It is hard to remember an occasion when England have gone into their first Test of the home summer with five different spinners all pitching a case for inclusion in the side, but these are unprecedented times.
England’s spin cadre have worked closely with Richard Dawson in the nets over the past week, and all have had the opportunity to bowl in this week’s intra-squad warm-up match.
Amar Virdi looks the least likely to play at the Ageas Bowl next week, having been parachuted into Team Buttler at the last minute when Sam Curran went down with a suspected diarrhoea and vomiting bug, while Matt Parkinson‘s relative inexperience may count against him, despite him luring Ben Stokes into a false shot on the stroke of tea on Thursday to have him stumped.
That leaves Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach: all three of them fingerspinners, with similar batting returns in recent years despite Moeen’s greater pedigree. All three have strong claims to the role, but it appeared instructive that it took 68 overs for Moeen to be brought into the attack on the first afternoon. When he did come on, newcomer Dan Lawrence found it easy to knock him about, and a 27-ball 5 on the second day did little to further his case.
Seemingly, then, England have a choice next week between Leach and Bess, the Somerset team-mates: the former was first-choice going into the winter before his various illnesses, while the latter took his unlikely opportunity with both hands in South Africa.
In this warm-up match, it has been Bess who has impressed more. Leach went wicketless across 15 first-innings overs while Bess took two in his 20 on Thursday; Leach also conceded 3.8 runs per over compared to Bess’ 3.0, and bowled one maiden compared to Bess’ six.
But the make-up of the West Indies batting line-up poses an interesting conundrum, given that there are 13 right-handers and only two left-handers in their 15-man squad. One of those lefties, Raymon Reifer, looks unlikely to play the first Test, while John Campbell is an opening batsman, whom England will hope to dismiss before the spinners come on.
It may be a simplification to look at fingerspinners only through the lens of whether they turn the ball into or away from a batsman, but raw statistics help illustrate the point. Across the last five English Test summers, offspinners average significantly more bowling to right-handers (37.58) than left (28.38), while the disparity is only slightly smaller among slow left-armers (36.42 to left-handers, 30.87 to right-handers).
What’s more, the players in West Indies’ middle order that a spinner may well be relied upon to dismiss have substantially better records against offspinners than slow left-armers, in particular the engine room of Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich.
Bess played the issue down in his close-of-play press conference on Thursday evening, saying that he was comfortable bowling to whoever he needed to. He cited Moeen’s five-wicket haul at the Ageas Bowl against India in 2018 as evidence that it would not be a major issue – though with left-armer Curran self-isolating, it seems unlikely that there will be as many footholes created outside the right-handers’ off stump this time around.
“It’s funny, you talk about right-handers and left-handers, but a good offspinner or a good spinner is going to take wickets no matter what,” Bess said. “You’ve got to be threatening on the inside or the outside edge.
“I know a couple of years ago at Hampshire, there were big footholes and Mo took a five-for down here with footholes to the right-handers, and I don’t see any difference. If you’re bowling well, you’ve got footholes there, you’re going to be challenging to a right-hander, let alone a left-hander. West Indies have obviously only got one leftie – I wouldn’t mind a couple more lefties, but I’m very happy bowling at right-handers as well.”
While Joe Denly, Ollie Pope and Lawrence had managed to milk Leach easily enough on the first day, Bess proved effective against right-handers on the second, tieing down Zak Crawley (who scored 9 off 17 balls against him) and Ben Foakes (8 off 32) in particular. In fact, most of the damage to his figures was done by left-handers in the shape of Stokes and his rival Leach, both of whom hit him for a pair of boundaries.
“It was a really good challenge today, bowling against Stokesy,” Bess said. “I thought I genuinely did him on one of them, and he just somehow on the up hit it over extra cover for six. I was just thinking: this is why he’s probably one of the best in the world – [he was] absolutely nowhere near it and he still middled it for six.
