Why Jack Leach is not ‘better’ than Adil Rashid

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We reckon this article will take you somewhere around six minutes to read. Only you can decide whether you trust us to justify that gargantuan investment of your valuable time. (You might also feel moved to make an angry comment afterwards, so maybe factor that time in too).

We’d argue that what might at first look like an overlong examination of a very specific selection dilemma actually leads to far more interesting, broader questions about how teams are selected and how Test matches are won. But that’s just our opinion. What we’re saying is don’t feel obliged to read on.

Leach or Rashid?

In the wake of England’s Test series victory over Sri Lanka, some observed that Jack Leach took more wickets than Adil Rashid at a lower average and concluded that Leach is therefore ‘better’ and should be picked ahead of Rashid when England inevitably play fewer than three spinners in future matches.

This is wrong. But it is not so obviously wrong that we don’t have to explain it.

To explain why Adil Rashid should be picked ahead of Jack Leach in a one- or two-spinner line-up, as well as alongside him in a three-spinner line-up, we first have to ask ‘What do England want?’ and we then have to add a whole load of context to that question because actually that’s a terrible question to ask.

What do England want?

The answer to this question is ‘the better spinner’ or something similarly vague. We need to be precise here. Let’s first try and work out what the rest of England’s attack would look like if they played fewer spinners because only then can we get some idea what we’re after.

This is easier said than done, but, just as a starting point, let’s take the side that played and won the first two Tests against Sri Lanka before Sam Curran strained one of his sides.

The batting order wasn’t fixed, but the 11 players were…

  1. Rory Burns
  2. Keaton Jennings
  3. Ben Stokes
  4. Joe Root
  5. Jos Buttler
  6. Moeen Ali
  7. Ben Foakes
  8. Sam Curran
  9. Adil Rashid
  10. Jack Leach
  11. James Anderson

The obvious swap to make for less overwhelmingly spin-centric conditions is Stuart Broad for one of the spinners.

However, since then, Jonny Bairstow has made a hundred batting at three and this has really thrown a huge clanking spanner in the works. If he carries on in that spot, England will either have to ditch a middle-order batsman (Root or Buttler, so no, that’s not happening) or one of their bowling options.

So either (a) we’re down to five bowlers plus Joe Root’s part-time spin or (b) Jonny Bairstow isn’t playing and England are back to rotating number threes.

Five bowlers sounds like plenty, but England’s recent success has been built on total bits and pieces cricket. You could argue that the team only truly works with six bowlers, which is a bit mental but might also be true.

In a five bowler situation… okay, we’re going to have to disagree with ourself slightly here. In a five bowler situation, your non-Moeen Ali spinner* will probably do a lot of bowling and may be asked to keep things tight while the three seamers attack from the other end. The alternative is that Ben Stokes bowls quite a lot and Ben Stokes works better when he bowls only slightly or just a medium amount.

* As you’ve no doubt deduced by this point, we’re assuming Moeen Ali should play in all of these scenarios. This seems a fair assumption to us because somehow or other, batting or bowling, there is a very good chance that Moeen Ali will be wonderful in any given match.

BUT…

Here’s the thing. Here’s the crux of the matter. A five-man England bowling attack is not a good England bowling attack. It can do a job, it may win some matches, but a five-man attack gives away the one advantage England have managed to stumble onto: having an effective bowler for (nearly) every circumstance.

The Leach v Rashid argument is a good one because it is an archetype. It lets you pick a side and say something about yourself. It is finger spin v wrist spin, reliable v unreliable, predictable v magical.

Of course it’s not that simple – Jack Leach can bowl breathtaking deliveries; Adil Rashid can bowl tight, accurate spells – but there’s enough truth in there that we can run with it. Fundamentally, Leach is more likely to provide control and pressure, Rashid is more likely to do something exceptional. Which do you value more?

Your preference doesn’t matter

Whichever you personally value more, we’d argue that this particular England team should give greater weight to the peaks of Rashid. There are definitely times when the only things likely to get a team a wicket are fast bowling or wrist spin. The England bowling attack needs a coping mechanism for these times. As wonderful as Leach’s bowling is (and it is), the England attack doesn’t really need accurate, dependable, challenging finger spin.

