Zoom.

So hang on – it all happened in a surreal blur – did we win two series? Having lost those Silent Tests? If so, was all that dramatic, exotic and occasionally eerie stuff going off in ‘The Desert’ a rip-roaring success? I guess it was. Or it felt that way at the end.

Now faaaar be it from me to de-mystify the Pakistan-England triple-series thing to the extent that the boomtastic power or – more seriously – the romance of it is lost, but if we dust it down (sorr-rree) and try to engage proper growed-up reflection mode, how does it all look? Where are England at? What have we learned about the magnificent and bewildering flux that the game itself is in?

First thing that springs to mind – before even offering genuine congratulations to the England Group, which I do – is that the fabulous, explosive diversity between the three codes (T20/50 over/Test) is splintering things.

This may not be bad. There are implications and opportunities for all of us, for one thing. Fans have every right to be excited at the surge of energy pulsing through our ‘typically sedate’ pastime. Scribes and pundits have a renewed supply of high horses to git on up upon. Change is begetting change and whilst this may be challenging it does appear to be heaving us all forward. In the flux, admittedly.

Meanwhile, in the wunnerful postmodern matrix that is probably the game itself, England played away to Pakistan in (for example) Dubai! Appropriately, it turns out another extraordinary series – and why wouldn’t it? Firstly we are lulled into a 3-match Test Bit that asks familiar questions about technique against spin, or absence of spinners… and then it comes over all noisy and color-full and barnstormingly new again. Like the world. Like the kit. Like that red or white or pink or whatever thing – the ball.

Happily, through this full-on sensory assault, it’s clear that England have dumped their Short Format Dunces caps. And therefore any review of the tour may have to include the profoundly encouraging conclusion that ‘we’ve definitely got talent’.

We can and must chalk this up as progress whilst we smile our crazy-innocent smiles, imagining how the players feel. Surely the Barmiest England fan could never have predicted the journey from humiliation (World Cup – all that) to the narcotic worldiedom (epitomised by Buttler in that 100-in-an-instant innings) might be achieved with such startling speed. We’ve gone from not mentioning the cricket to rolling around the floor scattering goodies from the box.

Look at the players. See into their faces, lit up with pre-Nintendo joy! All of them! Go through the list of those with reasons to be closer to ecstatic than cheerful. On the less obvious side that may include Topley, Woakes, Willey and arguably Parry. In and around Roy or Buttler’s wantonness they all shared in preciously groovy stuff with real, notable contributions – important for them, important for us. Given the finale, with Jordan’s absurdly successful Super Over capping off a third consecutive T20 win and we’re all buzzing, all wallowing in the team-bath of their confidence.

Deep breath and zoom out again. Factor in the acceleration away from what used to be commonly assumed (four or five or six an over, consistent line and length) and this fecund-new environment offers players the hopefully energising prospect of reimagining the scope or direction of their careers. Because if we are at the point where any self-respecting international side needs to equip itself with three teams for increasingly(?) diverse formats of cricket, where today’s norms are smashed into history week by week, the stumpy goalposts have been smash ‘n grabbed – never mind moved.

This is that most unlikely of phenomena the cricket revolution and it continues to spin out the challenges. It has both an undeniable centrifugal force and fascinating implications for coaching and for execution of skills. It’s gonna be a boon to both the Specialist Coach industry and to Bullshitters Ubiquitous. (We’ll all need more experts, allegedly.)

I recall hearing England Coach Trevor Bayliss say something recently about great players being able to perform across codes but great players (by definition) account for a small minority even amongst international exponents of the game. Going forward we can only imagine selection is going to be as much about format as talent, because we move (do we not) increasingly into extremes? Athleticism will of course be ever more non-negotiable in a sexed-up game but players will likely be ultra-groomed for specific roles: Death Bowler; Attack Dog; Infuriating Nurdler. All this as well as international-class core skills.

I don’t see it as a problem that in the case of England only Root springs to mind as a very likely starter in all formats; I see that as a developing consequence of changes in the elite game. Haverfordwest CC may not have to concern themselves too deeply with this uber-horses for uber-courses thing but international coaches will. And their players will then make judgements about what they target; what role(s).

Where this multi-faceted thing leaves Test or longer-form Cricket everywhere is a question. It could be that a not insignificant bi-product of the contemporary urge for positivity on the park is dynamism off it – leading to tough calls over restructuring domestic competition or ‘providing space’ for ‘acclimatisation’/prep/performance of traditional cricket around blocks of white-ball action.

