May 14, 2014

A terribly awkward romance

Richard H Thomas
In the last 50 years, four specialist English legspinners have played just 24 Tests. What's behind England's complicated relationship with legspin bowling?
39

"Can he spin it?" we would ask amid rumours of a new legspinner. Usually
 he could. "Can he control it?" asked the selection committee; usually he couldn't. Thereafter he was treated more suspiciously
 than an unexploded doodlebug. Fast bowlers are sweaty artisans with hammers. Medium-pacers are architects with precisely sharpened pencils. Contrastingly, legspinners are eccentrics in the garden shed. They might invent eight variations of the googly or blow the roof off.

When the leggies come on, crowds are all nudges, elbows and eyebrows - ready, says Simon Briggs, for "what improbable feat might follow". When Denzil Batchelor first saw Kent's Doug Wright and his brisk, bouncy run-up he whistled like "a sailor whistles at a new wife in a new port". But, as Stephen Brenkley observes, if some "chubby blond kid" can became one of the most influential cricketers of all time, legspin "can take you places".

Gideon Haigh after all, reminds us that it accounts for history's two most famous deliveries - Eric Hollies' googly to Bradman in 1948 and Shane Warne's outrageous "ball of the century" in 1993. The incentive is developing
 a novelty batsmen may find unfathomable;
 the charges against are that legspinners are eccentric, erratic and unsuited to English greentops. With fame, fortune and diamond ear studs waiting, there will always be a few choosing to strengthen their wrists instead of their fingers.

But who and where are they? Four specialist English legspinners have played just 24 Tests
 in the last 50 years. When a wrist
spinner last took a five-fer, notes Mike Selvey, 
Harold Macmillan was prime minister. Derek Abrahams describes them as common as "honest politicians", their wickets, according to Lawrence Booth, rarer than "Australian sympathy for the Poms". If England's relationship with KP has been vexatious at least it was long-lasting; its relationship with legspin has been equally troublesome but far more fleeting.

Charges of eccentricity are unfounded;
 leggies aren't flaky, they're optimistic and 
dogged. At Lord's in 1900, Bernard Bosanquet's newly-invented googly claimed its first victim: Leicestershire's Samuel Coe was stumped off
 a delivery that bounced four times. Through dedicated resolution, the googly survived.
 Tommy Greenhough had his Lancashire contract cancelled after falling 40 feet in an industrial accident aged 16 - injuries to his wrists and ankles were so severe a cricketing career seemed inconceivable, yet he recovered to play Test cricket.

Eric Hollies had an "innate cheerfulness" wrote Michael Billington, and Walter Robins epitomised the brotherhood's pluck. "There was something about his cricket," concluded RC Robertson- Glasgow, suggesting "half-holidays and kicking your hat along the pavement". Ian Salisbury, for so long almost England's only exponent, reports the value of having "a point of difference" but that during his apprenticeship it often occurred he might've picked "something a little easier… " But he, like all the others, stuck to his task.

The next charge is that when the wheels come off, the wagon doesn't come meekly to rest on the hard shoulder. At Adelaide in 2012, South Africa's Imran Tahir recorded excruciating match figures of 37-1-260-0. When Victoria posted their record 1107, legspinner Arthur Mailey took most of the tap - a jaw-dropping 4 for 362. On Bryce McGain's toe-curling Australian debut at Cape Town in 2009, his first spell of 11-2-102-0 and match figures of 18-2-149-0 "did not flatter", according to Vic Marks. It would be nice to report that he bounced back but when leggies implode bouncing is not the issue; they can't stop bowling full tosses.

In providing the ultimate role model of Warne, Australia may have further indirectly damaged English legspinning. Salisbury contends that Warne made it fashionable but remains the unreachable bar

Of the ten most expensive Test match figures, legspinners account for all but two. Notions they are untidier than undergraduate dormitories are at least plausible. Most clubs have their own legspinning folklore, usually featuring discourses of profligacy. We knew one that suffered from a painful affliction called "legspinner's neck" - a permanent crick caused by years of jerking his head to watch the ball sail into the next postcode. The "expensive" tag sticks; Arthur Mailey bowled like a "millionaire" and there is consensus, too, regarding Doug Wright - "unplayable" one day and "frustrating" the next according to Brenkley; "engaging" yet "exasperating" according to David Foot. David Frith describes Wright as "quiet" and "calm" with "a touch of genius", but also describes his wickets as "costly". Such was his occasional waywardness for Kent, Colin Cowdrey described it as akin to playing with ten men.

Of those who took more than 100 wickets 
for England (there are 44) Wright's are the second-most expensive. In his defence, he was unlucky. Batchelor recalled his best deliveries beating the batsman, but also "sadly missing the stumps". Wright himself claimed in his finest ever over he beat Bradman twice. The rest went for boundaries. "Father" Marriott, also of Kent, took 11 for 96 in his only Test for England and was, according to Allan Massie, annoyed 
by "the fallacious notion that a wrist-spinner could not bowl as accurately as any other type
 of bowler". The statistics suggest this may not have been as fallacious as he claimed, but they are not inherently expensive; England's five-most successful wicket-taking Test leggies have better economy rates than Steve Harmison, Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Dale Steyn.

