August 26, 2015

Rashid battles to prove his worth

Free to attack for Yorkshire, he has proved the value of his legspin. Now England look ready to be seduced. Can he take the final step in an insecure occupation?

As it often does, Hove had acquired a rather somnolent air. In sweltering heat, Sussex's openers were going nowhere on the second afternoon. Yorkshire's seamers had bowled with parsimony but without bite on a pitch designed to neuter them.

It was here where Adil Rashid was striving for the presence that would identify him as the right spin bowler to partner Moeen Ali against Pakistan in the UAE. Throughout the Ashes summer, they have practised together and prayed together. Rashid, still awaiting a chance in the five-day game, hopes that one day soon they will play Test cricket together.

Rashid was the man to halt Hove's gentle drift, just not as he intended. He dragged a delivery down to Ed Joyce, and was deposited over long-on for six: too short and too straight. Two balls later Rashid was driven through the off side for four: too full and too wide. A legspinner's world has always been a hazardous one.

As more long hops and half-volleys, along with the odd full toss, followed, it would have been easy to whisk Rashid out of the attack. But Yorkshire had amassed 494 runs in the first innings and, just as importantly, the knowledge that their seamers would struggle. For good or ill, at least Rashid would make things happen. He needed to bowl to rediscover himself in his bowling again.

Sussex also recognised as much. In its own way Joyce's assault on Rashid, which included two more sixes over the leg side, was a tribute to the bowler; Joyce said that Rashid "was threatening to get me out" and so he resolved to attack while he could. He insisted he was ready for Test cricket, but only after exacting considerable punishment.

England will be keen to get some success in UAE with Rashid and Moeen bowling in tandem © Getty Images

Rashid showed flashes of why he is held in such regard. An immaculate forward defensive from Luke Wells was not enough to prevent Rashid from toppling his off stump. Two balls later, another left-hander, Matt Machan, poked a delivery that turned and bounced into the hands of short leg. The day ended with Rashid inducing Joyce to flick another ball to short leg.

He had bowled numerous deliveries of which he would not be proud, leaking four runs an over and demanding much of Andy Hodd's agility behind the stumps. Yet Rashid had taken three of the four Sussex wickets to fall.

It was an afternoon that encapsulated the hopes and fears that surround legspin, and Rashid, most pressingly. One senses England's new coach, Trevor Bayliss, wants to see Rashid and Moeen in harness - a potential alliance of two players of Pakistani origin with inner-city upbringings in Bradford and Birmingham respectively. He was behind the decision to select Rashid in every Test squad of the summer, even though he did not make his debut.

Alastair Cook is reportedly among those who fear Rashid's legspin may be is too slow to succeed in Test cricket. The ease with which Ben Brown and Michael Yardy pillaged Rashid as his deliveries lingered in the surface at Hove - where he finished with 3 for 159 from 33 overs - did little to ease such fears.

Rashid defends his method, saying he likes to give the ball "a bit of air", but is working on developing a quicker delivery in the nets.

"Legspinners tend to develop at a later age. They know their bowling a lot more, they know their action and they're just mature"
Rashid

Rashid returned to international cricket at Edgbaston - close to Moeen's heartland - after a six-year absence in the ODI series against New Zealand. As England threw off the straitjacket, they embraced the value of a spinner able to turn the ball both ways.

It might just have been the most gladdening sight of England's pulsating ODI series victory over New Zealand. On his ODI return, he scored 69, fusing brutality with silkiness, and then took 4 for 55 to secure victory. "It gave me a real confidence booster," he says. "I feel as if I've got a place in this team and don't really feel under pressure."

A Royal London Cup quarter-final against Essex offers another opportunity to showcase his talent and then the ODI series against Australia awaits. Every eye-catching performance will increase the possibility of a Test debut in the UAE, where England will need support for Moeen since spin will be the heart of this series. They have known each other since they were 13. Moeen is the more assured, but both take pride in their emergence from demanding circumstances.

"I've just got to do what I did against New Zealand - bowl, give it a good rip and look to have fun," Rashid says, lauding the enlightened approach of the new England set-up to his legspin. "They just encouraged me to do what I'm doing, keep mixing it up and bowling my variations, looking to enjoy it and get wickets."

It has not always seemed so simple. "When I first came into the England side there were a lot of big-name players and I was a bit young. I was a bit nervous and I didn't know how to express myself. Now it's a completely different atmosphere. I've matured a lot as a person as well and I'm a lot more confident in my cricket as well."

Rashid's journey has been at times a bumpy one. Somewhere the philosophy that underpinned his remarkable County Championship debut, when he famously took 6 for 67 in Scarborough as an 18-year-old in 2006 - "I was just looking to bowl and enjoy myself" - got lost. He admits that self-doubt "can creep in at times". As Yorkshire were relegated in 2011, they became more concerned with his bowling avoiding damage than inflicting it on batsmen.

Adil Rashid has been given licence to attack at Yorkshire © Getty Images

Rashid is a classical legspinner with classical flaws; he marries prodigious turn and a googly that frequently obliterates lower orders with ragtag deliveries. He and Yorkshire both now embrace as much. "He can bowl what he likes, even if it's six googlies in an over," Yorkshire's captain, Andrew Gale said recently, echoing the philosophy of Jason Gillespie that players should be encouraged to find their own way.

"My job as a spin bowler is to create chances and take wickets, and not worry about going for runs," Rashid says. "Legspin is a tough art to bowl - it takes a lot of practice and it's really hard to control. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, but at this moment in time I feel in a decent place."

So he should. Since the start of 2014, Rashid has taken 78 first-class wickets (excluding the latest match in Hove) at 26.60 apiece, scoring 1063 runs at 39.37 in that time to boot. But still some are unconvinced. Rashid's performance at the start of the West Indies tour in April virtually implored the selectors to pick James Tredwell instead.

He may still have more time to hone his game than many think: Rashid is six years younger than Clarrie Grimmett was when he began a Test career that yielded 216 wickets. "Legspinners tend to develop at a later age - they might be 29, 30 or 31," Rashid says. "Later on they know their bowling a lot more, they know their action, and they're just mature and know themselves a lot more."

Rashid is a long way down this path. Against Pakistan in October, his evolution will culminate, surely, in becoming that rare thing: an England Test legspinner.

"All I've got to do is look to do what I do for Yorkshire - just enjoy myself and bowl my variations,"he says. "Whatever happens, happens. If it's a good day it's a good day and if it's a bad day it's a bad day. I'm not going to think about whether I'm ready or not ready. If they select me that means I am ready to play."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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