Does a five or six-man attack need the second spin bowler to shoulder an enormous workload? Not really. Not when they’re playing in conditions where they’re looking to field three or four seam bowlers. Does it need an option when fast-medium and finger spin can’t break a partnership? Yes. This is the gap that needs filling and Adil Rashid remains England’s best option – same as he was a year ago.

So what we’re saying here is: either (a) you have a five-man attack and accept that Adil Rashid is going to bowl a lot of overs (to keep Ben Stokes reasonably fresh) or (b) you pick six bowlers and ditch a batsman.

We’d ditch a batsman.

How d’ya feel about that, Jonny?

Jonny Bairstow (via Sky Sports)

Let’s now take Rashid v Bairstow in isolation. Unlike ‘finger spinner v wrist spinner’, ‘guy-who-just-made-a-hundred-at-number-three v wrist spinner’ is not an archetypal question, but it’s again an interesting one because it pits the value of run-scoring against the value of wicket-taking.

A lot of people think runs ‘win’ matches. Again, this is wrong. But we’ll come to that in a minute. Let’s first look at Bairstow’s case to be considered a number three batsman.

Bairstow’s case to be considered a number three batsman is not strong. This might sound an odd thing to say about a guy who literally just made a hundred batting at three, but we’d argue that batting at three in Sri Lanka is much more like batting at six in many other parts of the world – and so far, that is all the evidence we have.

(Think of it like this: if we were to rank all of the world’s Test grounds by how likely it is that a number three batsman will have the shit bounced out of him when he first comes to the crease, Colombo would appear quite low down.)

(We could almost argue that Bairstow’s hundred at number three actually strengthened the case for him batting down the order, but let’s not go down that route.)

Next, the run-scorer v wicket-taker bit

The case for a good number three batsman is basically that Bairstow might score a hundred. He might score a hundred-or-so runs, and everyone knows that when someone scores a hundred-or-so runs that is good for the team and the team stands a better chance of winning.

But what is the cost? If he plays instead of Rashid, maybe a batsman Rashid would have dismissed in single figures will instead make a hundred runs. One wicket doesn’t sound a lot, but that’s literally all we’re talking about when we’re talking about Bairstow’s possible-hundred.

This is what we’re arguing. We’re saying that even if Rashid averages 38 with the ball, he takes wickets no-one else can and in so doing saves his team-mates’ bowling averages from greater damage. Plus he’ll probably take a few other wickets (the tail, for example, who can be real bastards to get out in this sickening modern age of professionalism). He’ll score a handful of extremely fun runs down the order too – maybe even more than Bairstow would have scored.

It doesn’t really matter though because of course they’ll never drop Bairstow and then pick Rashid

Even if you think it’s the right thing to do, can you imagine leaving out a guy from this England team who just made a hundred batting at three? Can you imagine how that would be received by the people who are paid to voice opinions about said team? It’s just not an option.

(Although if we were going to argue it, we’d say this: Bairstow has repeatedly proven himself to be a person who is incredibly motivated by a desire to “prove the doubters wrong”. This even applies even when he has to go to quite a bit of trouble to imagine-up said doubters in the first place. (Literally no-one was slagging you off because you got injured playing football, Jonny. That was criticism of football, not you. It’s a completely different thing.) We’re pretty confident that dropping Bairstow immediately after he’s scored a hundred pretty much guarantees a double hundred next time you pick him.)

An alternative to all of the above

Olly Stone (via Sky Sports)

A couple of hundred words ago, we said that there are times when the only things likely to get a team a wicket are fast bowling or wrist spin. An alternative to picking Rashid could therefore be picking Olly Stone.

If you wanted a flat pitch option AND Jonny Bairstow AND Jack Leach AND only five bowlers, you could pick Stone instead of Stuart Broad.

This makes a certain sense, but again it is very hard to see it happening. Dropping Broad for a seamer probably wouldn’t go down anywhere near as well as when they dropped him for a spinner in Sri Lanka (“I don’t think I’d have made a particularly big difference”).

In summary

Adil Rashid should play. When he doesn’t play, and someone else plays instead, and England don’t do very well, these are the reasons we’ll be annoyed about it.


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38 Appeals

  1. I’ve followed your logic, agreed with it, and then, somewhat to my surprise found myself thinking that it ought to be Moeen Ali that misses out.

    Once you’ve decided to pick both Leach and Rashid, you then decide whether the team needs Bairstow or Ali more.