They may be scarce nowadays, but until the '70s, numerous county legspinners took bucketfuls of wickets and regularly dismantled batting line-ups - a generation of home-grown twirlers, says David Frith, with "long, productive county careers". The biggest of these achievers was the smallest of men and another Kent bowler - 5ft 2in Tich Freeman. In a career straddling the First War, he dismissed an astonishing 3776 batsmen. In each of eight seasons between 1928 and 1935 he took over 200 wickets, and in the first of them, over 300 - the only bowler ever to do so. He claimed five in an innings 386 times and ten in a match 140 times.

Shane Warne did those things 69 and 12 times, respectively. According to RL Arrowsmith, Tich was "the greatest wicket-taker county cricket has ever known". Most agree that he wasn't as deadly in Tests, but 66 wickets in 12 matches is none-too-shabby, especially with a strike rate, bowling average and economy rate all lower than Botham and Anderson, to name but two.

Then there was Eric Hollies. Doing Bradman with a googly was no fluke; the week before he'd bowled him with a regulation legspinner but noticed The Don couldn't pick the wrong 'un. At least at Edgbaston there is a stand named after Hollies to reflect the two decades of toil before and after that single delivery. Roly Jenkins of Worcestershire would beseech the ball to "spin for Roly" as he released it. Mike Vockins suggests he probably talked out as many batsmen as he bowled but there were plenty of both; county colleague Martin Horton remembered a dedicated bowler always refining his technique. Disliking batsmen sweeping him, Roly once wished horrible things on Bill Alley's chickens.

In addition there was Tommy Mitchell, Jim Sims and a legion of others, sometimes expensive but wicket-takers all. To the doubters now shouting "helpful uncovered pitches" only two words are needed to counter: Mushtaq Ahmed. "Statistically, romantically and emotionally," according to Chris Adams, "the best player to ever pull on a Sussex shirt." He took 459 wickets between 2003 and 2007. Ian Salisbury concludes that Mushtaq found the right club and the right pitch: "A slow, low one at Hove".

In sum, it isn't temperament, pitches or potency, and the case for habitual untidiness is moot. So why has our relationship with legspin never progressed further than smooching on the sofa? Between Salisbury's last Test in 2000 and Scott Borthwick's first in 2014, English legspin at the highest level comprised 18 wicketless overs from Chris Schofield. Collectively, Tich Freeman, Tommy Mitchell, Eric Hollies, Jim Sims, Peter Smith, Roly Jenkins and Tommy Greenhough took 12,920 Championship wickets, yet altogether appeared in fewer Tests than Monty Panesar. Since the '60s, the art has all but disappeared and little wonder; seemingly selectors trust them less than a toddler with an iTunes password. As a youngster, Salisbury turned to wristspin despite having "no role models and no one to watch".

Goodness knows we've been taught enough hard lessons from Australia lately, but here we may have
 to take another. Aussie legspinners are as popular as beer in a barracks. Hordern to Mailey to Grimmett, O'Reilly to McCool to Benaud to O'Keefe to Higgs. This was a seamless, almost blue-blooded lineage. Then, the greatest of all - Warne, but overlapping with Stuart MacGill, who Frith suggests was almost Warne's equal. One English legspinner took over 100 Test wickets; four Australians took more than 200. Australia's top five leggies in the last 125 years took 1,524 wickets in 316 Tests, England's top five took 327 in 91.

Long-standing familiarity with the art has enabled Australia to develop their own and disarm England's. Batchelor for example, reports that in Australia, Freeman was "all but powerless". So used to such stuff were the Aussies, he wrote, "they'd developed footcraft" in self-defence "as fish developed gills".

There was no deliberate succession of Australian legspinners, suggests David Frith, "but they were there, one after the other". His compelling explanation is that while traditionally English cricket is more hesitant, Australian confidence abounds. While the English look for the leash, Australia give it the lash. When Tiger O'Reilly claimed the English never understood legspin "so they killed it", he implicitly suggested every circumstance was loaded against it. He would have also meant, suggests Frith, that legspin needs daring - from bowlers, captains and selectors. Daring indeed, like saying "have a fifth" to Warne after four wickets in his first four Tests. Frith's compressed analysis is that legspin expresses character and "Australians are by nature more adventurous".

Moreover, in providing the ultimate role model of Warne, Australia may have further indirectly damaged English legspinning. Salisbury contends that Warne made it fashionable but remains the unreachable bar. He is an "outlier" and a "freak of nature", argues Salisbury, and such was his uniquely sublime talent, he could bowl beautiful, controlled, legspin "ball after ball with his eyes closed". It is unfair to measure everyone against the Warne yardstick, he suggests, noting that new batsmen are not instantly compared with Tendulkar or Lara.

Education and preparation are key now, claims Salisbury, implicitly contesting Tiger O'Reilly's advice that when legspinners see coaches approaching they should "run for their lives". Salisbury would agree with Tiger though, that self-sufficiency is critical. With England finally investing - though perhaps not enough - in specialist spin bowling coaching, the emphasis is on self-diagnosis and independence. Young spinners construct their own development manuals, says Salisbury, transcending the numerous different coaches and clubs encountered during development. The self-made templates are personal portfolios including scientific metrics, biomechanics, and tactical planning so that adjustments are made on the field, "not in the dressing room two hours later". Recognising the hard realities of professional cricket, without such personalised blueprints, "that kid may not be bowling spin next year", warns Salisbury.

