England in the UAE, 2015-16 November 5, 2015

Counties must act to improve English spin - Flower


The quality of pitches in English domestic cricket will have to improve if England are to enjoy more consistent success at international level, and avoid the sorts of spin-influenced defeats that they suffered against Pakistan in Sharjah, according to Andy Flower.

Flower, the former England coach who is now technical director of elite coaching at the ECB, feels that too many poor surfaces in county cricket are inhibiting the development of players and creating a greater divide between domestic and international cricket.

In particular Flower and the ECB's head spin bowling coach, Peter Such, fear that the development of young spinners is being impeded by pitches that provide too much assistance to medium-pace bowlers.

"The pitches are a real problem," Flower said. "We have a situation now where dibbly-dobbly bowlers like Jesse Ryder - and no disrespect to him, because he's a fine cricketer - are match-winners in county cricket.

"Spin bowlers don't develop because the medium-pacers bowl their overs and batsmen are not exposed to quality spin. The necessity for fast bowlers is negated because the medium-pacers do the work but, when you get to international cricket, the pitches are completely different and the qualities that proved successful in county cricket will be of little use. Dibbly-dobbly bowlers are not going to win you Test matches. Their abilities are exaggerated by green county pitches.

"You can watch a game in Division Two of the County Championship and not see a bouncer bowler. That's a problem, because the first thing that a batsman will be tested by in international cricket is the short ball.

"The pitches are contributing to the divide between county and international cricket and leaving us - the coaches at Loughborough - needing to bridge a significant gap in standard."

Flower's comments are timely. It is not just that they were made as England subsided to a 2-0 defeat against Pakistan in the UAE with the level of spin bowling proving the key difference between the sides, but that the ECB are currently conducting a review into domestic cricket that seems certain to bring significant changes.

Adil Rashid had a taxing Test debut in Abu Dhabi © Getty Images

The statistics of the series in the UAE underline the current gulf between English spinners and the rest. All told, England's trio of Moeen Ali, Ali Rashid and Samit Patel, with fill-in overs from Joe Root and even Ben Stokes, claimed 20 wickets at 60.1 in 295.1 overs, only 23 of which were maidens. Pakistan's trio of Yasir Shah, Zulfiqar Babar and Shoaib Malik bowled exactly that number of maidens in the third Test alone, while also claiming 17 wickets at 18.41.

"In overseas Test cricket somewhere between 46-48% of overs are bowled by spinners, but in county cricket that figure is around 20%," Such told ESPNcricinfo. "The pitches tend to start damp, which makes them seam-bowler dominated and makes it very hard for spin bowlers to break through. We need to do more to encourage spin bowling. It's a tough gig at present.

"The most important thing in the development of spin bowlers is that they get match-play overs, so they can use their skills in match situations. There is some talent out there, but at the moment young spinners are hitting a glass ceiling and it has become very hard for them to progress."

At present, the ECB are sending up to 16 young spinners abroad this winter - some just as net bowlers (Simon Kerrigan is unavailable with a stress fracture) - in order that they can gain experience in different conditions and benefit from the volume of overs denied them in county cricket. It is not a scenario that reflects well on the contribution of the domestic game.

To that end, a scenario where the County Championship season starts abroad - probably in the UAE or Caribbean - remains possible. While it would not be a popular solution with county members, it currently seems inevitable that the county schedule will be cut to 14 games per side with two windows for white-ball cricket.

Scheduling two games overseas would at least enable the competition to remain at 16 games per side and provide conditions in which spin bowlers might feature more prominently. The defeat to Pakistan may concentrate minds on the need to improve the development of spin bowlers.

"County cricket is very much part of the solution," Such said. "It is the biggest part of the solution. But we need to see young spinners bowling overs in county cricket."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on November 7, 2015, 16:36 GMT

    Instead of just talking about things for ever and ever, why doesn't the ECB act to centrally contract all groundsmen and tell them to produce the range of pitches required?

  • Master on November 6, 2015, 14:54 GMT

    Yes @John-Price. That's exactly the problem. But the national side has the same attitude. They just don't rate spinners. And year after year they lose to teams that do. Yasir Shah wouldn't have got in the England side.

