James Anderson’s fitness – or lack of it – gives England’s selectors a potential get-out © Getty Images
England will resist the immediate temptation to send for reinforcements ahead of the tour of India, but it remains possible a player could be added to the squad in the coming weeks.
Having suffered a chastening final day in Dhaka, where they missed several opportunities in the field and lost all 10 wickets in a session, there might have been a temptation to refresh a squad that is struggling to both play and bowl spin as well as the opposition. Alastair Cook, the captain, admitted on Sunday that England “haven’t got world-class spinners”.
But while James Whitaker, the national selector, has confirmed England will keep faith with the 16-man squad originally named for the tour, replacement players will be called up in case of injury. That could even include the possibility of replacing James Anderson who was not named in the original tour party for the India series with the understanding that he would join the squad if he was deemed to be fit.
“We’ve picked our squad and we stand by that,” Whitaker told ESPNcricinfo. “If someone is injured or becomes unwell, we can look at making changes but these are the players we believe are best equipped for the job.
“James Anderson continues to make his comeback from injury at Loughborough and we will assess his fitness before deciding what his involvement on the tour will be.”
One of the great truisms of cricket is that a player’s reputation can often improve most when he is not playing. So, with England’s spinners struggling to match the potency of their Bangladesh counterparts, the calls for the inclusion of Somerset’s Jack Leach or Middlesex’s Ollie Rayner have intensified.
Leach, a left-arm spinner, claimed 65 Championship wickets during the 2016 season at an average of 21.87. No England-qualified player claimed more in Division One. Rayner, the Middlesex off-spinner, claimed 51 Championship wickets at an average of 23.56. By comparison with the spinners in England’s squad, Gareth Batty claimed 41 at 31.21, Adil Rashid claimed 32 at 33.84 and Zafar Ansari 22 at 31.40. All five of them played in Division One of the County Championship.
Leach is in some ways an unlikely saviour. While Jos Buttler, his teammate from Somerset youth teams, was soon fast tracked as a special talent, Leach was obliged to take a job parking trolleys in a Taunton supermarket as he attempted to pursue a career in the game.
He has developed steadily, however, and is now an admirably consistent bowler. And while England are relatively well-served with spinners who turn the ball into right-handed batsmen (Moeen Ali and Graeth Batty have probably been the most reliable of England’s spinners on the tour to date), Leach might have offered England another option for a spinner who takes the ball away from them.
While his excellent record in the 2016 Championship season comes with something of a caveat – Somerset played on pitches providing an unusual amount of assistance to spin bowlers – it is likely that England will encounter similar surfaces in India. His experience of operating on such surfaces might therefore have been useful and Somerset, who were criticised for preparing such surfaces, could argue that they were preparing England players for the challenge ahead.
Most of England’s spinners have little experience of bowling in helpful conditions. Moeen, for example, developed on an unresponsive New Road surface and, when he did come across a helpful track, often found himself as second spinner behind Batty – until he moved to Surrey – or Saeed Ajmal. For that reason, he is still learning to deal with the expectation and pressure of bowling in circumstances where spinners are required to lead the attack.
But the selectors have concluded that to make changes now would suggest panic and argue that the reasons for selecting the current squad remain as valid now as they did a few weeks ago. Leach, for example, is still seen as an inexperienced player who has yet to have the chance to familiarise himself with the England environment. He will depart for a Lions trip to the UAE shortly, though, and it remains possible that, should an injury befall any of the bowlers, he could be called up.
Jack Leach had an oustanding county season © Getty Images
That includes Anderson. If he is ruled out of the tour in the coming days – and it seems a decision will be made in the next week – it is entirely possible the selectors could replace him with a spinner. The team management could argue that such a move would not be a sign of panic or demonstrate any lack of faith in the current squad, but represent a natural replacement for a bowler who would have been with the squad had he been fully fit.
It would make little sense to replace Anderson with another seamer. England already have several options in that department – Stuart Broad and Jake Ball sat out the second Test in Dhaka, for example – but they have fewer spin options. Leach could, therefore, yet find himself in India within a few weeks.
Meanwhile, England are sticking to their original plan to take a few days off before beginning preparations for the India leg of the tour. They fly to Mumbai on Wednesday and do not have any full training sessions planned until Saturday. Then they fly to Rajkot on Sunday where they will step up their preparations ahead of the first Test starting on Wednesday, November 9. Some players are likely to arrange net sessions in their days off, but there will be no official warm-up match.
“The boys have been training very hard since we’ve been here,” Trevor Bayliss, the coach, said. “It’s been a fairly hectic two or three weeks, so I think part of it will be mental and physical rest so that we’re fresh going into those matches.
“It’s not all about practice, practice, practice, even though that’s what people might think we need to do. But when the guys practice we want to practice properly and get our confidence for those matches.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo