County cricket’s spin ecosystem

Posted by
2 minute read

Adil Rashid bowls one at the moon

In recent years there has been much talk about how county cricket hasn’t been producing spin bowlers. A corollary of this is that county batsmen have been facing less spin. With just a bit of a nudge, the latter becomes something that can be exploited.

This year in the County Championship, visiting teams have had the option of choosing to bowl first without recourse to the coin. The idea has been to deter groundsmen from preparing damp pudding lawns instead of pitches.

Diversity is cricket’s greatest virtue and it seems like this move’s been a success to us. After several years of fans scouring the various scorecards in search of a spinner who’d actually done more than usher in the lunch break, we now have teams like Surrey and Somerset routinely picking two of them (or more).

At the time of writing, the top two wicket-takers in division one are Jeetan Patel and Jack Leach. Ollie Rayner is sixth. Gareth Batty is tenth.

It is not that in an instant England has gained a wealth of good spinners, but a dash of shoddy spin batsmanship does give them a leg up and a reason for captains to bowl them in the first place. Hopefully batsmen and bowlers will now learn together and the national team will ultimately regain a more balanced attack.

In the meantime, it’s not just England’s wicket-taking we’re concerned about ahead of a winter in Bangladesh and India…


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


Why risk it when it's so easy to sign up?


  1. Have there been recentish times when England have had an absolutely top-class spinner available, but not played him? Particularly, not played him on pitches which might have been expected to turn on days 4-5?

    It seems to me that England’s team management do largely recognise the importance of diversity in a bowling attack* but if they don’t have a really penetrative, upper-echelon spinner available will generally prefer a bloke who can bat a bit as well as turn his arm over, to one whose spin is slightly less mediocre but can’t bat.

    * (If there is criticism of them on that front, I think the fairer one might be failing to cultivate variety among the faster bowlers. The pace attack has often been quite “samey”.)

    1. Actually I’ll add to that, England have been a bit shy of playing two spinners outside Asia. But I’m not sure whether that is an actual bare-cupboard “resources” issue, a perceived “resources” issue with the selectors insufficiently trusting what’s available, or just a tactical choice. Does strike me that, if you’re going with someone like Rashid or Ali as a half-competent batsman anyway, you’ve got room in the lower-order for a spinning rabbit, and I don’t think that should be an “Asia only” option.

    2. The first comment puzzles us. We weren’t saying the selectors had been overlooking spinners. We were saying there haven’t been any great specialists because none of them have been doing much bowling.

      1. Comment wasn’t intended as a criticism of your logic yer maj – more that I was searching through the creaky memory banks. Aside from Swann at his peak, “not got a decent spinner” has been a common critique of England teams for donkeys years. I was wondering whether or not, at the selectorial level, they’ve been keen on adding spin to the mix. I think the answer is probably “yes”, but have there been some very very good county spinners toiling away that both I and the England selectors completely forgot about?

        I have a feeling the answer is “not really”. In which case attention shifts from selection decisions, to ways of pushing the counties into developing English spin. Is this something that has been historically neglected? I have a feeling there were some ECB initiatives on this front in the 90s (some kind of national spin coaching setup that was hoping to find/nurture the “English Warne”?”) and I have an inkling they’ve tried to do something about the pitches before. But the toss thing is new (obviously) and quite dramatic as a form of higher level interference in the ecosystem. Hope that it bears fruit over the next few years – I think the biggest difference would be if it means some players who otherwise would have left top-level cricket get given contracts and more time to master the art.

        (Perhaps T20 trends and the idea of taking pace off the ball might also have a positive effect on spin rosters?)

  2. In unrelated news, “WWE wrestlers are more recognisable than England Test captain Alastair Cook, according to new research.” Derbyshire’s chairman says that, amongst young people, “only a third could recognise Alastair and I think we’ve got to improve that.”

    This ECB market research is being used to advance the position that we need inter-city franchise T20 in this country, to get young people engaged with cricket again. As far as I can see,

    (1) City T20 is unlikely to be broadcast free-to-air so probably isn’t going to do anything for cricketer recognisability or indeed the general disengagement of young people from the sport (okay, more young people might attend matches, but that’d still be a vanishingly small percentage of the overall population).

    I think the ECB should seriously consider designating one home Test, one home ODI and one home T20 to be broadcast free-to-air each summer during the school break, just to advertise the continuing existence of the game to the Skyless masses. If they’re being really ambitious, they could make the matches available for free to whichever channel laid out the most ambitious plans for publicity (advertising, plugs on other shows, yanking England cricketers in as guests to talk shows / “sofa” shows in the lead-up, promising not to bury the coverage away on a minor digital channel…) and with renewal being subject to meeting audience targets among key demographics.

    The ECB shouldn’t view these free-to-air matches as lost revenue, they should view them as free advertising.

    (2) City T20 is an unlikely vehicle for increased recognition for Alastair Cook: if there are radically fewer city teams than county ones, it seems extremely unlikely he’d be rostered, let alone picked for a match, even if the ECB made him available. If increasing public awareness of the existence of Alastair Cook is the ECB’s objective, they should consider an inter-city franchise Test set-up instead.

    (3) Perhaps the problem here is that Alastair Cook looks quite normal, whereas WWE wrestlers look distinctively freakish, which helps with rapid identification. If the ECB is concerned about their Test captain being insufficiently identifiable, perhaps the England captaincy should be restricted only to those with unusual facial features, for instance a notably elongated nose, or stand-out big ears?

    1. Didn’t they use to have the first Test of each summer only on Sky back when Channel 4 broadcast all the other matches? Makes a decent amount of sense to do the reverse. Good idea.

      1. I wonder if it might just be what he said at face value – bit tired, could well have a hectic winter, needs a break. Still, of all the games to miss…

        Not going to endear himself to White Rose diehards is he?

      2. Tin foil hat version: he thinks North London is a perfectly respectable place, but has a deep-seated hatred of Marcus Trescothick, King Arthur, Michael Eavis, Dr Potter’s School of Lifemanship, and the Wurzels. A narrow away win over Middlesex may bring a chance of Yorkie glory but isn’t a risk worth taking.

      3. Big winter ahead of him – make or break in Test cricket, you could argue – but as Jason Gillespie said, he might regret missing this particular match.

      4. Are we already trying to talk to the untapped cricket passionate by using the term “North London” rather than Middlesex, Bailout? It’s not exactly a rock’n’roll change of name, is it?

        Personally, I favour “Sex In The City” as the new attractive name, but no-one’s listening to me for some reason.

      5. Simply splendid to shoe horn in School for Scoundrels, Bailout. If we manage that again in a few posts time that’ll be a three-fer.

Comments are closed.