Monday, 22 September 2008

The Second Spinner Slot

As the county season builds to its climax, thoughts inevitably turn to England's winter commitments. The squads have already been touched upon here, but I think there are a few questions worthy of a closer look. The first is the identity of the spinners that England will bring with them to India.

Once you get into the details, this is quite a thorny problem. We will obviously bring Monty as first choice, and for all the (partially deserved) criticism he received over the summer, this is the correct decision. The problem comes when you start to think about who else to bring.

We have to work on the basis that two spinners could be required on either of the pitches prepared (and it is a disgrace that we are only playing two Tests in favour of seven ODIs, but that is another rant for another time). I'm also going to assume for the purposes of this article that we will bring three spinners to counter against some of the complexities I'm going to set out below.

The three contenders for these two spots appear to be Graeme Swann, Adil Rashid and Samit Patel. I would suggest that any other pick would be out of left field, but if any of the more assiduous county watchers have other names up their sleeve I'd be fascinated to hear them. The problem is that it is not clear what role(s) the second spinner will be expected to play...because that depends on who is dropped to accomodate them and who is picked as wicketkeeper.

If Prior is our keeper...

...then the pressure on the second spinner to contribute with the bat is lessened. Prior can be regarded as a top six batsman, and so with Flintoff at 6 and Prior at 7 there should not be too much onus on the upper-middle order to contribute, and the wicket-taking potential of the spinners should be uppermost.

If Foster (or similar) is our keeper...

...then we will be more worried about the fragility of our batting when Flintoff arrives at the crease. Whilst on his day Freddie can be a game-changing batsman, he is also prone to getting out quickly when his eye isn't in. To have Foster, Ambrose or any other untried contenders coming in at effectively 6 would put a lot of pressure on the upper-middle order to be there as a safety net.

If Broad is dropped
...

...then his replacement needs to be a plausible Test number 8 at worst. The strategy of Flintoff at 6 depends there being batting to come if he doesn't come to the party, and Broad is a big part of that back-up. If Broad is the one to go (and on pure bowling terms, he is probably the most vulnerable) then extra emphasis will be put on the second spinner's batting.

If Harmison or Anderson is dropped...

...then the batting of any of the potential second spinners is at least as good as the guy he's replacing. So again, this would weigh towards including the most effective bowler.

The Stats

Who then is "the most effective bowler"? Well, let's do a quick comparison of the first class county figures for this year:


Wickets

Ave

Econ

SR

Rashid

53

32

3.2

60

Swann

32

24

2.7

54

Patel

11

32

2.6

75


Doesn't look great for Samit Patel, who has primarily been a part-time spinner and has barely scratched the surface despite playing 13 games. Rashid leads the way with the most wickets, but has played more games than Swann, whose wickets have cost less and come more often. The factor not represented here is that Rashid's bowling has turned a corner (sorry) in the last 6 weeks or so, where he has looked much more dangerous and taken a significant percentage of his wickets.

<

Runs

Ave

50

100

Rashid

405

19

2

0

Swann

502

41

4

0

Patel

830

48

5

2


The reverse seems to be true here. Rashid, for all his early promise, has had a torrid season with the bat, scoring less runs than the other two without any absences for international duty. Swann sits fairly comfortably in the middle - he would be an asset at no. 9, and probably just about good enough for no. 8. Patel's batting is the strongest, suggesting he should be more than happy at 8 (and possibly even could cope with 7, hypothetically).

So who gets the nod?

OK, so feed all this data in, and which two names get spat out by the machine? Well, only one does really. It is clear than Swann has to go - he is arguably the best bowler, and as an off-spinner would complement Monty; at the same time he could bat 8 without disgracing himself. But the choice between Patel and Rashid will give us a lot of insight into the selectors' thinking in relation to the keeper and who will make way. Selecting Patel should cause Broad to start practicing his drinks-carrying, and give hope to whichever keeper is selected alongside Prior. Selecting Rashid, on the other hand, gives the team a genuinely attacking option in reserve, but one who might be propping up the order with Monty.

So the selectors have to make some calls in advance, rather than leaving all the decisions until they get to India. They might decide that Swann will get the nod regardless of the combinations above and around him, in which case they should take Rashid to give him experience. They might decide that Prior will definitely have the gloves for those two games - again, advantage Rashid. Or they might feel that Broad will be the one to make way, in which case Patel's batting should put him over the top. Or maybe Patel's performance in the ODIs (something I've glossed over here on the basis that I feel it to be irrelevant to Test cricket - Colly, for example, has a 6-fer in ODIs and barely gets a bowl in Tests) will be decisive.

Or they might only bring two spinners. Or KP might be tuning up his offies and have no intention of ever playing a second spinner. I don't have the answers, but the questions are damn interesting.

5 comments:

Tim said...

Interesting stuff Penguissimo.

It's clear Patel is NOT a second-choice Test spinner; perhaps he could be second spinner batting at six, but, despite his impressive ODI showings, he needs to prove he poses a wicket-taking threat at fc level before.

Statistically Swann ticks all the boxes. He's a fine, and pretty attacking, off-spinner, while the fact he bats at 6 for Notts - above Read, Broad and Ealham - and has batted well in ODIs shows he should be just fine at 8.

I would take Rashid too - I have big doubts over Monty, who has a terrible record against India. And, as you say, his season has been getting gradually better.

Richard Lake said...

Agree with Tim. Patel is a batsman who bowls and is not a step up from KP or Vaughan. Swann should be the choice, with Rashid as a travelling reserve and then A team player in the New Year.

On the batting, I wouldn't focus too much on the stats. Of the three Patel is clearly the superior batsman as he is primarily a batsman. Despite the average, Rashid is a better bet for big test scores than Swann, as he often plays an anchor innings in the Yorks middle order. Swann is a genuine number 8, both Rashid and Patel could bat higher.

Anonymous said...

As always, or at least since Underwood, we are looking at picking the best of a mediocre bunch when it comes to spinners.

I guess Panesar has to be stuck with. He averaged under 30 in home tests this year and has done nothing to suggest he isn't our premier spinner.

On the down side, Morkel, Harris and Ntini make up over half his haul in the SA series. Of six top order wickets, four were de Villiers, which suggests a weakness in AB's game rather than a strength in Monty's.

I think for tests it should be Swann as the second spinner. I'm not a great fan but he is averaging substantially better with the ball than the others and bowling prowess must be the premier consideration for selection.

Philip Oliver said...

The role One Day form plays in selection is an interesting point - should it be irrelevant because taking wickets in Tests is a different proposition, or does success in another format suggest the neccesary mental attributes are in evidence? Patel's 'taking' to One Day cricket will surely see him selected as one of the Test spin options, just as Prior's rehabilitation behind the stumps was apparently confirmed in the ODIs.
Swann should definitely be the second spinner, especially as it would provide variation to the left arm spin of Monty.
I also believe Patel is capable of batting six on merit, so no room for Rashid; the Indians would hammer him (as they did in a Lions match last year) but then again he can't be protected for ever.
Plenty of options (and not necessarily mediocre ones anonymous!) although the continued relative success of Salisbury, Croft and Batty suggests new spin talent is thin on the ground.

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