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England mark time on Riley

Jack Wilson

July 2, 2014

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

Adam Riley removed Surrey's middle order, Kent v Surrey, County Championship, Division Two, Canterbury, 1st day, May 4, 2014
Adam Riley's form for Kent has attracted much discussion © Getty Images
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There is just one spinner in England with more first-class wickets than Adam Riley. That man is Saeed Ajmal - a doosra-wielding, Pakistan wizard with more than 100 international matches under his belt. It must be a coincidence, then, that Kent off-spinner Riley imagines that he is a wizard too.

Except it is not the wizardry of Ajmal's kind that Riley sees in himself - even if he is being widely touted as the most promising young England spin bowler around. Instead, his touch of the supernatural comes in the colour of his hair. Tall and ginger, Riley thinks that, at 22, he is a dead ringer for Ron Weasley, the fictional character in JK Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

Many a chapter was written on the adventures of Weasley. Now Riley wants to write a few chapters for himself as an England cricketer. He remains vastly inexperienced, with only 30 first-class matches to his name, but Ron Weasley managed a few adventures before adulthood so nothing can be entirely ruled out.

For the moment, though, England watch and wait. India are hardly the opposition to tempt the selectors to blood a young spinner, especially one who has not been through the system. Trent Bridge, venue for the first Test and generally a haven for swing bowlers, is hardly the ground. For the moment, England are satisfied with the spin contribution that Moeen Ali can make.

James Whitaker, the national selector, puts it this way: "Everybody has been used to the success that Graeme Swann brought to England. We think we have a decent balance to the side on the wickets we play on. It is a bit different and we have to make it work. We have a few young spinners operating in county cricket who we feel aren't quite ready yet."

If Andrew Strauss, the former England captain, can bring his influence to bear, that chance could yet be around the corner if England's summer does not go according to plan. Strauss has written strongly in support of fast tracking Riley into the squad for the India Test series. England need a new spin king and Riley is flattered.

"Andrew Strauss has been quite a big supporter of mine in the last couple of weeks. I haven't had time to catch him but if he's working at a game for Sky, I will try and find him and thank him," Riley said. It was a nice touch from a level-headed young man.

"I see what he's saying about me as a nice accolade," he continued, "especially from a man who has captained England and played as many times as he has. But I can't just rest on my laurels and accept the praise I'm getting because it'll get me nowhere. I'm getting praise as a result of some good performances over the last two months but I need to sustain that over 12 or 18 months - then we'll see where it gets me. I'm not thinking about playing the next Test."

He can rest assured, nevertheless, that he will now bowl too often in the coming months without some sort of assessment taking place behind the sightscreen. Angus Fraser was the latest England selector to take a look. Fraser, director cricket at Middlesex and a former England seam bowler, watched Riley - a classic off-spinner who bowls with a high action from 6ft 2ins and extracts plenty of bounce - take seven wickets against Derbyshire in the second division of the LV= Championship last week. The pair exchanged pleasantries but left it at that.

"It was a surprise to see him. We chatted briefly before the game. I don't know how far I am away from England or the England Lions. I've not spoken to anyone at the ECB about it or anything like that. It's just great that someone who could have a huge influence on my career is watching me."

Riley has become the spin bowler most on England's mind despite never representing the Lions, which is a turn up for a large England set-up which justifies its existence by careful planning of the next generation. The interest he has sparked brings encouragement to every professional cricketer who has made headway outside the England system.

He was even considered only as the second-choice twirler in Kent's Division Two side before the start of this season. His tutor, mentor and friend, James Tredwell, held all the cards. However, the offie office junior had not read the script. His 40 wickets at an average of 25.42, including three five-wicket hauls, have left Tredwell in the cold.

Tredwell, the England one-day specialist, flew out to Australia as cover for the Ashes squad in the winter and retained his place in England's one-day squad against Sri Lanka this season. Now he is busy clocking up the miles again: from his home in Kent to play red-ball cricket on loan at Sussex.

