Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney January 1, 2014

England set to gamble on Borthwick


England will make the first tentative steps into a new age as they reach the final Test in Sydney with the series long gone and a growing acceptance that the team that has served them so well needs refreshing.

To that end, Scott Borthwick looks set to become the first legspinner capped by England since Ian Salisbury was recalled against Pakistan in December 2000, a brief flirtation with leg spin which also saw Chris Schofield play two Tests earlier that year.

The fast bowler Boyd Rankin and the middle-order batsman Garry Ballance are also pushing for inclusion. If all three play, it will be the first time England have had three debutants in the same Test since Nagpur in March 2006 when Monty Panesar, Ian Blackwell and Alastair Cook all won their first caps.

It would complete a rapid rise to prominence for Borthwick. He had been due to return to the UK on Monday having played Grade cricket in Sydney - he played alongside Brad Haddin in one game - and is still due on the Lions tour of Sri Lanka in March. Now, at 23, he is going to be given the opportunity of filling the rather large shoes of Graeme Swann.

England are asking a great deal. With 28 wickets at 38 apiece in the last Championship season, Borthwick was 14th in the Durham bowling averages. While his batting was a revelation - promoted to No. 3 from No. 8 he scored 1,022 Championship runs - he is being picked more with a view to his spin bowling than his batting. He will, however, stiffen the tail - he could well bat at No. 8 - and improve England's fielding.

The experience of Simon Kerrigan is a concern. Kerrigan, who has a significantly better first-class bowling record than Borthwick (a bowling average of 26.68 compared to 31.29, albeit on generally more helpful Old Trafford surfaces) endured a horrendous debut at The Oval at the end of the previous series after he appeared to wilt in the face of a ferocious assault from Australia's batsmen.

It seems inevitable Australia will target Borthwick in the same manner, with Haddin, described as "a good fella" by Borthwick, suggesting the young legspinner will be "monstered".

"Leg-spin is hard," Borthwick admitted phlegmatically on Wednesday. "You've got to accept you are going to bowl bad balls, and blokes are going to come after you. You've got to a bit of fight, try to get competitive and spin the ball past them. When batters do come at you, it gives you a chance to get wickets."

Whether he plays as the main spinner or fulfils a role alongside Monty Panesar, who has reportedly been complaining of a tight calf, or even James Tredwell remains to be seen. The days when Sydney offered much turn are gone, so England could utilise Joe Root, who out-bowled Panesar in Melbourne, as the second spinner.

The relative success of Ben Stokes might yet be remembered as the only light amid the gloom of this series for England. While his century at Perth was the most memorable of his achievements, he has also shown burgeoning ability with the ball. Again, it would be a big ask, but he could be used as one of only three seamers if England feel the need to play two spinners.

If Rankin plays it is likely to be in place of Tim Bresnan and if Ballance plays it is likely to be instead of Michael Carberry. That would necessitate Root moving back up to the opening position - his third batting position of the series - and might well see Ian Bell promoted to the No. 3 position. Root has already batted in every position between two and seven in his 15 Tests and the dropping of Carberry, like the dropping of Nick Compton before him, would be an admission of failure on the behalf of the selectors.

Ballance looks a fine prospect. While he arrived on the tour carrying more weight than might be expected from a professional cricketer in this age, he scored 1,251 Championship runs in the 2013 season and has a first-class average of 53.33. The fact that he is Zimbabwe born will provoke some, although he was schooled in England, but of more relevance is the fact that he appears to have a solid game without obvious faults and, aged 24, could play a role for much of the next decade.

There were some raised eyebrows when England opted to skip nets and concentrate on fielding practice on Wednesday. To some, England's performances in this series have underlined how much work they have in front of them, though in reality there is little that one more net session could do to restore the balance of power at this stage.

It may be pertinent to note that when England won the final Test of the 2002-03 series having gone into the game 4-0 down, they spent the preceding days indulging thoroughly at New Year and enjoying games of football instead of nets. Sometimes a break is of more value than another net session.

While England explore new players, it might also prove worthwhile exploring the system and the coaches that are meant to produce them.

Since Jonathan Trott made his Test debut in 2009, England have brought 13 new players into their Test side. While several, the likes of Steven Finn and James Taylor, may come again, there should be a concern that of them all, perhaps only Root and Stokes have adapted to the level with anything like comfort.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a gap has developed between domestic and international cricket that was not there when Matt Prior, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Trott were scoring centuries on Test debut or when Bell and Kevin Pietersen were scoring half-centuries and James Anderson was taking a five-wicket haul.