In supporting every aspect of legspin, says Salisbury, bowlers become "their own best coaches" so that by their first Test matches all manageable performance elements are under control and heads are clear to focus on taking wickets. With 
the involvement of colleagues like Peter Such and Richard Dawson, Salisbury feels "things are heading the right way" but there is more 
to attend to than just wrists and fingers. Again emphasising English cricket's underlying conservatism, he asserts that bowling coaches - most often pace bowlers - are generally nervous of legspin and should be more confident.

England cricket is currently showing some conservative tendencies and a mistrust of mavericks, so immediate embracing of Australian-style audacity looks unlikely. But, despite legspinning heroes being more global than local, in bowlers like Borthwick, Will Beer at Sussex, and, as Salisbury keenly points out, young Matt Taylor of Northants, there are reasons to be chipper. You must be "brave" as a young leggie, observes Stephen Brenkley. It requires "patience and practice" says Intikhab Alam. Toss in investment, science and trust and we have the answer. Then England's affair with the noblest of bowling arts can move from smooching on the sofa to something altogether more exciting.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on May 14, 2014, 16:53 GMT

    Although I love wrist spin, and love Warne, I think the most important aspect is "attacking spin". I've loved Swann for England in the last few years, and Panesar as well. Drift, loop, bounce and sharp turn = exciting to watch. Better the odd loose one in exchange for something happening when they get it right (and both were pretty accurate, too). I loved Swann for proving you don't need to be a wristie or to have a Doosra - you can be an orthodox finger spinner and be world class in modern cricket if you have control, a little variety and guile, but give it a rip.

    One of the papers ran a "cricketers to watch" article ca 1998, when Swann was an U19 (like Schofield). Hick picked him out because "anyone who can turn the ball like that on an indoor surface must be in with a chance".

    Sick of dobbly medium pacers and non-turning spinners who clean up in domestic or one-day cricket but are toothless on a test wicket.

  • shillingsworth on May 16, 2014, 21:53 GMT

    @denbrowne - No offence taken, just setting the record straight. Only saw Hobbs at the end of his career by which time he struggled to get a game ahead of East and Acfield, probably for the reason you highlight. I well remember being told exactly the same back then about how hopeless 'modern cricketers' were. Nothing changes, does it?

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 16, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    @jb633 (post on May 15, 2014, 21:20 GMT): No apologies needed; irks aired and shared are arguments spared... (I just made that up and don't know what it means either). Lets make a team of leg-spinners and pitch it against whatever test team England can muster up later...

  • denbrowne on May 16, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    Shillingsworth - ok, my little joke wasn't that funny & sorry if you're offended. But as you say, Hobbs' Test record was poor - and the article is concerned with top level rather than county cricket. Did you see him play? He had a really whippy action, but not enough control imho. When I was first watching cricket in the 60s there was an awful lot of sentimental guff about the Golden Age of cricket & worshipping leg spin was part of the package, along with being told that all post-war cricketers were rubbish, and that was the point of my little jest. Anyway, enjoy the new season

  • on May 15, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    shillingsworth. Yes. Kerry O'Keefe was a joke. He admits it himself. He was quite a dogged batsman though. Australia has picked lots of dross wrist spinners who have crashed and burned over the years. They have also produced some very decent finger spinners too. Mallet who you mentioned. Ian Johnson, Bruce Yardley, Ray Bright, Tim May, Colin Miller. All very decent bowlers at Test level. The whole "wrist spin good, finger spin bad" mentality is nonsense. As I have said before statistically at all levels of the game wrist spin is the most ineffective bowling style. Even a quality leg spinner like Stuart MacGill needed to be protected and looked after at Test level in a way a quality finger spinner would never have to be. Irman Tahir, a very good first class leg spinner, just couldn't handle playing Test cricket or his South Africa relying on him to bowl 20-30 overs in a day. Like it or not wrist spin is rarely effective because it is so hard to bowl accurately with hard spin.

  • jb633 on May 15, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    @R_U_4_Real, apologies I have literally echoed your point. I hadn't read any of the comments. I agree with you 100% though. It is very frustrating, the key is to get the captaincy yourself and never take yourself off (just kidding). But, leggies seem to get so much flak and people talk about their bad days time and time again. If they bowl a bad ball it generally gets hit harder but the end result is still a 4. Same as a bad ball from a seamer.

  • jb633 on May 15, 2014, 21:17 GMT

    Having bowled leg spin to a relatively high level in English cricket I think the problems with regards to the art run very deep and wont be solved any time soon. To start with the conditions are so unfavourable for leggies ; wet ball, cold days, windy conditions damp pitches etc all do nothing for the leggies. Have a look at top class leggies in England from India or Pakistan, Kaneria, Mishra, Kumble etc did not thrive here even though they were all good bowlers. Secondly and I think most importantly captains at club cricket don't have the guts or the ability to manage it. They would far rather have a medium pacer going at 2 an over than a leggie who may go at 5 but get more wickets. It does not require great skill to set a field for the seamer and their task is easier. Secondly, on a psychological level I feel there is a stigma attached to leggies. When a leg spinner bowls a bad ball, and I know this first hand it is a rank bad ball. Captains find this almost impossible to forget.

