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England in a Spin

Feature Article By Faisal Adeel 09/04/03

Even though defeating the Aussies in the Ashes and VB series would have been a greater surprise than the thrashing they did receive, England team morale was low going into the World Cup.

England’s eventual arrival in South Africa for the World Cup was initially marred by ‘political tennis’ between the ICC and the ECB on the ‘will they or wont they go to Zimbabwe’ saga. When England’s campaign did begin, the performances failed to revitalise the team. Despite encouraging (yet sporadic) displays, England fell at the first hurdle of cricket’s glamour event.

To continue with the clichés, however, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and England’s ‘silver lining’ (and a significant one at that) is the development of several youngsters throughout the winter at the ECB cricket academy.

‘Behind every great man stands a great woman’.

This old adage may not seem relevant to the bat and ball game, but one can use the underlying basis and argue ‘behind every great cricket team stands a great cricket academy.’  The Australians for example have a strong cricket academy structure in place…and no team in the world is greater than the Australians. The ECB wisely followed the ACB lead of establishing academies for the young cricketing elites. In fact, the ECB have set up their academy in Australia under the directorship of former Australian wicket-keeping legend Rod Marsh.

Results have been impressive; the speed at which some of the ECB academy youngsters have developed into full fledged internationals is nothing short of phenomenal. Simon Jones, Steve Harmison, Robert Key have all become full internationals since benefiting from the tutelage of Marsh.

Ian Bell, Owais Shah, Alex Tudor and Steve Kirby have made vast improvements. These players will expect to play a role in the national team, some integral; some peripheral, as a full itinerary of international cricket beckons.

But, in every group of stars some do shine brightest.  If Rod Marsh was asked to summarise the success of the ECB academy he would use the example of James Anderson as the template. Last year, Anderson (20) played in the local Lancashire leagues and his only goal for the year was to make a handful of appearances for Lancashire County. His year was transformed when, plagued by injuries, the selectors called up the Burnley academy graduate for the Australian tour. The final VB series group match against Australia, saw Anderson record the most economical figures ever by an Englishman in one day cricket, equalling Ian Botham’s 12 runs conceded in 10 overs during the 1992 World Cup.

World cup selection was inevitable and his fine performances continued at the World Cup; the game against Australia the only exception as Anderson’s inexperience was cruelly exposed.

Notwithstanding these great developments, England are still searching for a great spinner to bolster a predominantly one dimensional bowling attack and with aspirations to become a great cricket team they will need one.

Shane Warne has been the heart of the Australian bowling attack for the best part of a decade, dominating batsmen all over the world. Muttiah Muralitharan has single-handedly carried mediocre Sri Lankan bowling attacks in the past. Harbhajan Singh was central to India’s historic Test series victory over Australia in 2001, in particular the astounding 2nd Test match in which he grabbed 13 wickets. Pakistani off-spin wizard Saqlain Mushtaq, became the fastest bowler to reach 100 One Day wickets and has constantly baffled batsmen with his ‘mystery’ delivery – a delivery that drifts away from the right handed batsman.

These above are to name but a few world-class spinners that currently grace the game.

England on the other hand, cannot boast a spinner of similar calibre.  Ashley Giles has become the first choice for England and will most likely play some role in the Test series against South Africa and Zimbabwe. Giles, with all due respect, is not a world-class spinner. He will put the ball in the right areas with limited turn and try to keep the scoring down, but generally has little wicket taking affect against quality batsmen. Other leading spinners in the country broadly fall under the same category; Robert Croft, Phil Tufnell and Richard Dawson will not give the South Africans or Zimbabweans many sleepless nights.

It does not look likely that a bright spinning star will appear to fill the void for the summer Tests and if English ‘spin bowling’ history is something to go by, it maybe a while before we see one. But if they have any chance of developing raw youngsters into world class spinners, one feels the ECB academy downunder, will be the catalyst.

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