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Emerging spin options pose a rare quandary for England

If there is one positive to come from England’s tour of India, it is that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum know they now have a surfeit of spin options enjoyed by few other Test captains or head coaches in the team’s history.

In a country where conditions mean seam tends to dominate and spinners have, at times, seemingly been viewed by some at the top of the sport with an air of suspicion and judgements of worth made on batting ability rather than what they do with the ball, England have rarely had more than a couple options for their slow-bowling role.

Yet Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley both came to the fore with some impressive displays even as England were slumping to a 4-1 series loss in India, joining fellow emerging talent Rehan Ahmed and good old dependable Jack Leach in putting their hands up for consideration going forward.

What is even more impressive about the newcomers is that, particularly in the case of Bashir, they only have a handful of appearances in first-class cricket as well.

“It’s nice these guys with so little experience in county cricket in terms of first-class cricket have been able to do what they’ve done on this trip – it’s quite remarkable, to be honest,” former England batter Ian Ward told Sky Sports.

“The challenge going forward is, are they going to get enough overs in county cricket coming up? What does Bashir’s summer look like? How do we build on the brilliant start he’s had? How do we build and expand on what Hartley has had?

“Their development is going to be a very delicate, very interesting, and very challenging going forward.”

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Ian Ward feels England’s Shoaib Bashir showed great character in adapting to conditions and challenging the India batsmen.

Hartley was undoubtedly the star at the start of the tour when England fielded a hitherto unheard-of three specialist spinners, plus Joe Root with his occasional but effective turners, in the first Test in Hyderabad and took 7-62 in the second innings as Stokes’ side secured a stunning 28-run win.

But while the slow left-armer finished as England’s leading wicket-taker on the tour with 22, off-spinner Bashir had somewhat overshadowed him by the end of it, replacing his injured clubmate Leach for the second Test and finishing with 17 wickets from his three appearances – including two five-wicket hauls.

Standing at 6ft 4in, the 20-year-old’s height means he poses challenges for batters they would not face from typical spinners due to the angle the ball is flighted in from, while Ward was impressed by the approach he took in adapting his bowling in different conditions in the final Test in Dharamsala.

“He [Bashir] really is one for the future – I think we’ve found one there,” Ward said. “His craft was quite interesting; it seemed to me he slowed his pace up just that little bit, perhaps, than he has done previously to find the right pace for the pitch.

England’s spin options compared

Rehan Ahmed Shoaib Bashir Tom Hartley Jack Leach
Tests played 4 3 5 36
Wickets 18 17 22 126
Average 34.50 33.35 36.13 34.40
Strike rate 51.7 59.7 68.3 68.1
Economy rate 3.99 3.35 3.17 3.02
Bowling style Legbreak googly Right arm offbreak Slow left arm Slow left arm

“That is something Shane Warne always spoke about being key to a spin bowler’s armoury. That’s fine when you’re Warney and you’ve played 50, 60-odd Test matches and 100 and something first-class games – this guy has played virtually no cricket.

“To do that in a Test match was really encouraging.”

Given he had only played six first-class matches prior to touring India, Bashir was something of a surprise pick and how much he will play for his county this year is up for debate, particularly as Somerset are unlikely to pick two spinners when Leach returns to action following knee surgery.

Hartley, meanwhile, is likely to play second fiddle to Nathan Lyon at Lancashire following the Australia international signing as the club’s overseas player for 2024, and the possibility of them having to leave their respective teams on loan in search of first-class action has been mooted.

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Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton assess Tom Hartley’s match-winning performance against India in the first Test of the series

The uncapped Callum Parkinson, another mooted possible England call-up whose twin brother and fellow spinner Matt has a sole Test cap to his name, moving to Durham means Ahmed, who burst onto the international scene on the 2022 tour of Pakistan, should have more opportunities at Leicestershire in the coming year, however.

Former England captain Mike Atherton believes Bashir has already emerged as the likely pick to take the spin-bowling role for the national team in Test matches in conditions where they will only pick one, even considering that he needs matches to continue his development.

“He needs to play, although he’s done well [in India] having only played six first-class games,” Atherton told the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast.

“Whether Leach will be fit for the start of the season is another matter, whether Somerset will play two spinners and whether Lancashire will play two spinners who knows?

Jack Leach (1-54) is England's only senior spinner for the India tour
Image: Jack Leach is currently sidelined due to knee surgery

“Putting that to one side, I think [England] might just think Bashir is the one if they’re going to play an attack of three seamers, one spinner and Stokes.

“Hartley was a particular pick for [India] and he talked about wanting to improve to get more over-spin on the ball and he hopes playing with Lyon will allow him to do that. That’s what Bashir has got – I think he’s a more rounded bowler at the moment with the way he bowls.”

Regardless of how much playing time in the County Championship any of England’s spin options get this year, they will have national team spin coach Jeetan Patel overseeing their progress and working with them even when back with their club sides.

Most importantly though, he former New Zealand international is determined not leave their talent to wither and is keen to ensure they get as much playing time as possible, being excited by what he has seen from the emerging trio of Bashir, Ahmed, and Hartley.

England v Australia - LV= Insurance Ashes Series 2023 - Second Test - Day Four - Lord's
England spin bowling coach Jeetan Patel during day four of the second Ashes test match at Lord's, London. Picture date: Saturday July 1, 2023.
Image: Jeetan Patel is keeping a close eye on England’s up and coming spinners

“My work continues when they are not with England,” Patel said. “I am not the sort of bloke who is going to leave them in the lurch.

“It’s probably too far away to talk about it, but it would be nice to see these guys get more opportunities to bowl, get more overs in them, because they obviously have something to offer.”

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