  • shillingsworth on May 15, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    @John Duffield - Absolutely right. The mention of O'Keefe as part of a supposedly unbroken line of match winning leg spinners made me smile. I remembered the quote attributed to Mallett on discovering he had been omitted from the test team in favour of O'Keefe - 'Perhaps I should dye my hair and take up bowling non turning leg spinners instead'.

  • on May 15, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    Sorry but I don't buy "the Australian culture of wrist spin" at all. How many World class leg spinners have Australia produced since the Second World War? 3. Benaud, Warne and MacGill and there was 30 years between Benaud and Warne. Hardly a conveyor belt of talent. Also were are all the Australian leg spinners now? Lots of people predicted that Warne and MacGill would inspire a whole generation of wrist spinners to follow after them. They haven't. That is because despite having all the encouragement in the World wrist spin is incredibly difficult to bowl well. Always has been always will be. At least the Australians have realised that a decent off spinner like Nathan Lyon is a much better option than a wrist spinner flinging down half trackers and full tosses. Lyon is going to have much more successful career than any of his wrist spinning contemporaries.

  • on May 15, 2014, 10:43 GMT

    One aspect this article neglects to mention is the difference in size between English and Australian club grounds. With English real estate being so much more expensive than land in Australia some of the boundaries on English grounds can be painfully short, 30 yards or even less in some cases, while Australian club grounds I've seen photos of all seem to be a similar size to full Test grounds. This can only hurt the leg-spinner's case.

    Even so, the key point is the conservatism in the English game, with captains preferring an over of five singles to one of five dots and a six, even though any sensible leggie will tell you the latter is a mis-hit away from a wicket maiden, while the former is just five risk-free runs. Most English club captains I've encountered have no idea what they want their leg-spinners to do, and the point about Warne being an impossible ideal is well-made.

  • on May 14, 2014, 16:53 GMT

    Although I love wrist spin, and love Warne, I think the most important aspect is "attacking spin". I've loved Swann for England in the last few years, and Panesar as well. Drift, loop, bounce and sharp turn = exciting to watch. Better the odd loose one in exchange for something happening when they get it right (and both were pretty accurate, too). I loved Swann for proving you don't need to be a wristie or to have a Doosra - you can be an orthodox finger spinner and be world class in modern cricket if you have control, a little variety and guile, but give it a rip.

    One of the papers ran a "cricketers to watch" article ca 1998, when Swann was an U19 (like Schofield). Hick picked him out because "anyone who can turn the ball like that on an indoor surface must be in with a chance".

    Sick of dobbly medium pacers and non-turning spinners who clean up in domestic or one-day cricket but are toothless on a test wicket.

  • shillingsworth on May 16, 2014, 21:53 GMT

    @denbrowne - No offence taken, just setting the record straight. Only saw Hobbs at the end of his career by which time he struggled to get a game ahead of East and Acfield, probably for the reason you highlight. I well remember being told exactly the same back then about how hopeless 'modern cricketers' were. Nothing changes, does it?

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 16, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    @jb633 (post on May 15, 2014, 21:20 GMT): No apologies needed; irks aired and shared are arguments spared... (I just made that up and don't know what it means either). Lets make a team of leg-spinners and pitch it against whatever test team England can muster up later...

  • denbrowne on May 16, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    Shillingsworth - ok, my little joke wasn't that funny & sorry if you're offended. But as you say, Hobbs' Test record was poor - and the article is concerned with top level rather than county cricket. Did you see him play? He had a really whippy action, but not enough control imho. When I was first watching cricket in the 60s there was an awful lot of sentimental guff about the Golden Age of cricket & worshipping leg spin was part of the package, along with being told that all post-war cricketers were rubbish, and that was the point of my little jest. Anyway, enjoy the new season

  • on May 15, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    shillingsworth. Yes. Kerry O'Keefe was a joke. He admits it himself. He was quite a dogged batsman though. Australia has picked lots of dross wrist spinners who have crashed and burned over the years. They have also produced some very decent finger spinners too. Mallet who you mentioned. Ian Johnson, Bruce Yardley, Ray Bright, Tim May, Colin Miller. All very decent bowlers at Test level. The whole "wrist spin good, finger spin bad" mentality is nonsense. As I have said before statistically at all levels of the game wrist spin is the most ineffective bowling style. Even a quality leg spinner like Stuart MacGill needed to be protected and looked after at Test level in a way a quality finger spinner would never have to be. Irman Tahir, a very good first class leg spinner, just couldn't handle playing Test cricket or his South Africa relying on him to bowl 20-30 overs in a day. Like it or not wrist spin is rarely effective because it is so hard to bowl accurately with hard spin.

  • jb633 on May 15, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    @R_U_4_Real, apologies I have literally echoed your point. I hadn't read any of the comments. I agree with you 100% though. It is very frustrating, the key is to get the captaincy yourself and never take yourself off (just kidding). But, leggies seem to get so much flak and people talk about their bad days time and time again. If they bowl a bad ball it generally gets hit harder but the end result is still a 4. Same as a bad ball from a seamer.

