When did England last have to deal with good spin bowling?

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England are overrated. We’re not saying they don’t deserve to be considered the best Test side around at the minute; we’re saying the best Test side isn’t automatically the favourite to win a given series.

While England have mullered most sides in home conditions, it’s been a while since they played any of the major subcontinental sides away from home. American readers will be intrigued to learn that the United Arab Emirates isn’t in Pakistan. However, this doesn’t alter the fact that conditions will suit the ‘home’ side more than les Rosbifs.

Most significantly, this series is likely to give us more spin than Malcolm Tucker burying bad news by doing cartwheels on a roundabout. Spin is something England haven’t really had to deal with for a surprisingly long time.

Spin, spin, spin the wheel of justice

Spin is a major facet of Test cricket and most of the England team are relative novices. Two Tests in Bangladesh a couple of years ago amount to little more than a solid and largely-forgotten warm-up. Before that, we have to go back to 2008 to find the last time England had to deal with the more obtuse angles presented by 55mph bowling. They didn’t fare well, losing 1-0 to India.

In three innings in that series, their top score was 316. Andrew Strauss batted well and Kevin Pietersen got a hundred, but the man they’ll miss most from back then is the one who supposedly lacked talent – Paul Collingwood.

We always thought Collingwood looked pretty skilful when confronted by the tweakers. Contrast his uncanny ability to find singles with the efforts of many of his team mates who looked like stiff-legged automatons despite supposedly being blessed with that most desirable of qualities – ‘class’.

‘Class’ has a couple of different meanings. Maybe we were wrong to assign it a cricketing one.

P.S. Paul Collingwood and spin bowling

Officially, this article ends with that pithy, chip-on-shoulder sign-off. However, we’ve got some statistics that we want to include, so consider this a postscript.

Here are Paul Collingwood’s Test batting averages in various places where batsmen tend to face a lot of spin bowling.

  • In Bangladesh – 49.33
  • In India – 57.14
  • In Pakistan – 47.25
  • In Sri Lanka – 28.25 (shit)
  • In the West Indies – 61.42

Some of you might quibble with the inclusion of the West Indies, but don’t be swayed by the region’s old reputation. Collingwood only played there in the 2009 Wisden Trophy – a series in which Sulieman Benn, Chris Gayle and Ryan Hinds between them bowled 371 overs.


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  1. If one disregards the not-outs which bolster averages and just add his runs and divide them by the number of innings, Collingwood’s average in India drops to 35.44 – nothing spectacular. Furthermore, when you only consider the spinners, and discount the runs he made against the quicks in the sub-continent, his average drops further to 23.89 (this was calculated by using his strike rate against the spinners and multiplying it by the number of balls he faced against the quicks, while subtracting the number of runs he scored off the quicks). Furthermore, in order to take the vagaries of the pitch into account, when one forms a differential equation (putting in a suitable friction coefficient characteristic to pitches in India), and solving it numerically, his average comes down to 18.77. When we factor in the fact that post 2006 Indian spin bowlers have mostly been shit, and multiply the above average by a suitable retardation coefficient, this comes down to 5.32. Without being partnered by Stuart Broad, the number comes down to 0.36, as Paul would’ve missed Broad’s soft eyes looking at him from the bowler’s end, and the unspoken words that helped his defence.

    Its funny how a little statistical analysis can help uncover facts.

  2. And he’s been murdering the spinners in the big bash.

    For very concentrated periods of time.

  3. I’m not sure that spin will be such a large factor in the upcoming series. In fifteen Tests in England in the past two years spinners have taken wickets at an average of 39.12 and a strike rate of 69. In the same period in five Tests in the UAE spinners have taken wickets at an average of 41.5 and a strike rate of 99. The figures for quick bowlers in the UAE are almost the same as for the spinners, suggesting that the pitches there are not going to give very much help to any type bowler.

  4. As an American, I would like to thank you for the information. Until now, I always wondered whether the UAE was in Sindh or Punjab. Now I realize it is in a totally different place. Who knew? And what a great location it is. Ideally situated near our future marine engagements in the Persian Gulf region.

    I guess I am just another typical cricket loving yet geographically uninformed American.

    1. It’s so hard to be xenophobic these days. Every time you generalise, someone pops up and undermines your carefully cultivated views.

      At least tell us that you were eating a hamburger when you typed that.

  5. KC – bit disingenuous to describe England’s batsmen as novices. But point well made, and any excuse for a picture of the ginger ninja is always welcome.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on Luke Wright’s latest antipodean escapades.

