The sight of Nathan Lyon gaining turn and bounce and bowling with drop and drift on day four of the second Test raises a big question for England – if Jack leach is not going to play at Adelaide on that pitch when will he?
I’ve got complete admiration for Lyon. It’s bloody difficult bowling finger spin in Australia but he has become a wonderful bowler and has more than 400 Test wickets to his name.
He was beating England’s left-handers ball after ball and he was all over a right-hander in Ollie Pope like a rash in the first innings.
Nathan Lyon took three wickets in England’s first innings as the visitors were all out for 236
But the ball was turning in Adelaide on day two and England chose to go into this match without a specialist spinner.
It is one thing leaving Leach out in England where the Dukes ball moves all day long and four seamers can do all the bowling.
It is quite another to do it in Adelaide on that sort of dry, turning surface in 38-degree heat.
The sight of Ollie Robinson bowling off-spin summed it all up.
Australia’s off-spinner caused all sorts of troubles to the English batters at the Adelaide Oval
Joe Root not only had to fill the role of spinner but England had to turn to a seamer to bowl spin, along with Dawid Malan’s occasional leg-spin, to fill the gaps in the attack.
The first innings demonstrated the difference in attitude towards spin of these sides. Root bowled 20 overs out of 150 but then Lyon sent down 28 out of the 84 overs it took Australia to bowl England out. It’s just a completely different mind-set.
England clearly do not rate Leach and believe Root can do just as good a job with the ball.
They also have concerns about playing Ben Stokes as a fourth rather than fifth seamer because it might leave them overworked, stiff and sore and maybe a seamer short.
England’s captain Joe Root has had to fill the role of front-line spinner for his team in Adelaide
Root also had to ask Ollie Robinson to bowl some overs of spin during the second Test
And he summoned part-time leg-spinner for a few overs during Australia’s second innings
We all heard the rumours last summer that England were planning to go in without a spinner in the Ashes because the stats told them opposition fingers spinners do not usually succeed in Australia. It was their cunning plan. But that doesn’t mean they should throw in the towel with spin and not try to do something about it.
And the wider question is where the English game is with a spin because it’s hardly a new problem. Look at last winter when England’s spinners were completely out-bowled, not just in India but also in Sri Lanka by Lasith Embuldeniya.
Dom Bess took wickets against Sri Lanka but they came expensively and after the first Test against India in Chennai England basically deemed him unselectable because he was offering no control.
India’s second spinner in Axar Patel was blowing the batsmen away while England’s second spinner in Bess was bowling half trackers and full tosses.
Jack Leach played in Brisbane in the first Test but was omitted from the Adelaide Test
Then there was last summer against India at the Oval when, on a flat fourth day pitch, Root refused to or felt he couldn’t bowl Moeen Ali because again the off-spinner couldn’t give him control. I feel for the seamers because they get bowled into the ground.
This winter England took two leg-spinners to Australia with the Lions in Matt Parkinson and Mason Crane yet neither of them played against Australia A.
When we have seen Parkinson bowl at Old Trafford, one of the two grounds in England that are conducive to producing international cricketers along with the Oval, he has looked pretty good.
I’m not saying he’s the finished article but what chance are England giving him to get there? They took him to Sri Lanka and India and he didn’t play a game and then they take him with the second string to Australia and he doesn’t play there either.
The duo, however, are yet to play a game for the Lions in Australia this winter
It’s well documented our domestic game is not helping the situation. You are not going to produce spinners if you play all your first-class cricket in April and May and then September and even October.
The time of year and the pitches we play on are simply not conducive to spin. There are so many green tops where the seamers do all the work.
There are so few out-grounds in county cricket now too. I grew up playing at Ilford, Southend and Colchester as well as Chelmsford and all those festival pitches took spin. Those sort of pitches have virtually gone out of the game.
But it is a bit more complicated than just producing turning pitches. Look at Taunton where at times it can spin too much. Leach and Bess grew up bowling for Somerset on pitches where they could just fire it in and let the surface do all the work.
They did not learn the art of deceiving the batters, as Lyon consistently does.
Compare that with our last world-class spinner in Graeme Swann. He grew up at Northants bowling on spinning pitches, as did Monty Panesar, but Swann credits his development into an England spinner on his move to Notts where he could learn at Trent Bridge to bowl with control and deceive the batters in flight.
England’s managing director was a finger spinner. Ashley Giles must have winced when he saw Robinson and Malan bowling spin.
The lack of a decent enough slow bowler the captain feels he can trust to bowl on a dry, turning track in Adelaide should be right up there at the top of his list of issues to address.