  • jb633 on May 15, 2014, 21:17 GMT

    Having bowled leg spin to a relatively high level in English cricket I think the problems with regards to the art run very deep and wont be solved any time soon. To start with the conditions are so unfavourable for leggies ; wet ball, cold days, windy conditions damp pitches etc all do nothing for the leggies. Have a look at top class leggies in England from India or Pakistan, Kaneria, Mishra, Kumble etc did not thrive here even though they were all good bowlers. Secondly and I think most importantly captains at club cricket don't have the guts or the ability to manage it. They would far rather have a medium pacer going at 2 an over than a leggie who may go at 5 but get more wickets. It does not require great skill to set a field for the seamer and their task is easier. Secondly, on a psychological level I feel there is a stigma attached to leggies. When a leg spinner bowls a bad ball, and I know this first hand it is a rank bad ball. Captains find this almost impossible to forget.

  • shillingsworth on May 15, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    @John Duffield - Absolutely right. The mention of O'Keefe as part of a supposedly unbroken line of match winning leg spinners made me smile. I remembered the quote attributed to Mallett on discovering he had been omitted from the test team in favour of O'Keefe - 'Perhaps I should dye my hair and take up bowling non turning leg spinners instead'.

  • on May 15, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    Sorry but I don't buy "the Australian culture of wrist spin" at all. How many World class leg spinners have Australia produced since the Second World War? 3. Benaud, Warne and MacGill and there was 30 years between Benaud and Warne. Hardly a conveyor belt of talent. Also were are all the Australian leg spinners now? Lots of people predicted that Warne and MacGill would inspire a whole generation of wrist spinners to follow after them. They haven't. That is because despite having all the encouragement in the World wrist spin is incredibly difficult to bowl well. Always has been always will be. At least the Australians have realised that a decent off spinner like Nathan Lyon is a much better option than a wrist spinner flinging down half trackers and full tosses. Lyon is going to have much more successful career than any of his wrist spinning contemporaries.

  • on May 15, 2014, 10:43 GMT

    One aspect this article neglects to mention is the difference in size between English and Australian club grounds. With English real estate being so much more expensive than land in Australia some of the boundaries on English grounds can be painfully short, 30 yards or even less in some cases, while Australian club grounds I've seen photos of all seem to be a similar size to full Test grounds. This can only hurt the leg-spinner's case.

    Even so, the key point is the conservatism in the English game, with captains preferring an over of five singles to one of five dots and a six, even though any sensible leggie will tell you the latter is a mis-hit away from a wicket maiden, while the former is just five risk-free runs. Most English club captains I've encountered have no idea what they want their leg-spinners to do, and the point about Warne being an impossible ideal is well-made.

  • shillingsworth on May 15, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    @denbrowne - Hobbs was a fine county bowler, with over 1000 first class wickets to his name. He earned selection for England, in common with any other successful county player. The comment about his name is therefore a particularly cheap shot. His test career was a failure but anyone who plays just 7 matches spread over 4 years is going to struggle to make an impact.

  • IndianInnerEdge on May 14, 2014, 23:55 GMT

    Substitute Leg/wristspin with pace read real pace 140kmph upwards and the same article could be a lament for indian cricket's perenenial drought. That said do feel that with the cricket every day of the week county culture, this actually curbs the attacking instincts of the leggie and makes them stock bowlers who hold one end up, the kind of medium pace twaddle that strides the indian cricket scene. The nuances of giving theball air andpurchasing wickets, requires a bold bowler and a risk taking captain (like AB, taylor, waugh). I thought rashid was good in 2009 whatever happened to him, i really thought he and swann would be the spin king duo with monty as th backup.....somehow that didnt materialise and yeah leggies who let it rip are top mateiral which crowds would flock to watch, hope to see one soon - dosent matter what nation he belongs to....:)

  • on May 14, 2014, 22:42 GMT

    Ahmed Hussain. You are right about aggressive spinners. Finger spinners can be attacking weapons too they just need to give it a rip. Swann was always a class operator with massive potential it is just a shame he fell out with Duncan Fletcher in 1999 and Rod Marsh at the ECB Academy in Australia. He should have been playing for England by 2004 if not earlier. Remember the likes of Batty & Udal were picked ahead of him. In terms of the best young English spinners Kerrigan, Riley, Craddock and Rafiq are the best coming through. All give it a rip and spin it.

  • steve48 on May 14, 2014, 19:07 GMT

    Leg spin is the most difficult art to master, and especially in England on pitches with little turn and especially little bounce. A guy with a quick enough arm to bowl leggers can probably bowl off spin or seam up with less risk and more reward here. Enough said, other than our more pressing spin problem is our phobia about 'relaxed elbow ' doosra bowlers!

  • Hardy1 on May 14, 2014, 18:44 GMT

    Please don't compare strike rates & economies across eras, it's completely irrelevant.