The lack of developing young spinners and fast bowlers is a particular concern. The ECB have employed specialist coaches for several years in such positions but, while national head coaches and captains are subject to great public scrutiny, those operating at developmental level seem to live a somewhat cosy life just below the radar. But it is faults at those levels that eventually weaken the national side.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jason on January 3, 2014, 9:00 GMT

    @Raja Khan, actually Moeen Ali is not a Leg spinner he bowls Right arm Off breaks. Yes he was the leading FC run scorer with an average of 62.5, but played in Division 2, however he scored only 125 runs more than Ballance who played 6 fewer innings.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 20:46 GMT

    Have to say I agree with woodgreen. As much as I like him as a prospect, Joe Root should be dropped and Carberry remain as an opener. I do think Carberry was at fault at the MCG, batted negatively when Cook needed a partner but overall, he has looked pretty comfortable batting again a fired up Johnson. By the way, who else thinks Nathan Lyon did not bowl well enough to take 5 wickets at Melbourne? The English certainly helped his cause.

  • Toby on January 2, 2014, 19:09 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer two good points that I agree with about pitches and time of games. Not having a pop, I agree, he certainly CAN bowl! And as a leggie, he has great prospects as a potential wicket-taking bowler in Australia in the future. Although most spinners faced similar problems with English pitches aside from maybe Raynor and Kerrigan. He actually took his career best figures relatively early in the season. What concerns me is that as the pitches got drier and more conducive to spin, he actually bowled less and less and got more and more expensive: at the same time, his batting was getting better and better. Without seeing him much bar some T20, it looks statistically like a bowler either hitting a really bad run of form or getting the "yips". I almost expected him to say that he was concentrating on his batting. It's certainly an odd time form-wise to select him for a Test debut, but I suppose they have no faith in Monty or Kerrigan. Lets hope he flourishes as an all-rounder.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 17:41 GMT

    How about Moeen Ali, he bowls leg spin, has learnt a few tricks from Ajmal. Not only does he bowl, was he not the Top Run scorer in the County Circuit? A real talent, how long will it take for the establishment to recognise a great talent? who could be the answer to England 's success. My opinion for too long, good players are burnt out on the County Set up.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 16:21 GMT

    "The lack of developing young spinners and fast bowlers is a particular concern" Indeed, but it is also worth mentioning that one fast bowling prospect (Jamie Overton) who was selected for the EPP and left in England for conditioning work in the gym, is now out with an injury!! What muppets do we have coaching the rising talent?

  • John on January 2, 2014, 14:23 GMT

    I think that it's a good move playing Borthwick. It seems that Monty might be hurt anyway but he's not the answer even if fit. England need a good spinner going forward and Borthwick is one of the prospects. He seems to have been concentrating on his batting lately but a Test call-up could be enough to inspire him to raise his game with the ball. Even if he's not good enough to be a genuine first spinner, if he can bat #3 for Durham then maybe he's good enough to bat #6 for England, or at least may become good enough. He's certainly worth a look anyway.

  • Michael on January 2, 2014, 14:16 GMT

    I think that if Australia play the same side to get 5-0 in this game they are only to be applauded for being so damned ruthless. I see it as a pathetic weakness on our part that instead of going for the jugular at the Oval and maybe having a better plartform for this series we soft pedalled it and gave Woakes and Kerrigan debuts. I regarded it then as 'typically' English to give the sucker an even break, even help him to his feet and wipe his face for him. Such good sportsmanship should not be regarded as good sport.. This is not some adaptation of a Jeeves novel, or an implementation of Kipling's trite phrase about failure and success. This is the Ashes and these days if you do not maximise opportunities the game rises up,laughs in your face and whacks you. Australia understand this. We do not!! Barring hell freezing over there will be no change for Sydney to Australia. We are saps.I heard Marks on Allott's show before Old Trafford saying it would be nice if Aus won.Happy,Vic?

  • Jason on January 2, 2014, 13:31 GMT

    @dunger.bob, I agree England are not in a better position than Aus, we have a larger talent pool to pick from at FC level (18 FC sides vs 6 Aus FC sides) but that isnt necessarily a good thing.

    Sometimes Less is more, as the talent concentrates and competition for places is generally stronger.

    Aus have always produced competative sportsmen and women, especially when they are playing against England. at the moment I dont see who the emerging talent is in England. There are so many names mentioned mainly by pundits pushing players in thier old clubs (eg Boycott/Vaughan & Yorks).

    Mills looks promising, but i fear he could be come a Devon Malcom Mk II. Batting wise, Lees at Yorks looks ok but after only a handfull of games its difficult to say for certain.

  • jim on January 2, 2014, 13:00 GMT

    Carberry useless?2nd highest run scorer.Root should be dropped first and even then i cant see the point of dropping people for the sake of it.Give the side one last shot at redemption and then rethink in May.Basically we have the best players in England here,weve been thoroughtly outplayed by the better team whos fast bowlers have been at their best and too good for us.

  • david on January 2, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    Stokes has played one good innings, that's it. I don't see how that qualifies as adjusting to test cricket with "comfort"

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