Riley may have an established international breathing down his neck but he's far from flustered. "I see it as a help more than anything, having Treddy around," he said. "I always feel pressure every time I play. If you don't, there's something wrong with you, so I don't worry too much about that. I've done my apprenticeship in the second team and have earned my place. Treddy has come back and is now playing Division One cricket, so it works for both of us. All I've done is try and prove I can be relied on as the sole spinner in a side.

"We stay close. We always talk and text with each other. He is the best one-day spin bowler in England and has been for three or four years. We talk tactically and technically. I'm a keen listener to anything he has to say - and the same goes for Min Patel. Their knowledge is great to tap into."

Patel, Kent's spin bowling coach, has experienced the rigours of Test cricket, albeit briefly. The slow left-armer played twice for England during the mid-90s on India's 1996 tour of England and took one wicket, that of Sanjay Manjrekar.

Riley has also relished the chanced to work with Peter Such, England's spin bowling coach, at Loughborough. There is a hint of Such in Riley's action and Such himself has watched him develop at Canterbury this season with considerable optimism.

Now Riley is being set up with a new mentor with a few more Test scalps behind him. Graeme Swann has been contacted by Such and he is set to work with the best young cricketers to find a long-term successor to replace him. It's an opportunity Riley cannot wait to grasp.

"Swanny has come out and said he'll be working with three or four young spinners and that'll be an exciting opportunity for me," Riley enthused. "Nothing is set in stone yet and it's still in the process of finding out what will be organised logistically. I've got to wait until something is in place but it's great.

"He is the man who made offspin attractive. He really reintroduced it back into international cricket. There are technical aspects of my action that I model on him. He's got a little bit of a load-up, almost like a double coil, which I have too. I've also tried to model myself on the way he used to attack with his line and lengths, rather than just contain. Sometimes Keysie [Kent captain Rob Key] will need me to bowl straighter and just contain, which I do, but my ethos it to take wickets."

Swann retired with 255 Test dismissals to his name. He picked up his first England cap before Riley had even got his hands on a cricket ball. The Bexley lad started bowling medium pace with a windball - a cheap practice ball also popular with dog lovers - and didn't play a game of junior cricket until he was 12.

Kent came calling when he was 16, his first-team call-up came three years later and his first wicket, in a T20 against a touring Indian side, was Rohit Sharma. It was a sign of things to come. Now Riley wants plenty more international scalps

"I think everyone has ambitions to play for England, whether they are realistic or unrealistic," he said. "I think it's helped me that Kent didn't pick me up until I was 16. It meant I always had that drive and I never took anything for granted. I was chucked in when I was ready and I had to work hard for it.

"Playing for England is what I've wanted to do since I started my cricket career. In the last two or three years, after I got a pro contract, the dream became closer."

If it all goes wrong, Riley will have a geography degree from Loughborough to fall back on. He expects to graduate this winter with a 2:1. With a possible England career on the horizon, that may just prove academic.

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Posted by   on (July 4, 2014, 13:11 GMT)

@landl47 - "If there's one area where players shouldn't be rushed into the side, it's slow bowling". Lyon came into side when he was in early 20's, he's done well. Quite frankly I feel sorry for kerrigan. He had 1 bad test consisting of a few overs. It could have easily been due to nerves. Instead of dumping him they should have given him more games. For a guy with the first class record he has, he is obviously very talented.

Posted by SirViv1973 on (July 4, 2014, 10:37 GMT)

I wonder how long the Ali frontline spinner experiment will last for? If the seamers go well against Ind then we may get away with it for this series but we will surely need to find at least 2 other valid spin options for the 2 winter tours. I agree totally with @Landl47 in that spinners need to be given time to mature Swann being a great example. He toured SAF in 99 - 00 when still in his early 20's & had a nightmare & it took him 8 yrs to get another try, by which time he was finally ready. Other than GS, Monty has been Engs only other spinner of note over the last decase. MP had some test success young and a lot of his current issues may well stem from being left out of the side following the emergence of GS. I really feel the management should be doing all they can to get him right for this winter. If our last 2 tours to asia have told us anything it should be that we cannot rely on pace to win games there. If we take 2 inexperienced spinners it could destroy 1 or both of them.