  • denbrowne on May 14, 2014, 17:21 GMT

    Ah, Robin Hobbs! Always thought he got picked for classic cricket surname as much as anything. Port being passed after the selectors' dinner, "There's a young leg-spinner called Hobbs, you say? Better put him in the team then!". Wish I'd seen Doug Wright or Tich Freeman - can't think of a top English leggie in the 50+ years I've been watching

  • ZekeTheCork on May 14, 2014, 17:14 GMT

    Thing is, a wrist-spinner in England probably needs to be able to bat or he will struggle to be selected at all - but promising young English leggies who can also bat have a nasty habit of gradually morphing into batsmen who bowl a bit of funny stuff occasionally. It happened to Kim Barnett, it's happening to Rashid and Borthwick. Colin Cowdrey and Nasser Hussain went the same way, though they were much younger. Chris Schofield tried to with rather less success. If England ever does produce a top-class wrist-spinner, it will probably be someone who can't bat at all, so has no choice but to keep working at his bowling if he wants to make it. But would such a player get into a county team in the first place?

  • Madpashcrickers on May 14, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    The English cult is the cult of hopeful medium-pace nibble - that's why you end up with the mediocre medium-pace nibble of Broad and Anderson as your nailed-on bowling selections and why the promise and talent of the likes of Finn or Rashid and many others before them has been allowed to wither on the vine.

    I prophesy thus - first Test against India Broad & Anderson will take seven or eight wickets each in the match and nine of ten England cricket fans will say hah, why would anyone ever doubt them.

    Next Test, Pujara will carry his bat for 300 or more and Kohli will score one of the fastest double-centuries in Test history - Broad 0-195, Anderson 1-202, India will declare on 750-2 and England will lose by an innings and 253 runs.

    Nine of ten England cricket fans will say hah, why would anyone ever doubt them - do you not recall the first test?

    Mark my words well, this is prophecy.

  • on May 14, 2014, 15:15 GMT

    England haven't always played "percentage cricket". Dexter, Illingworth, Brearley and Vaughan all captained sides that played aggressively. Also England's lack of wrist spinners doesn't necessarily indicate a defensive approach. Spinners like Underwood, Edmonds, Tufnell and Swann were aggressive attacking spinners but they were finger spinners, not wrist spinners. Again English pitches are much more suited to finger rather than wrist spin. The point about wrist spin being a secondary skill for a batsman is a very good point. Trying to accommodate a specialist wrist spinner in a 4 man attack is very difficult. Even in a 5 man attack they are a luxury. Rashid and Borthwick are very good examples. Neither would get into their county sides just as bowlers. Tom Craddock is a better bowler than both of them but can't get into the Essex team. People should stop viewing wrist spin as some sort of silver bullet. Only a tiny handful have been match winners at Test level.

  • Speng on May 14, 2014, 14:46 GMT

    In the West Indies we've also had very few leggies as well despite the fact that even halfway decent flickers get barrels of wickets. I think much of it is mentorship, you might have heard of this mythical thing when Ind and Pak came to to tour but if you've never seen it (no cricket on TV in those days) you had no clue. Seriously, as yougster who use to like to tweak it I actually didn't understand how wrist spin worked OTOH there were a lot of finger spinners you could watch even in local cricket (Jimmy Adams came to my high school to bowl in the nets a bit because he was at the same club as our coach). It was also a bit cultural too: countries like Guyana and T&T that had more people of subcontinental descent had the odd leggie more so than the rest of the WI.

    The WI selectors do the same to leggies too: if the guy's a bit expensive they drop him even if he takes wickets as a result you end up with guys like Badree who bowl for control but don't really rip it.

  • bobletham on May 14, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    There have been five English leg spinners playing Test cricket in the last 50 years, not four. Going backwards in time -- Borthwick (4 wickets), Schofield (0 wickets), Salisbury (20 wickets), Hobbs (12 wickets) and Bob Barber (42 wickets: last Test match in 1968). I suspect Barber was overlooked as he was mainly a batsman; but he was a very useful bowler as well.

    @Ahmed Hussain: the reason why Wardle does not come into consideration is that his last Test match was in 1957, over 50 years ago. I agree with your point however - he bowled wrist spin outside England, with sometimes devastating effect, particularly in South Africa in 1956-57,

  • Nutcutlet on May 14, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    England likes to play percentage cricket. Always has. Therefore, the best advice to a young ambitious leggie in England -- make sure your batting is top order quality (Rashid & Borthwick have got the message) and educate your captain about the virtues of having a leggie in the side esp. if the oppo has lots of RHB otherwise your art may suffer from lack of practice. Play on wickets with some pace & bounce and you're in business - so a move to Australia might be something you'd care to consider. Leggies are the spectator's dream. Something just has to happen, one way or another. Next to genuinely great fast bowling, a good LBG is box office. (@ o-bomb: think the missing one is Robin Hobbs, of imperishable memory.)

  • on May 14, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    Not this fetishising of wrist spinners again. The reason why there aren't many wrist spinners is because with one or two notable exceptions wrist spin is statistically the least successful bowling style. Bowling hard spun wrist spin accurately is very, very difficult. If it isn't hard spun there is no point in bowling wrist spin! In terms of England the main reason why wrist spin was neglected was because it didn't suit the soft uncovered pitches that county cricket used to be played on. Soft and uncovered pitches were much more suited to left arm spinners and off spinners. Hence England had the likes of Laker, Lock, Underwood, Allen, Illingworth etc. World class finger spinners. Also "the Australian culture of wrist spin" is a myth. How many World class wrist spinners did Australia produce in the 30 years between Benaud and Warne? Absolutely none. How many decent wrist spinners have Australia produced since Warne and MacGill? Again none. Stop popularising silly myths.