    With two spinners already Moeen is neither as good at bowling tight as Leach nor as ‘magic’ as Rashid. And if you pick three spinners one very likely won’t bowl all that much.

    In this scenario Moeen would very likely need to bat in the top six, so it’s his batting that becomes important. And as we know Moeen bats better when he’s picked as a bowler than when he’s picked as a batsman. So who’d you rather pick as a top six batsman? Johnny or Moeen?

    • Also, I’ve just noticed that you’d consider dropping Broad for Stone…but Broad already isn’t in your side is he? Unless you’re leaving out Curran?

      • King Cricket

        December 4, 2018 at 12:08 pm

        The side that played Sri Lanka is just the starting point. The assumption is that one of the spinners is dropped for Broad in almost all other conditions. Hence why the Leach v Rashid question arises (and not actually because of Bairstow who only really succeeds in making that decision even more complicated).

        In fact thanks for pointing that out. We’ll amend the article.

      • In which case dropping Broad will usually be my choice.

    • Also: if Root still bowls a bit, you then have three types of spin again. Or perhaps two and a half.

      • King Cricket

        December 4, 2018 at 12:10 pm

        Alphamonkey, that’s absolutely true about Moeen Ali – but what you’re forgetting is that Moeen Ali is wonderful.

    • One thing that does come up with either 6 bowlers or picking 5 but dropping Mo is what that means for Broad in the Total Cricket era. Do you really want to go into a Test with Rashid at 8, then one of Leach, Broad or Anderson at 9 (and I’m increasingly thinking its probably Anderson at 9 out of those 3 these days)?

      In this scenario, one of Foakes or Buttler is probably left stranded. Certainly you won’t get the change out of the last 5 wickets that you have done over the past 9 months. You either pick:
      3 spinners, Anderson and Stokes (no)
      3 spinners, Anderson, Curran/Woakes, Stokes
      Rashid, Leach, Anderson, Curran/Woakes, Stokes

      Literally the only other option is as KC says, you drop Rashid and pick both Moeen and Stone. Which makes Broad even less likely to get a game.

  2. On a separate but slightly related note is Buttler that much more secure than Bairstow though? Still a batsman that would have to give way so your point is fair and agree with it all.

    • King Cricket

      December 4, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      We’d say Buttler is more secure at the moment. He’s impressed everyone and played a greater number of key innings in the last year, even if he’s not churning out hundreds.

      • Buttler has been England’s best batsman since he came back. All you would say is that England definitely need to start giving him more responsibility (with the bat I mean, he is obviously VC as well). He should never be in that specialist 7 spot again, and realistically should be taking some load of Stokes and pushing up to 5 for me.

  3. Respite your warnings I spent five-six minutes of my previous time on this article. Somehow this must be the author’s fault.

    Angry [✔️]
    Amazed [✔️]

    Kidding aside, good piece, and one I was waiting for ever since your original Rashid/Leach tweets. It’s like one of those sliding block puzzles, except you can’t actually make the picture of the cat or whatever and you just have to choose which of its feet is going to be a scrambled blocky mess.

    More so that other teams, England would love to be able to play twelve men. One of those men ideally isn’t Jonny Bairstow, it’s a proper number 3, but they don’t have one of those. Apart from Moeen, who plays there for Worcestershire but apparently is less suited to the spot than all the other players who aren’t suited to the spot.

    Except England still really want Jonny Bairstow because he’s more of a ‘dasher’ than stodgy old Ben Foakes. But he’s actually played really well so they can’t drop him now. I get the opinion that they’d love Foakes to get a career-nobbling injury.

    What was my point again? Something about cats and blocks I think. Get Tufnell back in the side. Anyway, good post.

  4. In the long run, they achieve their averages at their strike- and run-rates. So Warner gets his 40-odd at 70-odd and gets out having used up about ten overs. Add ten overs for the other guy and Warner hasn’t batted to lunchtime – again. And has therefore failed in his primary role which is to use up the first new ball so that the softies can cash in later.

    During a different ten overs, Adil will take his three wickets at nearly forty. So now it’s 120-3 after 30 overs. Make him bowl both ends and it’s 240-6 after 60 overs and it’s tea-time, and the game is “moving on”. Hurrah. It would be worth watching. But not often.

    Personally, I think that Johnny’s stumps get splatted far too often for him to be a No3.

  5. I think you have fallen into the trap of assigning players to archetypes because of their lack of attributes rather than the attributes they actually possess.