Posted by markatnotts on (July 4, 2014, 7:48 GMT)

Some good points here, A more recent addition of the ECB's own making to the problem is the fact that far too many Championship matches are played early season. The latest changes to the structure of the English summer have compounded the problem even further. Yes we have had good weather but pitches are still more likely to assist spin in August after a few months of good weather, rather than May after four weeks of good weather. My county Notts, have now played 11 matches and have recently completed their last home CC game on June 25th. They are not again at home until September!

Posted by jb633 on (July 3, 2014, 22:48 GMT)

cont... If you look at an Indian, Pakistani or aSri Lankan young spinner, you can see immediately they have learnt the art by trial and tribulation. They have learnt what works and doesn't work for them, e.g someone like Ajmal understands he is less effective when applying the traditional flight. By the time they are 17 they know their own game. The introduction of academies does not allow a spinner to prosper IMO. Whilst for the quicks, the maintenance of their body and action is important to success, I feel the academies remove the ability for spinners to think for themselves and truly learn their art. IMO we will never produce a conveyor belt of good spinners until we ensure club captains bowl them, let them learn their art (through game time not netting) as young men, and try and educate coaches about not overcoaching a young lad with raw talent and ability. We have to get out of the mould of finding 13 year old finger spinners who bowl at one speed with no spin on the mark all day

Posted by jb633 on (July 3, 2014, 22:41 GMT)

Clutching at straws here, but I guess with the lack of any potential what else can we do. The thing that has greatly annoyed me about this conundrum is that anyone watching county cricket circa 2008-2012 could have seen it coming a mile away, and yet the ECB hid behind Graeme Swann. Swann became a good spinner in spite of the system and not because of it. I believe spinners need to be left to develop primarily on their own. Yes the ability to spin the ball is paramount, but spin bowling is a lot about thinking a batsmen out and using various means to beat them, in the air, off the pitch, with the angle etc. I firmly believe right from top down to grass roots cricket nobody in this country has a clue about spin bowling, from playing it to harnessing it. In so many club sides the spinner is an afterthought, he may come on after the seamers have either tired themselves out or gone the distance. Our young spinners simply do not bowl enough overs.

Posted by   on (July 3, 2014, 18:00 GMT)

Adam Riley is a good prospect .I hope if he is selected and does not have that great a debut ECB dont treat him like Kerrigan . I also hope they dont give up on kerrigan .Borthwick seems a much better batsman then bowler and he and Ali cannot be considered as test spinners .Eng will go nowhere with these two as lead spinners in subcontinent .Yes they can be used as support to Riley or Kerrigan but cant be specialist spinners .Batting should be their primary suit .

Posted by brusselslion on (July 3, 2014, 9:30 GMT)

@landl47: I agree entirely. Add in Ansari and Borthwick, and hopefully, a couple of them will GIVEN TIME become Test class spinners. I also agree with Mr. Wilson, India is hardly the series in which to blood a young spinner.

Posted by Madpashcrickers on (July 3, 2014, 8:34 GMT)

"... Riley has become the spin bowler most on England's mind despite never representing the Lions, which is a turn up for a large England set-up which justifies its existence by careful planning of the next generation."

This large England set-up and its careful planning - is it the same careful planning which saw Kerrigan given 1 hours notice of his Test debut, afflicted by the yips and then unceremoniously jettisoned? Is it perchance related to the careful planning with which Swann was taken on an Ashes tour with a crocked shoulder, and a clearly underprepared Monty not given much a chance with England's warm-up schedule? And the same careful planning which has apparently left England with no currently obvious candidates for a test spinner?

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 3, 2014, 8:16 GMT)

@landl47 (post on July 3, 2014, 3:15 GMT): Yes all very true. I'm just a bit frustrated that Swann's elbow issues have been known for years now, and Monty Panesar's off-field antics have been a worry for many months - but still the ECB didn't think about back-ups and even when they did (e.g. Kerrigan) it was just one-off stints / sporadic training. The likes of Tredwell and Briggs were only ever going to be considered for short formats only in my mind. It leaves us with a massive hole to fill in tests; if there's nobody to fill it yet then fair enough.

