Adil Rashid and the gulf between wrist-spin in ODIs and Tests

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Phil Edmonds, independent thinker, entrepreneur, Cambridge graduate and the most gifted of left-arm spinners, once declared that he would like to circumvent county cricket. Of course he would like to play Test matches for England and he proposed that he would prepare for that by bowling, not for Middlesex, but in club cricket in London. It was a neat idea but even the arch-manipulator Edmonds could not persuade the men that matter this plan was feasible.

Now it is possible Adil Rashid, a less manipulative soul one imagines, may be able to achieve the Edmonds dream. In the winter Rashid decided to withdraw from red-ball county cricket to concentrate on the white-ball game, a choice he could take because he had established himself as an England regular in the two short forms of the game. They were unimpressed at Yorkshire but there was a certain logic to Rashid’s decision: he had been dropped from the Test team and he had recently been more successful with a white ball. There was scope for lucrative overseas contracts in the T20 leagues, which did not really materialise; and there was always England, for whom he was increasingly regarded as a key weapon in pursuit of the World Cup in 2019.

There is, however, a difference in principle here since Buttler had never officially withdrawn from red-ball cricket; he just was not available very often. Moreover it has already been pointed out that the precedent of allowing Rashid – or anyone else – to pick and choose when he is available for a Test match is an uncomfortable one. It was, after all, Rashid’s choice to withdraw from the red-ball fray. Not even Edmonds felt able to take that course of action.

There is also a cricketing argument to consider in all this. There is a gulf between bowling wrist-spin in an ODI and in a Test match. Rashid is guaranteed four men on the boundary if he so wishes in white-ball cricket (notice how Eoin Morgan, who employs his wrist-spinner so shrewdly always prefers to bowl Moeen Ali rather than Rashid in the early powerplay overs).

This is rarely practicable in Test cricket. The batsmen have to attack the white ball even if they are unsure which way it is going to bounce; in Test cricket they can merely wait for the bad one. For the same reason India – who have included Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm wrist spinner, in their Test squad – are more likely to stick with their Ravis, Ashwin and Jadeja, at Edgbaston next week.

Wrist-spinners have become almost essential in white-ball cricket, less so in Test cricket. Counterintuitively spin bowlers have to be more accurate in the longer form of the game, which is, in so many ways, more demanding.

Five days can gnaw away at a restless mind, especially if things have gone awry early in proceedings. The challenge in white-ball cricket is more immediate. You succeed or fail but there is not much time to agonise and it is the agonising that can eat away at a cricketer low on confidence – distant personal experience reminds me of that.

Rashid has been England’s most successful wrist-spinner in Test cricket for half a century and it was remarkable, though instructive, that the selectors took the extraordinary step of picking Mason Crane rather than him for last winter’s Ashes tour. Yet by most standards Rashid’s Test record is modest. He has 38 wickets at 42 apiece, a similar haul to Bob Barber (primarily an opening batsman) who took 42 wickets at 43 before playing his last Test in 1968. But in the one-day game Rashid is now touted as England’s best ever spin bowler.

He has become impressively confident with a white ball, but that has rarely been the case with a red one at the highest level. Buttler – a resilient, self-contained character – may be a one-off. Do not expect everyone to be able to flit from one format to the other without any preparation. Rashid’s temperament can be flakier and there is a good case for England letting him flourish in ODIs and T20s, without the complications of Test cricket, until the World Cup is over and then to encourage him back to the longer form of the game.

England’s Adil Rashid
England’s Adil Rashid in action during the third Royal London One Day International at Headingley. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Images

We will know more on Thursday when the selectors announce their squad for the Edgbaston Test. They will have spent a long time debating the spin department which, as ever, is in some confusion. Dom Bess played in England’s last two Tests and to the dismay of the selectors – and himself – he was omitted from Somerset’s side at Worcester, a very odd decision.

Peter Trego is one of my favourite cricketers yet it was a source of amazement and despair that he should now be preferred to Bess, who, as it happens, currently averages 37 with the bat in Test cricket; this was a selection that triggers tension within and without the county. Why in cricket is there so often such an aversion to do the bleeding obvious?

(Witness the enthusiasm for The Hundred rather than T20 as well as this shortsighted selection).

Meanwhile Moeen Ali, another to have prospered in England’s one-day side this summer, bowled 22 overs in the first innings at New Road, taking three wickets, with more following in the second.

Jack Leach, who has had a wretchedly unlucky season so far, having broken his thumb and then suffered concussion, is playing for Somerset, though he was required to bowl only four overs in Worcestershire’s first innings. No doubt Ed Smith would like to be able to study the red-ball data before naming his squad for Edgbaston. But there is barely any to look at.

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