  6. I’ve been a little surprised how unsentimental everyone has been about Colly. Sure we all gushed that he was our favourite player and he was very talented and better to watch than Gower, honest, when he retired from tests, but then shrugged our shoulders when he was dropped from ODIs and 20-20 as it was time for a younger generation to be woefully inconsistant and never, until now, mentioned him again.

    Well I still miss him. Whenever I see an England team sheet without him, no matter how superior their aggregate average, I get an unmentionable physiological twinge of regret.

  7. Between 1990 and 2011, a widely accepted time of Australian dominance of test cricket, the Aussies played 17 tests in India, won 4 of them and lost 10. India, an inconsistent team at the best of times, lost only 14 of the 87 home tests they played in that period.

    Interestingly, Statsguru points out that during the same period England didn’t lose a single test match on the Carribean island of UAE. Ergo, England is #1 test nation in the whole wide world and Lancashire are #1 County Championship Champions in the whole wide universe.

  8. KC, it’s a shame you can’t do your anklosing spondylitis about Graham Onions. I’ve always liked that one.

    1. I think he actually does have anklosing spondylitis. Or at lease something similar. Shouldn’t let that stop you using a joke which has become hugely popular amongst your surveyed readership (sample size: 1).

  9. England seems to be on top of the world at the moment with a perfectly knitted team in place. Apart from 3 organized pace bowlers, they got a great character in Graeme Swann, who is never afraid to flight the ball..

    They owe a lot to their current coach Andy Flower, who countered Indian spin attack with great elan!

    1. Lotus car names are often evocative. The more recent ones that is. “7” and “11” are a bit jaded.

  10. “The Elite batsmen of the England team dispatched the Australian bowling with Eclat, their Esprit de corps helping them Excel against the hostile bowline of Elise Perry”?

  11. Honestly speaking, I think you’ve taken the true statement of “Ajmal is a good bowler” way, way too far. Pakistan have won a good few matches in the UAE lately, yes – but they’ve mostly been drawing, and their pacers have been just as effective as their spinners.

    There’s nothing really there to suggest the Arabian wickets favour spin, despite the auto-programmed mental leap from “dry and sort-of Asian” to “spin for the love of God spin”. In the last five years, seamers have taken their wickets at 42.3, but spinners have taken theirs at 41.5. If there’s anywhere else in world cricket that’s been producing figures like that, your closest bet is Australia.

    Ajmal averages a relatively-decent-but-still-generally-meh 35 in the UAE – indeed, his matchwinning performances over the last couple of years mostly come from that one match at the Oval (in the midst of a very low-scoring series where he was comfortably outbowled by Swann) and a series in the WI were the hosts batted like they had been told getting past 250 would give them ebola. Rehman and Hafeez, meanwhile, average 49 and 60 respectively when out in the desert.

    What England should worry about in this series is Pakistan’s middle order, who are now well accustomed to taking advantage of such fruitlessness for bowlers and could well give their guests some long, hot, hard days in the field.

    1. No, no, no, no no. You have completely missed our point.

      Our point isn’t that Pakistan have an amazing spinner and that they’re playing on dust bowls; it’s that Pakistan have some all right spinners and they’re playing on pitches that will spin a bit.

      Of late, England have been playing either in England or against Michael Beer, Xavier Doherty, Bangladesh or whoever.

    2. Ajmal dismissed SRI LANKAN BATSMEN in UAE. Have you ever seen an Englishman play spin?

      It’s like watching a cow trying to moonwalk and play the violin simultaneously.

    3. Oh, I see, you’ve simply found an excuse to go all Halifax on us again. Well, whatever floats your boat, I guess.

  12. Deep Cower, “If one disregards the not-outs which bolster averages and just add his runs and divide them by the number of innings”.

    Why would you want to do that? By doing so means that he would have been dismissed in every innings he has played in India. You would be doing a disservice to the average of Collingwood and the skill of managing to actually not get out, a fundamental skill of batting.

    1. It’s quite simple. What DC has done is simply imagined an extra delivery on the end of every Collingwood innings that has dismissed him.

      You’ll never learn to properly analysis cricket statistics until you learn to imagine what didn’t really happen, and assume that has a greater importance than what did.

  13. It is rather difficult to be aware of the “tongue in cheek” nature of a post over the internet, with the exception of part about the Broad partnership averages.

    I don’t know, maybe I just took the first part of the post at face value.

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