England’s long-standing spin bowling conundrum

The subcontinent is where the heart of the game beats loudest. Their playing conditions are largely known for their spin acquaintance, and teams for their spin mastery. How well touring sides react and respond to spin bowling will eventually determine the degree of triumph they are likely to achieve in these conditions.

England’s woes against spin were once again the talking points in the English Media following their ‘humiliating’ first-ever defeat at the hands of Bangladesh on ‘a turner’ Mirpur wicket — England’s experienced batting line-up couldn’t survive a session of spin bowling where they lost all their wickets. That crushing defeat hurt England really bad. It  was soon followed by a round of castigation from the former greats – who, in their analysis, didn’t hold anything back – termed England’s batting performance ‘shameful’ and ‘a disgrace.’

England skipper failed to sugarcoat words in his post-match presser – pinning the blame on his batters’ inexperience and spin bowlers for not bowling enough wicket-taking deliveries.

Little did Cook and his comrades knew that it was just a mere glimpse of what was about to come. Much was yet to unfold.

Recently concluded India vs England series proved to be a disastrous affair for England as they could manage only one draw and four losses without even putting up a competitive show on most occasions; India decimated England comprehensively courtesy some fabulous spin bowling show by Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

There was no hiding place for England came those dry, slow, and spin-friendly surfaces in India; their fragilities against spin bowling were exploited regularly by India’s spin twins.

Plus, a dearth of any specialist spinner who could have taken advantage of those conditions correctly has derailed England hopes to inflict some return damage.

Last time England won against India in 2012, they had the luxury of Graeme Swann—their best off-spin bowler who retired three years ago, halfway through their dismal Ashes campaign—and Monty Panesar—who is out of the domestic circuit due to personal reasons.

Swann, Penasar
Monty Penasar and Graeme Swann share a moment in the field together

England missed Graeme Swann throughout, undoubtedly.

Swann was a genuine match winner on his own. He could sweep through any middle order on his day. He had the control and ability to take wickets also. Penesar was no less specialist too.

As things stand today, England are without any frontline spin bowler. In fact, they are yet to compensate Swann loss – they have tried at least eight spinners’ post his retirement, and only two have managed to play more than one Test match.

The problem is very much rooted in ECB itself. England’s cricketing structure provides little nurturing to their spin talent; surfaces used in domestic cricket are just providing copious assistance to medium pace swing bowlers. And unless you can bat and know the art of containing in limited overs, counties are hesitant to invest in you. You tend to develop your white-ball skills more than you learn how to bowl with flight and guile.

Also, more and more limited-overs cricket is incorporated into domestic schedule at the cost of domestic matches, which is not really helping the plight of English spin bowling at all.

But it’s not just spin bowling prospects who suffer because of this system. It is developing batsmen who don’t get to play quality spin in domestic cricket also. And when they get to visit Asian conditions where they encounter some tough spin bowling, they are like a fish out of water— as was the case against India.

Unless the ECB revamps its system and creates an environment where their spin bowlers are provided with enough opportunities to flourish and be at their best, England’s will have to get used to losing in the subcontinent conditions.

photocredits: Cricbuzz