    Olly Stone for example doesn’t swing the ball much. This has led to people cataloguing him as a fast bowler even though he doesn’t really bowl any faster than Stuart Broad. At least, that’s to the evidence I’ve seen, and because of the way county cricket works, the evidence to which 99% of people calling him fast have seen as well.

    This is exactly the way that players like Steven Finn and Mark Wood were described, as adding pace and variety that they very rarely actually did, because they didn’t swing the ball as much as Anderson. There is a need to assume that players are bound to fit into their archetype better than someone who doesn’t, even if the other party is world class. Then, confirmation bias takes care of the rest.

    Adil Rashid drags the ball down a lot. For that reason he’s the 3rd best spinner England have played this year. Does he bowl magic balls? Sometimes. But so does Moeen Ali. Legspinners are supposed to bowl more magic balls than offspinners, but I’m not convinced that’s true of Rashid and Ali just because they’re supposed to. They tend to do a lot of things they’re not supposed to.

    • King Cricket

      December 4, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      We do say the archetypes only apply up to a point in the article.

      There is a point worth making about wrist v finger spin though. It’s not just about magic balls; it’s about the greater chaos you get from a bowler who turns it both ways and, yes, who bowls more drag-downs.

      On Stone, it’ll be good to see more, but we’re happy to take Ashley Giles’ word on the matter for now.

  6. I think I am coming around to the idea of picking the spinners on the basis of the pitch. It is quite rare that you need three, and I think if you pick three on most pitches then Leach is not going to do any bowling – he has no purpose.

    Flat pitch – Leach and Rashid. Leach to do the donkey work and try to bowl 35 overs for 80, Rashid to bowl short spells and try to get 4/90 off 20.
    “English” style pitch – Ali as the main spinner with 4 seamers, Rashid coming into the mix if its hot and you might need 2
    Spinning wickets – All three, Rashid missing out if you still absolutely have to have 3 seamers (there is the odd Indian track that starts off green and breaks up for example)

    But stick to your guns. If Leach takes a boatload in Sri Lanka but your next Test is at Headingley, you still pick Moeen ahead of him. The more I think about it, the more I think this is the way for the whole England team to go rather than just pick all the all-rounders – Woakes can average 23 in England and not bowl anywhere else for the rest of his career, Jennings can play subcontinent only etc.

    • To be extra clear on the spin point, I can see an argument for picking all 3. I can see picking Rashid +1. I can see picking Leach on his own or Moeen on his own. But Ali and Leach, or Rashid on his own is by and large stupid

  7. I’ve seen plenty of people who made it sound like playing football had been something Bairstow had naughtily sneaked off to do on his own, so they at least exist in my imagination, too.

    • King Cricket

      December 4, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      We did hear there was no-one anywhere near him. We assumed he’d just ghosted into space or wandered offside.

  8. This posting is doing my head in today.

    I wish I could lie down for a couple of hours this afternoon and then look at this posting/discussion again.

    It feels like a rather more convoluted set of arguments than the (largely happy) situation requires.

    The handful of truly difficult conundra are likely to be unusual – because they only emerge in certain conditions – to the point of being rare – because those unusual circumstances would also need to coincide with all the players who are causing that conundrum to be fit and available to play at the same time.

    The embarrassment of riches issues central to this debate are therefore, mostly, moot.

    The remaining problem is the top three, which remains almost entirely unsolved in my view. Jonny Bairstow might just turn himself into a top three batsman – I agree he isn’t one yet for English conditions but he might well be good enough to develop and adapt into one. So don’t drop him.

    • King Cricket

      December 4, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      We disagree that the issues are conditions-dependent – there’s a decision to be made every game – but agree that it’s fitness dependent. Team management will be praying that someone – anyone – ruptures their pancreas.

      If Bairstow stays at three, England’s bowling loses something and someone will have to decide what.

      • I observed that India usually have one proper opener like Gavaskar and the other is a joker like Srikkanth

        But England(except for the Gower era) mostly have THREE proper openers, with one of them pushed down to the one-drop position

        this usually guarantees very funny cricket, when England & India play each other, because, atleast one of them will have a XI not suited for the ‘conditions’

        but now England are breaking from type, and I can easily see, Jonny being pushed up to an opener like Sehwag, and Jennings pushed down to 3.