  • landl47 on May 14, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    Maybe one reason is that it needs a long period of very hard work with no reward to become a legspinner in first-class cricket. Richie Benaud said Bill O'Reilly told him that to develop a really viciously turning legbreak would take him 4 years, and it did (the exceptionally gifted Warne did it in two). That's a long time to wait for young players who want to make a living as cricketers.

    Rashid and Borthwick have become batsmen who bowl a bit of legspin. That's no good for test cricket unless you are worth a place for batting alone and neither is at that level, although Rashid is fairly close.

    It would be great to see a really top-class leggie play for England. They are the most exciting bowlers to watch- something is always going to happen when a legspinner is on.

  • MrPud on May 14, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    A leggie must have the full support of not only his captain but the whole team. A loose delivery will go to the boundary but a good one brings a chance. In club cricket the grounds are usually smaller which makes the risk versus reward scenario even tighter. Warne has set the bar unreasonably high but his record in India is poor. Aussie pitches have much more bounce which is probably more important than sideways movement. O'Reilly relied on pace and bounce, much like Warne, whereas Grimmett used flight. In any other era MacGill would be held in the same aura as the others. They are all leggies, but slightly different at the craft which is why we love them.

  • on May 14, 2014, 11:47 GMT

    Very good bit in Brearley's Art of Captaincy about the decline of wrist spin in the UK. Talks about more attritional cricket in general, and increasingly slower pitches, plus generally more risk-averse cricket all round. Not just from captains and selectors, but from batsmen. Less willing to use their feet and attack, so less likely to fall victim to a clever spinner.

    He also cites Johnny Wardle, who seems to have been overlooked in this article, perhaps because he was a left armer who could bowl either orthodox or chinamen: he favoured orthodox in English conditions on uncovered pitches, but on hard pitches in SA or Aus, preferred the chinaman. But he was often overruled by Len Hutton, who just wanted him to contain.

  • md111 on May 14, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    Good case is my own when a colt at local cricket club I bowled legspin (having seen the ball of the century) A couple of half decent deliveries were bowled but then the full toss came down and I was told never to bowl like that in the nets again. Times have changed a bit since then but as article says and English legspinners will still be complicated

  • DustyBin on May 14, 2014, 11:30 GMT

    time for Rashid of Yorks to be given a whirl? he's scoring plenty or runs; maybe any 2/3 of Rashid/Ali/Root/Patel is the way to replace Swann & avoid a long tail.

  • o-bomb on May 14, 2014, 10:48 GMT

    @Nicholas Hughes - thanks.

  • balajik1968 on May 14, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Maybe Frith was right. Aussies are more willing to take the risk. Shame really because leggies are one hell of an attacking option. But generally leggies are rare in cricket.

  • Romanticstud on May 14, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    As a bowler of spin, myself, I do claim to be able to spin the ball in a number of variations, I find that spinners get less leeway than fast bowlers. Fast bowlers can bowl on the money one day and get economical figures and then the next day they cannot bowl a ball in the right place. A spinner on the other hand is normally an intelligent bowler mixing the deliveries to out-fox the batsman. Some of his deliveries can be read and are hit with great aplomb to the boundary and others are simply unplayable. If a spinner doesn't get the ball on the money every time he is considered no good and is simply dropped. That is one of the reasons why South Africa have not had a permanent holder of the spinners berth in the side. I believe if people showed more confidence in the spinners in South Africa, they will show better results.

  • on May 14, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    O-Bomb...the 4th legspinner in the last 50 years is Robin Hobbs, formerly of Essex.

    A mistrust of mavericks? No. Just one maverick.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 14, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    As a legspinner myself, it does annoy me why there seems to be much more forgiveness with fast bowlers than spinners in cricket. Spinners are dominating the bowling rankings, especially for the short formats. From my own personal experience, games here in UK where I bowled very economically and/or picked up 5-fers were overshadowed by games where I failed miserably with the bat (despite NEVER claiming any competence/confidence with batting and very happy at no. 11). There is such a bizarre mindset/doubt over wrist spinners in UK and perhaps in cricket as a whole; poor games from fast bowlers where their economies soar seem to be forgiven much more readily than for spinners. Want an example? Exhibit A = one Jade Dernbach...

  • o-bomb on May 14, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    4 leg spinners in the last 50 years - Salisbury, Schofield, Borthwick... who is the other one? Have I missed him somewhere in this article?

  • brahms on May 14, 2014, 7:47 GMT

    It's an interesting fact that is never mentioned - when Hollies bolwed Bradman for that most famous "duck" he was bowling ROUND the wicket (there is a video on youtube).

    Ken Barrington was a more than reasonable leggy but hardly bowled for England. Once, In South Africa (63-64 tour) he cleaned up an innings with 3 for 4 (I think Boycott got 3 wickets fairly cheaply in the same innings). Another respectable performer was Yorkshire's John Hampshire whose best figures were 7-62. Robin Hobbs was supposed to be a leggy but never did well at test level - his last match was as embarrassing as Kerrigan's debut.