“After such a long time off and doing so much this winter on it, I was a little bit nervous coming back into it. So I really wanted to make sure I nailed down those fundamentals and actually put myself in the best situation. But I’m really happy with how it’s coming out at the moment.”
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And regardless who England choose, it demonstrates a level of spin depth that has not been seen for several years that there is even a debate around the spot. “It would be quite an achievement [to be selected],” Bess said, “so with that it brings a lot of responsibility to make sure that actually I’m still bowling the best I can. I want to push for that spot and make it my own. That’s normal, because if you’re in our position, you want to be making that first XI, and we’ve got amazing competition.”
To add one final flavour to the situation, counties have begun to declare their interest in Bess in a development that could end the impasse that has come about at Somerset, where Leach is the first-choice spinner.
But Bess insisted that there was “no spitefulness or anything like that” among the spin group. “We help each other, we’re looking to improve each other,” he said. “It’s really nice to see Mo again and learn off him. We’ve got Parky as well who I’m really close with, Leachy I’m really close with, [and] Virds I’ve been on a lot of tours with. For that whole group, it’s great for us to intertwine with each other, chat about spin, and be back with a group of lads playing cricket.”
Recent Match Report – Pakistan vs England 1st Test 2020
Pakistan 139 for 2 (Azam 69*, Masood 46*) v England
A moment of silence to remember those who have lost their lives in the Covid-19 pandemic before play began under heavy skies put the match in perspective and emphasised the efforts of both countries to stage this contest behind closed doors at Emirates Old Trafford.
Having been in England for a month, preparing in the relative anonymity provided by England’s series against West Indies, Pakistan arrived to their first Test since February as questions swirled over their readiness to face an opposition which has three matches’ worth of competition fitness in them.
By the time rain brought about an early tea and delayed the evening session by nearly three hours, it was batsmen Azam and Masood who looked to be in a groove against a bowling attack that seemed to have turned rusty at lunch.
After his captain, Azhar Ali, won the toss and elected to bat first – opposite number Joe Root said he would have done the same – Pakistan opener Masood withstood a tricky period against Stuart Broad and James Anderson first up, accompanied by Abid Ali in a partnership that was approaching fifty when Jofra Archer entered the attack.
Having rounded off his first over with a couple of steepling bouncers which were evaded well by Abid, Archer struck with the first ball of his second over when he bowled Abid with a beauty through the gate and into off stump, thus ending a patient start by Abid and the partnership on 46.
After a brief rain interruption, Masood settled, guiding Archer through the bare gully region with smart, soft hands for four.
But then Chris Woakes, who had relieved Anderson after five overs, struck with a full delivery that thwacked Azhar Ali on the pad in line and sent him on his way for a six-ball duck, despite his swift call for a review, which only confirmed the lbw decision.
That brought Azam to the crease and he showed his class, somehow escaping a testing first delivery from Woakes that narrowly missed the outside edge and off stump and negotiating the ever-challenging Archer.
But it was against Anderson after lunch that Azam settled into his stride, finding the boundary three times in as many overs to bring his spell to a swift end.
Anderson even became the first bowler to be called for a front-foot no-ball – a rarity for him – by the third umpire in Tests under the new system being trialled during this series when he over-stepped bowling to Azam in the 31st over.
Meanwhile, Masood was enjoying almost as good a time against Broad and, by the time Root turned to Archer and the offspin of Dom Bess, the batsmen were in a decent flow. They put on 78 runs together and, as Azam brought up his half-century off just 70 balls with a punch into the covers off Bess and then passed it with two runs behind square off Archer, the rain hit.
By that stage, Masood had moved to 45 not out, Pakistan had recovered from 43 for 2 to 121 for 2 and the players faced a long stay in the dressing rooms.
Manchester was eventually bathed in bright sunshine but, by the end of mopping-up operations, play resumed under lights with the dim skies back overhead.
Archer, who had bowled one ball before the lengthy stoppage, finished his over with plenty of short stuff, which meant Root was forced to turn back to spin, bringing himself on with Bess.
