Spinners August 21, 2009

Three lefties and an offie

Only four to pick from for the slow bowler's slot, but that doesn't make the task any easier

English spinners have seemed a rare breed in recent times, cowed by the country's seam-friendly pitches, and by the proliferation of superior craftsmen from overseas, most notably Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Mushtaq Ahmed and Anil Kumble. But there once was a time when England's spinners ranked among the finest in the game, as the four names in the frame for the all-time XI amply demonstrate.

But whereas Australia's slow options have invariably been of the wrist variety, England's penchant has been for finger-based flight and guile. Three left-arm spinners make the final cut - the indomitable Wilfred Rhodes, who was still good enough for England at the age of 52, the professorially precise Hedley Verity, whose command of length was such that an inswinging yorker was a key weapon, and of course Kent's latter-day legend, Derek Underwood.

The sole right-arm representative is an unsurprising selection. Jim Laker's legend will live on, long after Test cricket has gone the same way as his demure wicket celebrations. Other fine exponents of the slow-bowler's art have failed to make it to this list - Laker's sidekick, Tony Lock, for instance, and Yorkshire's wrecker of the 19th century, Ted Peate. But there's limited space in the all-time XI, and it is hard to look beyond the quartet below.

The contenders

Wilfred Rhodes A legend who amassed 4204 first-class wickets in a career that spanned more than 30 years. The greatest slow left-arm bowler of his era, with genuine all-round credentials to boot, having graduated from No. 11 on his England debut to No. 1 eight years later.

Hedley Verity His 15 wickets in 1934 carried England to their only Ashes victory at Lord's in the whole of the 20th century. Died of wounds sustained during the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and assumed legendary status.

Jim Laker A Surrey colossus, and scourge of the Australians, against whom he twice claimed 10 wickets in an innings, most memorably at Old Trafford in 1956, when his crafty, flighty offspin claimed a never-to-be-surpassed 19 wickets in the match.

Derek Underwood More than quick enough to classify as a seamer, he regularly lived up to his nickname of "Deadly", not least on drying wickets such as The Oval in 1968. Formed a legendary partnership with his Kent wicketkeeper, Alan Knott.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo