England have named the 12 from whom the XI for the test match will be picked before the toss tomorrow morning. Jofra Archer has a niggle and will miss the match. Foakes, as we knew, is in for Buttler, and Broad replaces Anderson who is being rested ahead of the day-night 3rd test, while Archer’s place will be taken either by Olly Stone or Chris Woakes. Stone is the like for like replacement, an out and out quick bowler, and is more likely to be effective on this pitch (I have seen preview pictures of it, and it is set to be a raging bunsen) than Woakes, so I would be inclined to opt for him. The disgraceful news, and the reason for this post, is that Dominic Bess has been dropped, and Moeen Ali will play as, allegedly, a front line spinner.
THE PROBLEM AND THE NON-SOLUTION
With Archer out, and Bess dropped due to inconsistency, and two spinners an absolute must, England needed to work out how to replace Bess’s lower order runs. The options other than naming Moeen were two: promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves and go with Woakes rather than Stone if worried about the lower order, or promote one of Parkinson or Virdi from the reserves, and risk a last four of Broad, Stone, Leach, Parkinson/Virdi. Selecting Moeen Ali, now approaching 34, and with a test bowling average of 36.5 to go with his batting average of 29 is foolish – Sundar got the nod for India in the first match because of the possibilities he offered with the bat, batted well, but was ineffective with the ball, and India were soundly beaten. Ali takes almost exactly three wickets per test match that he plays, somewhat better than his overall first class record of less than two wickets per match, but not enough to qualify as a genuine front line bowler. If you do not take large numbers of wickets, and Ali’s stats show that he does not, you have to be economical so that at least you are providng something. Ali, has as high bowling average of 36.5 shows, is not. For Worcestershire, his county, Ali has always been a top order batter whose bowling is very much a second string – his overall first class bowling average is almost 38 per wicket as against his test average of 36.5 per wicket.
There are two reasons I would favour Parkinson over Virdi: Parkinson has a somewhat better FC bowling average – 25.22 as against 28 for Virdi, and also Parkinson is a leg spinner, posing a different kind of challenge to opposition batters. This is particularly relevant with an Ashes tour coming up, since in the home season it is unlikely that any pitch will warrant two specialist spinners and Leach will have the first berth for bowlers in that category. Since Australian pitches started to improve from the crude nature of their earliest pitches, in the mid 1890s, the record of English off spinners in Australia is not great: Only Laker in 1958-9, a series England lost heavily, Titmus in the drawn 1962-3, and Emburey twice in series when Australia were depleted, firstly due to Kerry Packer and then due to Ali Bacher have had really good series bowling off spin for England in Australia. Left arm orthodox spinners of the Leach type fare better, with Peel, Rhodes, ‘Farmer’ White, Verity and Wardle among those to have had very successful visits to Australia. England have traditionally fought shy of leg spinners, but many of the most successful Aussie spinners have been of that type: ‘Ranji’ Hordern, Mailey, Grimmett, O’Reilly, Benaud, Warne, MacGill.
Whatever the correct answer, it is not recalling an ageing proven failure.
SPINNING OPTIONS AND LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD
England’s spin cupboard is not massively well stocked at the moment (hint, just in case someone in a position of influence is reading this, it does not help to punish the only county that dares to prepare spin friendly surfaces for its bowlers). Other than Leach, Parkinson and Virdi (we will ignore Bess, since the statement about his dropping made it fairly clear that he is not coming back any time soon), there are Liam Patterson-White (FC Bowling average 21.00, but only five matches at that level), Daniel Moriarty (17 wickets at 20.11 from two first class appearances) and no one else whose figures bear any kind of close scrutiny. There is still the radical option of giving Sophie Ecclestone, whose figures are extraordinary, a chance alongside the men and seeing how she goes. The young all rounder Lewis Goldsworthy has yet to play First Class cricket, but was excellent in the Under-19 World Cup, and may yet develop into the genuine article. His three senior appearances, all in T20s, have given him 38 not out in his only innings and five wickets at 17.20. He is one to watch for the future.
I would suggest that for the home season England keep Leach as the first choice spinner, with Parkinson to play if a pitch warrants two specialist spinners. I also suggest that those monitoring pitch preparation watch more for green seamers and for absolute roads than for turners. Unless he has significantly backslid in the course of the home season and/or someone has emerged from nowhere with astonishing figures, Parkinson should go to Australia as officially the second choice spinner behind Leach. I would like to see him play a test or two before then, because making a debut against Australia in Australia would be tough, although Reginald ‘Tip’ Foster with 287 in the first innings at the SCG in 1903 did not find it so.
My usual sign off…