  • John on November 6, 2015, 14:54 GMT

    @YORKSHIREPUDDING - re Kerigan , his stats went down in 2014 but back up slightly in 2015 but in div 2. He's still young for a spinner so could come again but like you I feel he was treated disgracefully. I mean if he was given the whole game to show what he can do then it would at least have been something but 6 overs on debut is nowhere near enough especially when you have no other strings to your bow. And my worry about him is that he'll have no confidence in the captain having faith in him. Maybe they learnt from it. Moores (who was Lancs coach when SK had his best form) significantly never picked him for Eng , although when you saw him ignore Tredwell in the ODI WC when our pacers were leaking runs for fun you have to wonder if he knew what he was doing half the time. For SA it's difficult. I'd only take one spinner alongside Moeen or Rashid - IMO they missed a trick by not bringing Leach (wont hold the spelling against you) out here where any spinner is more likely to succeed

  • John on November 6, 2015, 14:51 GMT

    @WLB - Yep , our spinners offered very little all round

  • Master on November 6, 2015, 14:51 GMT

    The problem is not the counties this is total denial from England. The problem is the England team selection policy that continually picks spinners largely on their batting ability rather than their ability to turn the ball and land it accurately. Does anyone seriously believe that Moeen, Samit, Zafar Ansari and Adil are the best spinners in the country? Nonsense. They were all picked because they can bat (a bit).

    Just as Ashley Giles, Mike Watkinson, Scott Borthwick, Robert Croft, Ian Salisbury, Chris Schofield, John Emburey, Richard Illingworth, Ian Blackwell, Mike Yardy and many more before them.

    How many tests would Murali have played if he was English?

    Who are the best spinners in England? Ignore their batting, just focus on that one point, then pick them. Or go for an all pace attack.

    But please stop picking club bowlers to lead your spin attack because they can get the odd 50.

  • John on November 6, 2015, 14:39 GMT

    @JOHN-PRICE ON NOVEMBER 6, 2015, 12:28 GMT - There's probably a number of reasons why GD could have been released. One was the emergence of Jack Leach who is not a number 7 and the other 2 could be GD's availability and maybe he didn't want to play CC or even in England. You also have to equate that the guy himself may want to play for Ireland and maybe that means more to him than anything else

  • Johnston on November 6, 2015, 13:58 GMT


    I'm not sure were you get CC produced great players during the 80s & 90s from. There was a dearth of talent from the mid/late 80s and throughout the 90s. Boycott, Gooch, Gower, Lamb, Gatting, Willis, Botham et al were more products of the 70s; Cook, Tresco, Strauss, Swann, Hoggy, Anderson were chiefly products of the late 90s & 2000s. I recall particularly the late 80s & 90s as really bad. The Selectors chose half a squad of new players who were nowhere near international standard every series eg Moxon, Stephenson, Curtis, Ed Smith, Blakey, Watkinson, Igglesdon, Capel, Lewis, Reeve, Irani, Munton, McCague, Ilott, Hollioakes etc so apart from Atherton, Robin Smith, Graham Thorpe, Fraser, Caddick & Gough there wasn't much produced at all.

  • John on November 6, 2015, 12:28 GMT

    I noticed George Dockrell got the boot from Somerset, yet he is a young spinner who does a great job for Ireland and has a first class average of 31. What went wrong? Is it just that counties don't want spinners unless they can bat at 7?

  • Johnston on November 6, 2015, 11:26 GMT

    From memory only Swann was exceptional. Even when CC was awash with an army of spinners they were hardly a hit at international level - Emburey, Edmonds, Hemmings, Giles, etc and then probably the best of an average bunch Monty & Tufnell. However, the one thing these bowlers could do was send down over after over of line and length unlike Rashid, Patel & Moeen. The Selectors got it woefully wrong picking an assemblage of part timers & all rounders for the UAE, just like they got it wrong only giving Kerrigan 1 game. They need to stand up and explain rather than one of their henchmen trying to pass the buck onto the Counties.

  • mohammed on November 6, 2015, 9:37 GMT

    Whatever the state of pitches this was just bad bowling. Full tosses and long hops will be hit for four by good batsmen. When Rashid, Ali and to a lesser extent Patel bowled good length they got turn and wickets. But there was too much rubbish inbetween from these very experienced county bowlers. Most bowlers would have been embarrssed by such bowling. We should try Zafar Ansari in SA and if necessary also look at Briggs who is usually very economical in most forms of cricket.

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