These things are all relative: yes South Africa and Australia have been doing well without wrist-spinners, but England's seam attack is not as threatening and needs to perform much, much better than they've been doing of late to ensure 20 wickets.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 3, 2014, 7:25 GMT)

@Martin Moseling, thanks for the info, its good know its justified but as with most of the media sometimes the hype doesn't live up to the reality and players are 'bigged' up far too early in their careers, a little like Kerrigan who took most of his wickets Lancs wicket that was reported at least once last season, and saw some of the lowest FC scores for an age.

I'd love to see him in a Lions squad for the early winter and a possible member of the squad on the WI's series gaining experience and bowling in the nets, with a view to starting as a regular on the winter tours in 2015.

@Landl47, its very true most spinners start to reach the height of their craft in the late 20's especially in England where pitches aren't always conducive,

Posted by landl47 on (July 3, 2014, 3:15 GMT)

Swann wasn't a wrist-spinner, R_U_4, and England threatened the top rankings with him in the side. And are you seriously saying that South Africa owed their #1 status to Tahir, or Australia currently owe their top ranking to Steve Smith's legbreaks?

Riley is only just 22. Ravi Patel of Middlesex, a very promising left-armer, is also 22. Briggs is 23. Kerrigan is also still a youngster. There is some talent there, but none of them look ready for test cricket yet. Swann didn't get into the side until he was in his late 20s and even Saeed Ajmal and Herath had to wait until they were over 30 to make a real impact. If there's one area where players shouldn't be rushed into the side, it's slow bowling.

Unless, of course a new Shane Warne comes along. I don't see one just yet.

Posted by SirBobJones on (July 3, 2014, 1:25 GMT)

"There is just one spinner in England with more first-class wickets than Adam Riley." Huh?!

Posted by Peterincanada on (July 2, 2014, 21:28 GMT)

@wapuser It is hard luck on Kerrigan because even Bryce McGain got 18 overs before getting dumped.

Posted by   on (July 2, 2014, 17:16 GMT)

Yorkie Pud, Riley has attracted attention in a very small field but for all the right reasons. The attention is justified - but he is still learning his trade. Had Swann not lasted for another couple of years, then he could start is journey through Lions cricket and then, hopefully on an overseas tour for experience etc, etc. Not that I have doubts as to his ability to cope. As the article suggests, he has a head on his shoulders and is even spoken about by some as a future county captain. He's certainly got something.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 2, 2014, 15:27 GMT)

@@R_U_4_REAL_NICK, Sorry I meant Scott Borthwick for the other leggy not Briggs, I'd looked both up to check stats.

Posted by pragmatist on (July 2, 2014, 15:14 GMT)

"India are hardly the opposition to tempt the selectors to blood a young spinner, especially one who has not been through the system" - Well, we've seen what "the system" with its over-coaching has done to players like Steven Finn, perhaps they're better off out of it.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 2, 2014, 15:07 GMT)

@R_U_4_REAL_NICK, there are, Rashid and Briggs, are both Leggies, but you'd still class them as Bowling allrounders, and both have had a poor start to the season.

Posted by wapuser on (July 2, 2014, 15:06 GMT)

I find it astonishing that Simon Kerrigan has been jettisoned after just 8 overs. Ian Salisbury got 15 tests!

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (July 2, 2014, 14:50 GMT)

I can see him being part of the lions squad for the next 12 months, with a possible inclusion for the West Indies in Apr/May 2015 if he settles in at that level.

I'd love to hear from the kent fans to see if they think hes got something, as stats can lie and not tell the whole truth.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 2, 2014, 14:40 GMT)

Seriously - are there no decent wrist-spinners in County Cricket? I find this baffling and impossible to believe... Get out there, find, and groom wrist-spinners England! Never going to threaten the top rankings without any.

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