England cricket supporters will not doubt lament the defeat to Pakistan at Lords over the weekend as what might have been. Chris Woakes came out as a hero in defeat and there were cameos from some of the batsmen but no hundreds to match that of Misbah Ul Haq that might have made the difference.
A couple of aspects are worthy of note: firstly, although it lasted for only four days it was an enthralling test match. The Sri Lankan series never really captured the imagination but this was a fascinating start to this series. Secondly, the bowling of Yasir Shah. Ten wickets for a leg spinner at Lords, the first in living memory has given the England team food for thought.
Cricket is richer entertainment with a wrist spinner in action. Shah does not spin the ball a huge amount but his control of pace and flight seemed to bamboozle a team who are simply not used to facing this type of bowling regularly. He has done this before to England but on more helpful pitches.
The wrist spinner needs to be cherished. It is one of the successes of the Indian Premier League that we have seen more wrist spinners in action, of both left and right handed varieties.
England, to my regret has a limited history of wrist spinners. In my youth, Ian Salisbury was almost the only specialist leg spinner in county cricket. Pakistan has a richer history going back through the underrated bowling of Shahid Afridi, Mushtaq Ahmed, the wonderful Abdul Qadir and Intakhab Alam. Australia and India shares that rich history with one Shane Warne and Chandrasekhar leading the way for them. It is perhaps something of a simplistic argument but it is the hotter, drier climates that have favored this most challenging of cricketing arts.
I recently lamented the seeming demise of out and out fast bowling which I stand by but I also lament England's struggle with wrist spinners. In the bygone age of the diminutive "Titch" Freeman, it was seemingly believed that deception was something of a dark art and spectators did not want to see games ending early so the leg spinner was seemingly discouraged. A generation later than Freeman came Doug Wright but his magic deliveries were often surrounded by less magic deliveries and the English obsession with "line and length" may have begun.
Richie Benaud's ethos was to develop a fiercely spun leg break and go from there but it is the ability to bowl consistently well that has long troubled the wrist spinner. Batsmen tend not to like the ball moving away from them but are normally patient enough to wait for the bad ball and punish it. The googly, slider, top spinner and flipper can then make the batsman's life much harder. Warne's set up for his flipper in his early career when he lulled the batsmen into a false sense of security was spin bowling at its best.
There may be light and the end of the tunnel with several English wrist spinners in the spotlight in the domestic game. Adil Rashid and Scott Borthwick are probably at the top but it is interesting to note that both were leg spinner who now bat more. Regardless, it is the step in the right direction. The hope will be that the future will see England develop a wrist spinner with the consistency of Yasir Shah. Asking for another Shane Warne is simply not going to happen but I see no reason why England cannot develop a bowler similar to Shah. The key very much is the consistency that wrist spinners have traditionally struggled with but the more wrist spin bowlers we see, the more interesting the cricket.
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