        2 reasons, why Jennings needs to be pushed down
        1) Leach was sent in to protect Jennings
        2) Jennings was the only batsman to get out to a pacer in one of the Test matches

      • OK, I’m fresher this morning and now can articulate the bit with which I disagree.

        The reason I think the issues are conditions-dependent is because there are many occasions where the combination of ground and atmospheric conditions bring seam/swing bowling to the fore and thus make six bowlers a luxury…or to put it another way, runs ground out by batsmen who have sufficient technique to cope with pace bowling at a premium.

        I’d suggest that is the case at least 2/3rds of the time for tests in the British Isles, perhaps half the time in South Africa/New Zealand/West Indies and 1/3rd of the time in Australia. I agree that your theory works most of the time in Asia.

        So (in my view) at least half the time you really do want/need the nation’s best six or seven batsmen in the side. We have an embarrassment of riches because, on that criterion, Stokes, Curren and Ali might all qualify as batsmen at the moment.

        Foakes might be proving himself also to be an exceptional bat, but is as yet unproven in all conditions…as are the whole of the top three.

        The West Indies might bring some clarity to the selection process, as might injuries as discussed before.

        And if all else fails, there is always the hat, KC, as you have so articulately argued previously. 😉

      • King Cricket

        December 5, 2018 at 7:39 am

        So your answer to the Leach v Rashid question is, for the most part, neither?

        We could again argue that the less bowling the spinner is likely to do, the more England would primarily need wicket-taking cameos from such a person – this is the crux of our point really – but we can’t bring ourself to make any sort of case against Moeen Ali.

      • Actually on that central question, Leach v Rashid, I think my answer is that more often than not it would be a case of “neither or both”.

        But on those occasions when it was a straight trade-off between the two, I would pick Rashid, largely for your reasons.

        Moeen Ali is inked in to the team sheet in my book for the same reason as Stokes and (possibly, not yet proven) Curren – a genuine all-rounder – in that he is worth his place as a batsman and regularly takes wickets.

        Simples.

        Gosh I’m feeling fresher today – am I really going to waste this rare burst of sharp thinking on mere work for most of the day?

      • So are you both now in agreement?

        Is the solution to make Buttler a non-playing vice captain in ‘English Conditions’

        or do his 30s & 40s become even more valuable, when the conditions are loaded in favor of bowlers ?

        Does there exist any scenario at all, where Buttler can be dropped?

      • King Cricket

        December 5, 2018 at 2:10 pm

        We’d rank the middle order specialist batsmen as Root, then Buttler, then Bairstow at the minute. If you can only fit two in, Bairstow wouldn’t make the cut.

      • Ali is currently more or less undroppable as he is probably in England’s top 6-8 batsmen plus a match winning spinner with some regularity. If his batting continues to drop off as it has in recent times and perhaps a couple of other batsman stand up so he drops out of the top 8 batsman England have, he then is measured purely on a spinner basis. In which case a different answer maybe arrived at to the question that wasn’t asked…

        Just on Moeen, i also feel that Foakes batting below him at 8 is incorrect. Foakes has a better record in FC cricket and looks to my eyes currently a better long term bet as a 7.

  9. I forgot to say that I hate it when they put at the beginning of an article how long it will take you to read it, because it usually takes me about three times as long.

    • King Cricket

      December 4, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      If you know that happens consistently, surely you can do some multiplication.

      If it makes you feel inferior, reconsider that. Sounds like you’re doing a thorough job. No-one likes a skimmer.

  10. Rashid’s a leggie, which is good enough for me.

  11. I read the entire piece and then pondered over the issue for quite a while. I have concluded that while I do agree with you on that thing you said there, the other thing you said elsewhere is total rubbish.

  12. There’s a key factor being forgotten here.

    What that is I don’t recall, and I may not have that right anyway.

  13. Oh no…

    …now Virat Kohli is talking about “not crossing the line…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/46451725

  14. Bearing in mind that Moeen and Rashid are capable of holding a bat, I’d be tempted to play the full trio in all bar the unspinfriendliest of condition.

    I like spin though.

  15. Looking at his stats Bairstow puts me in mind of Shane Watson – excellent starter, not such a great converter, leading to a shedful of scores in the fabled Wattozone (Bairstozone?). May be an artifact of him batting down the order. Of course, much as Watto once was, now he’s up the order instead – an interesting omen.

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