My ole mucker John Lydon railed about anger being an energy; it may be ironic or just plain weird that T20’s and now even 50-over’s punkiness reminds me now of his brilliant subversions. For me, cricket – comfortable or not – does need to feed on this current Youffy Explosion.

Zoom in again, to waaaaay back when, at the beginning of this particular (Pakistan) tour. Note that England got beat in two out of three of the Tests, meaning Farbrace and Bayliss – who clearly return with tremendous credit, generally – have things to think about. Christmas is coming… and so is Boxing Day.

The squad these two sagacious gentlemen picked for the upcoming South Africa tour felt a top seamer and a top spin bowler short, amongst other things; some felt it ‘unbalanced’ and yeh, I got that. The widely discussed Hales Gamble and the selection of Ballance also prompted a degree of malcontentment. There is consensus, at least, that this next venture for England Cricket – to face Steyn and Morkel etc – may tell us a whole lot more about the real strength of Bayliss’s group than the Pakistan games, in all their richnesses, could ever do.

Us Brits may be rejuvenated by Ashes memories and now Action Movie action via the desert. We approach South Africa as Jos Buttler might – with a lump in the throat but a store of confidence we hope to tap into. Huge ask but if England can continue to let their instincts flood through, whilst playing the match situation, who knows what further drama they may unleash?

Culture of spin.

Immediately post the Third Test versus Pakistan and all the talk is of the dearth of quality spin bowlers. Or at least in the UK mini-subcontinent it is. Hour upon hour or page upon page of rumination around spin stuff, which in a way… is great. Great that this (arguably) least glamorous facet of the game is in the spotlight.

Whilst inevitably unpicking the issues arising from this (ahem) turn of events, I do wonder if we can turn this moment when both armchair authorities and Cricketing Authorities are acutely engaged… into a positive?

Let’s hear what some influential peeps or tweeps have said. Michael Vaughan has been relentlessly withering on the inconsistencies or raw inadequacies of England’s 3 spinners. Boycott has just described them – slightly absurdly, but as is often the case, we know what he means- as ‘non-existent,’ in a Telegraph article. Robert Croft – from the other angle – has tweeted that

We can’t expect our batsmen 2 be consistent against the turning ball. They never have to face it in this country as no turning pitches!

There’s a comparatively rare consensus around the facts that

a) our spinners (by definition, picked to spin the ball and either take wickets or tie up an end) were ordinary, given the help they received from prevailing conditions and

b) our batsmen were too easily undone by the Pakistani equivalents. There’s a further consensus around the notion that these two phenomena are umbilically linked… to the relative void (as opposed to the fecund womb!) where our spin culture should be.

In attempting to apply my own laser-like intellect to the spin bowling issue only – for now – I’m going to do what any self-respecting bloggerist might do, and reach for a coupla subtitles.

The Individuals.
There’s always context, right? Selection is always about what’s happened before, what’s expected and what impact or contribution a player might make. Remember that.

Moeen Ali.
I was in Cardiff for the Ashes and can confirm that folks were falling for Moeen, rather. He was actually loved, for his smooth, assured batting and his energy round the place. I’m not saying he was Ben Stokes exactly – Mo’s mojo is a whole lot less spikily, edgily brilliant – but he seemed so comfortable in the environment we hoped good things might happen whenever he was involved. Often they did.

That whole Mo batting at eight ruse also worked a treat, felt like a master stroke as he moved stylishly (and critically) to 77 in the first innings. That crowd-lurv, that confidence fed into a decent return from his bowling; in the first innings he winkled out Smith and Clarke and in the second Australian knock he claimed three wickets, including that of Warner. He took a super-sharp caught and bowled (that Clarke wicket) and somehow lifted the crowd with his easy enthusiasm. It may have been the prevalence of Mo masks around the Swalec crowd but something about his quiet presence suggested he may be destined to be the face of the summer.

In fact, whilst Ar Mo certainly contributed to a flawed but uplifting Ashes victory, there was early concern around the quality of his bowling. More than that; it was generally appreciated that the Mo-at-8 thing made sense precisely because he’s not a genuine international spinner… and yet he is more than a mere makeweight. He deserves a slot, he improves the balance of the side and shores up the batting/offers a match-winning threat even, down there. He is – despite the work-in-progress-that-may-not-progress enough-ness of his bowling – a real international.