Masood added just one run, having faced 152 balls – more than any other visiting opener in England since 2016 – for his 46 not out before bad light forced play to be abandoned for the day.
In the course of his innings, Masood had two lives, both from Jos Buttler off the bowling of Bess. On 45, he survived an edge through to the keeper, and he hadn’t added to his score when, after the rain break, he charged at Bess, attempted to hit the ball to the leg side but missed, only to be saved when the ball bounced out of Jos Buttler’s gloves. At the other end, Azam had moved to an unbeaten 69 off 100 balls in a third-wicket stand of 96.
Vivo pulls out as IPL 2020 title sponsors
IPL title rights holders Vivo have pulled out of this year’s tournament, ESPNcricinfo understands. The development follows a public outcry over the tournament’s association with Vivo, a Chinese company, following clashes at the India-China border in June.
Neither the BCCI nor Vivo were available for comment on the issue.
In June, the BCCI had said it would “review” the sponsorship deals concerning the IPL, but did not name any brand. “Taking note of the border skirmish that resulted in the martyrdom of our brave jawans, the IPL Governing Council has convened a meeting next week to review IPL’s various sponsorship deals,” BCCI said in a tweet posted on June 19.
According to India Today Vivo would return as IPL’s title sponsor for the 2022 and 2023 editions. It also has reported that the BCCI will issue a tender in the coming days to find a title sponsor for the 2020 IPL season.
Two days ago, the BCCI’s formal announcement – signed by secretary Jay Shah – of the IPL being played in the UAE between September 15 and November 10 mentioned Vivo as the title sponsor.
The decision is not likely to significantly affect the franchises financially. ESPNcricinfo spoke with several franchises, each of whom said that while the IPL was yet to inform them of the development, they were not fussed at the news. It is understood each franchise gets approximately Rs 20 crore per year from the Vivo contract. As far they are concerned, as long as the BCCI can rope in a replacement for Vivo, this development will not have any impact on them.
Vivo had bagged the title sponsorship for two years initially in 2015, and retained the rights signing a five-year contract (2017-22), paying about USD 341 million.
Wasim Khan calls on England to tour Pakistan before 2022
Wasim Khan is hoping England will send a T20 team to Pakistan ahead of their next scheduled visit in 2022.
England have not toured Pakistan since 2005-06 due to security concerns. But, before the Covid-19 pandemic, hopes had risen that they would return to the country in two years’ time.
Now, however, with Pakistan having helped England fulfil their international fixtures at significant inconvenience to their own players – they have already been in the country for a month and remain in lockdown – Wasim, the PCB chief executive, is hoping England can return the favour.
“England are due to tour in 2022 and we’d love to have them coming over well before then for a shorter tour,” Wasim told Sky Sports. “It’s something that we’ll speak to the ECB about. But it’s baby steps. There’s a lot of cricket still left to play. But we’re hoping in the near future England will definitely come.”
Wasim subsequently confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he hoped England could send a T20 side to Pakistan. He accepted that “finding time in the FTP (future tours programme) could be the challenge at this stage” but suggested that a Lions tour, something he was calling for ahead of the dawn of Covid-19, would be “excellent as an alternative”.
While the ECB clarified there was no specific on-going discussion on the subject at present, it is not inconceivable the present global situation and the backlog in international fixtures could accelerate the usage of separate squads in red and white ball cricket.
England used something close to an A team for their recently concluded ODI series against Ireland – the final game featured four of the England XI that won the World Cup final – and they could potentially satisfy more requests for tours if they were to do so more often. West Indies have also expressed hopes England will tour in the coming months as they grapple with the financial ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whether such tours take place or not, England’s schedule is likely to prove hectic in the coming months. A limited-overs tour of South Africa is currently pencilled in for December, while they hope to return to Sri Lanka in January to fulfil the Test tour that was called off in March. They are then expected to play a five-Test series against India which may well take place in the UAE. The IPL runs from September 19 to November 8.
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