yorkshire to victory, Adil Rashid was catapulted into the spotlight as England’s next great spinning hope. When it became apparent that he also possessed significant batting aptitude (he often bats at six for his county), people began talking of a “Spintoff”, capable of both taking five-fers with his leg-spin and scoring Test hundreds. The hype has since died down a little, especially after a mauling at the hands of Tendulkar for England Lions, but Rashid has continued to play a big role in Yorkshire’s championship push, while earning praise from even Shane Warne. He seems certain to play for England one day; but, at this stage, would he be better off with the A team?
Schofield’s selection in England’s preliminary Twenty20 World Cup squad was viewed as an enormous surprise, but it should not have been. In the domestic competition, he bowled with guile, accuracy, nerve and variation, with his quicker ball proving particularly effective, to claim 17 wickets at just nine. But, though very good in all one-day cricket this season, Schofield proved less effective in first-class cricket. If he is to eventually earn an England Test recall, it will only be after establishing himself in the limited overs side.
Dalrymple fared well initially for England in ODIs, after making his first appearance last summer, scoring two excellent 50s and bowling his off-spin with immense control, and almost made his Test debut at Sydney this year. However, since then, he has regressed alarmingly, losing his one-day place after not doing enough with either bat or ball, and enduring an awful start to this first-class season. His temperament was certainly impressive; but it seems doubtful in the extreme he could worry good Test batsmen.
Batty has played seven Tests and ODIs but, though he has batted with great guts, especially against Muralitharan, his off-spin has never remotely come close to being threatening, as Brian Lara illustrated en route to his Test record score of 400. He is just 29, and has a feisty, combative temperament in the Paul Collingwood mould, yet, with his performances for Worcestershire unspectacular, England will surely opt to look elsewhere.
In 2005/06, Blackwell bowled his left-arm spin tremendously in the sub-continent, and was comfortably England’s best one-day bowler of the winter; but injury prevented him cementing his position in the side thereafter. However, for all his one-day guile, Blackwell has rarely been effective with the ball in county cricket, and was unthreatening in his only Test. His batting has proved mightily effective in the first-class game – he averages 38 – yet he has batted woefully in his 34 ODIs. Additionally, his less-than-enthusiastic approach to fitness will also count against him.
Swann played a solitary ODI seven years ago, but disappointed the management team with a number of off-field indiscretions. However, at 28, he is now a much more mature cricketer – and person - and has benefited from a move to Notts, whom he helped to win the 2005 championship. In his years in the international wilderness, Swann’s off-spin gained more consistency, while his capacity to generate marked turn is not in doubt. Moreover, he is also an elegant batsman who could certainly make a good Test number eight, and has opened to great effect in the one-day game.
Keedy can consider himself very unfortunate not to have played a Test; perhaps only his status as a batting rabbit has prevented him. He took 132 first-class wickets in 2003 and ’04, and must have pushed Giles close, but, at 32, he now looks highly unlikely to play. With England being loathe to play two left-arm spinners of limited batting ability, his best chance of selection would be in the event of a injury to Monty Panesar.
Giles, an important team man during England’s 2004-05 run of success, has suffered terribly with injuries since, and himself admits he may never play professional cricket again. He was totally ineffectual in his only two Tests since, in Australia, where he infamously dropped Ricky Ponting. At 34, and having not played all season, it seems unlikely in the extreme he will play for his country again.
A lot depends on the candidates' form for the remainder of the campaign but, if I had to pick a squad now, I would take Schofield for the ODIs and Swann and Rashid for the Tests.