Mostly, Moeen Ali looks every inch of that but, if you look at his bowling in isolation, he doesn’t.

Samit Patel.
Is viewed as either a proper throwback kindofa cricketer, or a man out of time. Defiantly unsexy, patrolling like some amiable neighbourhood copper dangerously close to the ‘likeably portly’ category. Simply does not have that sprint and dive thing in his locker; in fact looks like he has a ham and chutney bap and a bottle of Sam Smith’s in his locker.

Samit can clearly play – as can the other two spin candidates – but he has been judged to be short of fitness and that true elite-level threat with the ball.

So if Patel is generally and rightly regarded highly and warmly by plenty but few consider him the answer to England’s spin ‘woes’, why was he picked? With all due respect he doesn’t fit the bill as England’s Future. The brutal truth is that he was selected because of injuries around the squad, then geography/’conditions’ and because okaaaaay he mi-ight do a job with bat and ball. This he did. An average job – predictably. It may have been an average selection, given short and longer term considerations.

Rashid…(however…)
is the one.

If Moeen is effectively a batsman who can bowl spin and Patel a goodish alround spin bowler and batsman, Rashid is the one we might look to with the ball.

The fact of his leggie-dom may flesh out the notion he’s a Man More Likely To, in broad terms, than the other two labouring away alongside in Sharjah. He’s different; he’s A Prospect, a threat, a candidate for bona fide spin-king status in a way that Patel and Moeen maybe aren’t – certainly aren’t. Something says he’s more likely to tear through an innings than his compadres… and that he’s young enough to invest in… and we’re entitled to be hopeful and maybe even excited about that.

And yet he proved flawed. As in-out and generally disappointing as Patel and Moeen. As Sir Geoffrey said (of all of them)
they are not accurate or disciplined enough and there are too many easy balls to score off.

Simple but true enough. Rashid, whom we hoped (and still hope?) may bring that X-factor, that extra dimension to the side, underachieved.

General (Brief) Boring Theory thing.
I reckon most of us who have flung the cherry accept that bowling leg-spin is about as difficult as bowling gets: that’s part of its allure. The cocked wrist and the snap or flip of fingers as the ball is delivered from more or less the back of the hand works against easy repetitions.

Leggies tend to really work with their wrists and/or wind up revolutions by (in particular) ripping on the seam with their third finger. It’s (in my view) a whole lot more difficult to do this consistently and with control than it is to (for example) bowl a stock off-spinner, where the clockwise ‘turning the key’ movement of the first finger is a) more easily achieved and b) more easily repeated with the necessary accuracy. At every level it’s rare to find a leggie who is both turning the ball ‘big’ and able to plop it on the right spot time after time after time.

Conclusion thing.
Time to hone your spin-king skills is available, in (UK) domestic cricket – but arguably not enough of it, or not in conducive or even ‘fair’ scenarios.  ‘Special breed’ though they may be, spinners – like everyone else – have to earn the right to play, possibly more so now than in the years when there fewer non-negotiables – when you could be unfit or relatively uni-skilled.

Ideally though things remain unchangingly straightforward; you (the spin-king) just bowl magnificently and/or with monotonous skill; meaning all arguments simply fall away.

#TMS made the point earlier that Tuffers bowled around 800-900 overs a season for Middlesex: this compares to about 300-400 for spinners in the current era. No wonder then, we seem cruelly short of international-grade spinners when the opportunities in domestic cricket are both limited and frequently unrelated to or unhelpful towards producing Test Match bowlers.

Of course the changing nature of the game itself mitigates against the kind of consistency Boycott understandably demands. Especially in Blighty where spinners are used mainly in limited overs games where variation rather than consistency is often the key. Pitches and the surge towards yet more dynamic cricket significantly undermine any spin culture we may have. This is tough; it may even brand us as philistines – myopic no-hopers – but don’t expect too much in the way of revelation or revolution too soon.

The tremendous debate underway during this, the inaugural Spin Awareness Moment is valuable but may not, I fear, amount to much. Changes a-comin’ in the structure of English domestic cricket will not, I suspect, be driven by the need to find a new Graeme Swann – or better still, nurture a spin-friendly environment. More likely we will simply sit and wait for someone extravagantly gifted and stunningly reliable to come along, wheeling in glorious isolation, against the grain.