New Glamorgan head coach Robert Croft has talked up England’s spin-bowling resources after witnessing first-hand the talent Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid have at their disposal during a brief stint working with the one-day international squad in South Africa.
Former international tweaker Croft linked up with the national side as a consultant spin-bowling coach for the 50-over leg of the tour after accepting an invitation from Director, England Cricket Andrew Strauss before Christmas.
The role gave Croft the opportunity to work closely with off-spinner Moeen and leggy Rashid, who have both become England’s frontline slow bowlers, and he was impressed with what he saw.
“I had a phone call from Andrew Strauss just before Christmas asking whether I would be interested in coming to be a part of the one-day series, largely as a bit of a sounding board for the two frontline spinners,” the Welshman explained to ecb.co.uk.
“Nothing to do with technique, just to discuss the tactical side of the game. It is fair to say that the two spinners that I have been working with have a heck of a lot of talent.
Very privileged to have been invited into the England Cricket team environment for the past 10 days. Time for home now and to get started
— Robert Croft (@RDBCroft10) February 6, 2016
“They have probably got a lot more answers in their heads than they think. It is about trying to just help in that capacity, playing the game you see in front of you. It has been exciting.”
Rather than working on technique, Croft has been charged with the task of passing on his knowledge of different game situations and tactics to Moeen and Rashid.
It has been so far, so good as the spin twins have been influential in helping England move 2-0 ahead in the five-match series.
In a high-scoring first contest in Bloemfontein, when the tourists smashed their highest ODI overseas score, the duo collected three wickets for 85 runs in 12 overs.
Moeen and Rashid then stopped South Africa, and dangerman AB de Villiers, in their tracks during the middle period in Port Elizabeth when they took one wicket and conceded just 84 runs from 20 overs.
“It is largely about how the opposition play, looking at the pitches we play on here, looking at the shots that the opposition like to play with and, as much as anything, the mentality that you need in the modern one-day game,” Croft said.
“Shy, retiring styles of bowlers don’t survive anymore. They have got to have a positive attitude, you have to have your skill and craft within that, but keep being bubbly, energetic and keep spinning the ball hard whichever way it goes – whether it is right, left, googly, top-spinner – keep playing it hard.
“It is not easy seeing the ball go over the boundary. It happens far more often than it did in my day. The first one-day game we played we hit 15 sixes, you would have been lucky to see 15 sixes all season back then.
“It is also having that sort of mindset that it does sometimes happen, you can’t just give up and you are out of the fight.
“Wicket-taking is a big part of a spinner’s role now, whereas back in my day going at three-and-a-half runs an over you had done well.
“You are going to go at five or six runs an over but if you are going to pick up three or four wickets along the way then you have done a great job.”
When I see a pitch like that I’m glad I’ve finished bowling ! #SAvENG
— Robert Croft (@RDBCroft10) February 3, 2016
Croft admitted the game had moved on significantly from the time he represented England in ODI cricket, between 1996 and 2001 when he made 50 appearances, but believes certain things are still relevant in the modern game.
“It has changed a lot,” the 45-year-old said. “But there are still times when you come on surfaces that demand a little bit more watchful batting.
“But on the whole batting through from one to 11 is a lot about six hitting, so you have to make sure you have a big heart and some ice upstairs so you think cooly under pressure.
“You need to have a plan, it doesn’t always come off, but as along as you have got a plan you have got a chance.”
England’s recent one-day resurgence has continued against the Proteas in the opening two matches of the series.
They followed up a 39-run Duckworth-Lewis victory, when Jos Buttler’s 73-ball ton propelled them to 399 for nine, with a brilliant chase of 263 built on Alex Hales’ 99.
Croft says the sky is the limit for Eoin Morgan’s emerging outfit.
“This team can go along way because the talent in there is immense,” he said. “I feel very privileged to be invited into this dressing room.
“It is a dressing room that is making great strides forward, and there are a lot of boundary hitters in there as well.
“They appear a very level-headed bunch and are all in a similar stage in their life as well so they understand what each other are going through. The unity in there is very, very good indeed.
“There is a no-fear factor, they are going out there to play positive cricket and, from what I have seen, the message from the management team is go out there and win cricket matches.
“Don’t get too caught up with anything else, just do what you have to do to win cricket matches.”