  • dunger.bob on May 14, 2014, 7:18 GMT

    We Aussies love our leggies mainly because they're the only type of spinner who does any good here. The place is a grave yard for off spinners and precious few have made any impact in 130 years of trying. Even the great Murali was reduced to cannon fodder here as were countless others. Wrist spinners do better here because you have to give the ball an almighty tweak if you want it to spin sideways just one degree. If you can do it you'll probably also enjoy the extra bounce on offer and that is a huge weapon. I can remember at least a dozen times where Warne nearly decapitated the batter or keeper at the Gabba. Most times he got his man soon after. No coincidence there either.

    Anyway, that's my theory why the leg spinner is a bit of an Aussie speciality.

  • on May 14, 2014, 7:18 GMT

    Well written piece and perfectly pointed out... But England needs more leg spinners to play on sub-continental wickets.. We have seen leg spinners domination in T20 and IPL.... So its time to get them... Also there are quite a few in England county teams...

  • Mehaffey on May 14, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    Bob Barber, with 42 Test wickets, might have been worth a mention.

  • Sir_Francis on May 14, 2014, 6:15 GMT

    "It is unfair to measure everyone against the Warne yardstick" Australian Test selectors have been guilty of this.

    Shame Adil Rashid hasn't been given a bit of a go. If he was australian he would have.

  • Sir_Francis on May 14, 2014, 6:15 GMT

    "It is unfair to measure everyone against the Warne yardstick" Australian Test selectors have been guilty of this.

    Shame Adil Rashid hasn't been given a bit of a go. If he was australian he would have.

  • Mehaffey on May 14, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    Bob Barber, with 42 Test wickets, might have been worth a mention.

  • on May 14, 2014, 7:18 GMT

    Well written piece and perfectly pointed out... But England needs more leg spinners to play on sub-continental wickets.. We have seen leg spinners domination in T20 and IPL.... So its time to get them... Also there are quite a few in England county teams...

  • dunger.bob on May 14, 2014, 7:18 GMT

    We Aussies love our leggies mainly because they're the only type of spinner who does any good here. The place is a grave yard for off spinners and precious few have made any impact in 130 years of trying. Even the great Murali was reduced to cannon fodder here as were countless others. Wrist spinners do better here because you have to give the ball an almighty tweak if you want it to spin sideways just one degree. If you can do it you'll probably also enjoy the extra bounce on offer and that is a huge weapon. I can remember at least a dozen times where Warne nearly decapitated the batter or keeper at the Gabba. Most times he got his man soon after. No coincidence there either.

    Anyway, that's my theory why the leg spinner is a bit of an Aussie speciality.

  • brahms on May 14, 2014, 7:47 GMT

    It's an interesting fact that is never mentioned - when Hollies bolwed Bradman for that most famous "duck" he was bowling ROUND the wicket (there is a video on youtube).

    Ken Barrington was a more than reasonable leggy but hardly bowled for England. Once, In South Africa (63-64 tour) he cleaned up an innings with 3 for 4 (I think Boycott got 3 wickets fairly cheaply in the same innings). Another respectable performer was Yorkshire's John Hampshire whose best figures were 7-62. Robin Hobbs was supposed to be a leggy but never did well at test level - his last match was as embarrassing as Kerrigan's debut.

  • o-bomb on May 14, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    4 leg spinners in the last 50 years - Salisbury, Schofield, Borthwick... who is the other one? Have I missed him somewhere in this article?

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on May 14, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    As a legspinner myself, it does annoy me why there seems to be much more forgiveness with fast bowlers than spinners in cricket. Spinners are dominating the bowling rankings, especially for the short formats. From my own personal experience, games here in UK where I bowled very economically and/or picked up 5-fers were overshadowed by games where I failed miserably with the bat (despite NEVER claiming any competence/confidence with batting and very happy at no. 11). There is such a bizarre mindset/doubt over wrist spinners in UK and perhaps in cricket as a whole; poor games from fast bowlers where their economies soar seem to be forgiven much more readily than for spinners. Want an example? Exhibit A = one Jade Dernbach...

  • on May 14, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    O-Bomb...the 4th legspinner in the last 50 years is Robin Hobbs, formerly of Essex.

    A mistrust of mavericks? No. Just one maverick.

  • Romanticstud on May 14, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    As a bowler of spin, myself, I do claim to be able to spin the ball in a number of variations, I find that spinners get less leeway than fast bowlers. Fast bowlers can bowl on the money one day and get economical figures and then the next day they cannot bowl a ball in the right place. A spinner on the other hand is normally an intelligent bowler mixing the deliveries to out-fox the batsman. Some of his deliveries can be read and are hit with great aplomb to the boundary and others are simply unplayable. If a spinner doesn't get the ball on the money every time he is considered no good and is simply dropped. That is one of the reasons why South Africa have not had a permanent holder of the spinners berth in the side. I believe if people showed more confidence in the spinners in South Africa, they will show better results.

  • balajik1968 on May 14, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Maybe Frith was right. Aussies are more willing to take the risk. Shame really because leggies are one hell of an attacking option. But generally leggies are rare in cricket.