What do you want from your spinner? Control? Magic balls?

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2 minute read
Adil Rashid bowls one at the moon
Photo by Sarah Ansell

Shortly before Adil Rashid bowled his ninth over in the first one-day international, the 28th of the innings, one of the Sky commentators said that captain Eoin Morgan would be delighted that he had ‘got through his overs’ by this early point.

That’s the kind of banality you’ll often hear during a one-day match, but it seems to betray a common (probably English) belief that a spinner is somehow a vulnerability; someone you bowl in the hope that you can get away with it. Presumably you can then revert to your nice, safe, right-arm fast-medium bowlers who have proven so economical in recent years.

In those last two overs, Rashid took three wickets and if the game had been tighter, Morgan would surely have been wishing he could have bowled a few more.

Watching the ball turn sharply one way while lower order batsmen played as if it was going to turn sharply the other way, it was hard not to also think of the many tail-end shellackings England have endured in Test matches. Control is clearly an attribute, but it is only a primary attribute if your approach centres on stifling repetition. If you’re instead looking to get people out with magic balls, it becomes secondary to… well, the ability to bowl magic balls.

There’s no right and wrong here. Both approaches are valid and each day one will be better than the other – who’s to say which? What’s important is that people assess players according to the right criteria.

A long hop doesn’t undo a wicket, allowing a dismissed batsman to return to the crease. At the very worst, it concedes six runs. In fact in general, as totals increase, a poor ball becomes less and less costly while a wicket becomes more and more valuable.

Excellent control is not an entry requirement any more than the ability to turn the ball both ways is. It’s all well and good landing the ball exactly where you want if it doesn’t then do something to trouble the batsman.


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  1. We’ll have Rashid’s magic balls, please.

    Our other spinner(s) have barely displayed, in the absence of said magic ball-bowling skills, any ability to not get tonked round the park in recent matches.

  2. Control/magic balls. 0.5 an over can help the seamers take wickets. 4 an over can take one itself.

    Trouble is that, at the moment, Moeen’s providing neither.

  3. You’re all going to have to wait a while for a Matt Prior retirement article, by the way.

    1. I hope you will address this important question in that article…

      Was Prior, in his peak, the best Keeper-Batsman at that time or merely the best Keeper of that time?

    2. Is this a requests thread? Can we add more of the things we’d like to see/not see in the Matt Prior Retires article?

      I’d like a mention of WindowGate somehow woven into a pun about him being a ‘Glass Act’, rabid speculation into his fractured relationship with KP and a brief overview of his post-cricket cycling aspirations.

    3. I’d just like a reminder to all the muppets who are saying that he should have retired ages ago that he was, quite recently, pretty damn good.

    4. Ooh, ooh, and can it be called “Re-Prior-ment”? Just to make people squirm?

  4. warne used to provide control with flippers which didn’t turn and
    wickets with magical spinning deliveries!

    wonder who can replicate that today?

  5. It’s much easier as a spinner when your team has already got a shitload of runs on the board. His dross didn’t matter on Tuesday. It will matter in closer games.

  6. BTW there is a very good piece (in CricInfo) on Harbhajan by Aakash Chopra.
    “Harbhajan uses seam of SG cricket ball to make ball grip by tossing-up and bringing bat pad into play but outside Asia he gets exposed by seamless kookaburra which he can’t rev-hard and hence cant produce off-spinner’s conventional bowled wickets”

  7. When Tredwell played in the WI I was in despair about the England thinking given he isn’t the best spinner in Kent. Strangely I hope Rashid doesn’t play in Tests whilst Cook is captain as I think Cook will completely misuse him & could destroy his career. With a sane captain Rashid has to be tried to see what he can do. He may not make it but not trying him is criminal…of course given we are talking about the ECB I imagine the reverse will happen

  8. Best spinners need a bit of controversy to succeed.. Murali had chucking issues, Warne had, more issues than I can type, Harbhajan had racial abuse allegations. Rashid should get involved in some controversy to succeed.

    1. He could send a tweet calling Josh Hazlewood a spack-handed jiffer.

      That ought to do it.

    2. He should start claiming that Alastair Cook does not exist and that he is merely a mass hallucination that we’ve been suffering from since late 2005 and that all his runs in the 2010/11 Ashes were scored by Gary Pratt, who was only selected to see if Ricky Ponting’s head would explode.

    3. Dan Vettori didn’t do too much controversy – except the time Jeetan Patel was having a bit of a hard time personally so he took him out on the lash. Patel was playing for NZA vs England and missed a morning’s play with a hangover.\

      Controversially acting like normal blokes & club cricketers.

  9. If a bowler has control they’re a lot more likely to take wickets. If a bowler takes a few wickets then they’re going to exercise more control.

    The more days you have doing neither, and Rashid has quite a few of those behind him, the more likely you are to be seen as an ambitious bowler who takes wickets, just because that’s the approach with the greater rate of failure associated with it.

  10. Point is – if we accept the notion that Stokes’s and Root’s names are inked on the team sheet now, England can afford to play Rashid and three pace bowlers, for one heck of a batting line up and an additional wicket-taking option in Rashid.

    Most of the time, in England, the tracks are not very conducive to “ordinary” spin until late in the match, if at all, so getting control from a spinner is simply not an option here.

    Moeen Ali will need to get a lot further with that doosra and/or other mysteries before he is a patch on Rashid as a potential wicket taking option.

    1. “Chris Gayle, King of All Formats and Ruler of the Fifteen Kingdoms, permits you to allow him to play for your team… What do you mean, you don’t want him? I mean me?”

    2. We want him! What do you mean he/you can only play 4 games now, instead of the contracted ‘five or six’? You still owe us for 2012!

  11. England lost the toss and will chase. Too soon to say they’ve lost the match?

    1. Bad: I was dead right.

      -NZ didn’t quite make 400.
      -Haddin bowled out for 22.

    2. Just to even up the good and bad, Steve Smith is looking harder to shift than the Stachybotrys chartarum growing on the grout between my bathroom tiles.

      Steven Peter Devereux Smith.


    3. Yes, but Steven Smith is going to be massively un-due for the Ashes. Whereas Haddin is just past it.

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