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The plight of the English spin bowler

Jeetan Patel bowls Getty Images

Without wishing to sound full of self-pity, it is not easy being an English spin bowler at this moment in time. All we ever hear is that the cupboard is bare, but the simple truth is that we don't play in conditions that help young spinners to develop.

The current schedule packs half the Championship matches in before the end of May, a notorious time in terms of the weather and certainly not a period in which you'll find bunsens being prepared.

All you can hope to do as a spinner is bowl as much as you can, keep it tight and earn the right to stay in the side for the drier months of the season. But then, just when you'd expect spin bowlers to come into their own in July and August, there's a big block of one-day cricket to disrupt your rhythm before the Championship comes to the crunch in September.

In addition, there are T20s dotted all through the season, which I am not a fan of, to be brutally honest. The schedule forces you to go from one extreme discipline to the other, and many spinners have totally different actions in each form to deliver what they need to.

"If you don't bowl in enough match situations you aren't going to learn any survival skills"

You bowl different paces and lines in the different formats. You can't be quite as attacking in line and length in one-day cricket as you can in four-day cricket. If you are attacking the bat in four-day cricket and you get cut or driven for four you're okay with that. In a one-day game that could be the difference between winning and losing.

The ECB have conducted lots of interesting studies into the art of spin bowling, and apparently they've concluded that to perfect your trade you need to put in 10,000 hours of bowling. That is pretty much the equivalent of bowling most days since the age of 15 until you are about 30.

And that would tally with the theory that spinners get better with age. Look at Graeme Swann, who broke through to Test cricket late in his career. Unless you are a genius like Saeed Ajmal or Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne, your path won't be straightforward.

Yet, set against that, the selectors still seem intent on pushing the claims of youngsters right at the start of their careers. Part of this comes down to the fact that some wickets are simply better suited to spin than others, and therefore some spinners will get opportunities to bowl that others do not.

But that creates a different problem: many of these guys get used to taking wickets through spin rather than through building up pressure and finding a way. When you get to international cricket the wickets are generally flat ones.

Jeetan Patel recently voiced his criticism of English spinners, myself included, saying that they don't practise enough. And it's hard to deny he speaks with authority, given that he's taken 50-plus wickets for four seasons in a row. His point about building up stamina as a spinner is an important one and it's something I will definitely take on board for the future.

But Jeetan is one of those guys who is lucky to play half of his games on a receptive surface at Edgbaston. He's used to bowling longer spells because Warwickshire have adapted their game around him, and Keith Barker's follow-through is specially tailored to create rough for him to aim at.

The fact of the matter is that I, like many other spinners around the country, bowl the majority of my overs on green pitches such as Lord's where we are often being used in short bursts to pick up the over rate. It's all very well being expected to bowl, bowl, bowl all the time, but net bowling and bowling to a mitt during practice is different from getting time in the middle.

I had a really good year in 2013, when I took 46 wickets, but that included 15 in a single game against Surrey at The Oval. Even without that, 30 wickets would have been a good year for me.

I can hit a cone for most of the day but if someone starts flying at me in a match or sitting back in the crease then I have to adapt on the spot. And if you don't bowl in enough match situations you aren't going to learn those survival skills.

"I'm not ashamed to say that I got called for throwing when I was in my early twenties. Until two or three years ago, my action didn't belong to me"

The prevailing conditions in England create a vicious circle for young captains as well. It's tough to learn how to manage your spinners because if they get whacked early in their spell they tend to get taken off, whereas if a seamer gets nicked through third man, or drops one short and gets pulled, they still get thrown the ball because seamers are seamers and seen as more of an attacking option in England.

When I see young kids around the grounds in county matches and their mums tell me that they bowl spin and do I have any tips for them, I say, yeah, learn to bat. You have to expect to supplement your wickets haul with 500-plus runs a season, because no one can survive as an out-and-out spinner in county cricket unless he is exceptional.

My career path has been slightly different to some spinners. I'm not ashamed to say that I got called for throwing when I was in my early twenties. Since then, until two or three years ago, my action didn't belong to me. It was a case of doing what coaches advised me and just trying to keep in the game and find different ways of skinning the cat, as it were.

Three years ago I didn't like the way all that was going, I felt I needed an action that I had developed myself so that if something went wrong with it I could instinctively feel what it is.

Ultimately, when you are a young bowler, you are going to do what you need to do to get recognised, and get what you need to get. But just as fast-bowling coaches are looking for guys who can bowl at 90mph, spin coaches want guys with classical side-on actions.

Unfortunately, not everyone grows up bowling like that. I didn't really watch cricket as a youngster, I just picked up a ball one day and got taught the basics. How I got the ball down there and spun it was largely down to me.

Unfortunately my action was illegal and, rightly, I got pulled up for it, but until the recent ICC clampdown it always seemed to be bowlers in England and Australia who got collared, because they were tighter on it than in other countries.

Over the years I've gone through various clinics with England and they've tried to tweak things here and there. But if you look at a lot of guys who have been through the ECB set-up, a lot of them have tough times after having their natural games coached out of them. Simon Kerrigan suffered for it, and Adam Riley's not had a great second year either.

How often do you see a spin bowler being employed as a coach at a county ground? You often find the seamer's coach doubling up. These guys may have got their ECB coaching badges and may know the mechanics and how to teach barrel spin and topspin and drift and swerve, but that's very different from bowling spin at a professional level.

Ultimately we need people who can put it on the spot six balls out of six and cause problems, no matter who is facing them and how they are batting. And frankly it doesn't matter to me if they are a frog in the blender, as long as they can do it. English cricket still harks back to Jim Laker's classic see-saw action, but the game has changed. Spinners of any era and reputation, on these wickets against these batsmen, they'd probably get pumped too.

I don't honestly know what the answer is. I get frustrated with people who present problems without offering solutions but there are no obvious solutions to England's spin problems. We have to do the job that our teams require, so if your team is a seamer-strong attack and your job is to hold up an end then so be it.

I personally think someone like Moeen Ali is doing an excellent job for England. It doesn't seem to affect him if he gets hit, and that is a great strength. He just keeps trying to rip the ball as much as he can, regardless of what the batter is doing. And he bats well too.

Zafar Ansari had been bowling nicely this season until his injury at Old Trafford last week, but the fact of the matter is, there is not loads of competition for these spots. It's unrealistic to expect a miracle bowler to burst onto the scene given the hurdles that spin bowlers have to overcome.