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Six English spinners for the future

After England's spin options were ruthlessly exposed in the UAE, we take a look at six young hopefuls vying to become stars of the future

David Hopps
David Hopps
County cricket is not producing spin bowlers of Test potential because of issues over pitches and scheduling, leading to too many Championship games fought out on greentops. Neither is the ECB's development programme entirely free from blame - the spin bowling group heading to Dubai for tuition from Daniel Vettori this month carries a strong limited-overs bias.
From this discouraging situation, England desperately need a young specialist Test spinner to emerge, overcoming the obvious difficulties through burning ambition and natural talent. It won't happen overnight. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar both developed on turning Northampton pitches and that took years, not months.
Here are six young hopefuls, all of them under 25, a couple barely starting out, who have a chance to make an impact:
Zafar Ansari (Surrey)
Style: Slow left-arm
First-class record: 100 wickets at 35.13
Zafar Ansari is an adaptable bowler for the modern age, a top-order batsman who can ply his left-arm spin effectively in red- and white-ball cricket. If he had not suffered a serious thumb dislocation in Surrey's last Championship game of the season, hours after his selection, he would have gone to UAE instead of Samit Patel, but he was only ever chosen as the third-choice spinner, proof that his development is far from complete. Shrewd and intelligent, he is favoured by the intellectual set and his Surrey captain, Gareth Batty, regards him as the best young spinner in the country. Surrey's Championship promotion can only help him. He has one England cap to date - an ODI against Ireland in Malahide in May, in which he did not bat or bowl.
Attention grabbing: Ansari and Tom Curran both returned career-best figures as Surrey thrashed Gloucestershire by an innings at a sun-baked Kia Oval in June.
Danny Briggs (Sussex)
Style: Slow left-arm
First-class record: 191 wickets at 32.14
Danny Briggs' departure from Hampshire to join their south-coast rivals Sussex has been one of the surprises of the season, and as much as Hampshire deserved sympathy - no county is more committed to producing young spin bowlers of merit - it was good to see Briggs refuse to settle for a reputation as a talented limited-overs specialist. Instead he has sought to bring impetus to his long-form career by negotiating a release from his contract. This serene, self-effacing slow left-armer has been a principal player in Hampshire's one-day success, and has one England T20 and seven ODIs to his name - matches in which he took a bit of a battering. Sussex's captain Luke Wright has hailed him as the best one-day spinner in the country, but if he is to advance his Championship game he needs to spin the ball more and learn how to winkle out batsmen on good surfaces. Hove's small boundaries will not make his task easy.
Attention grabbing: Briggs claimed career-best first-class figures of 6 for 45 as England Lions thrashed Windward Islands by 258 runs in Dominica. In the same match, Adil Rashid took four cheap wickets.
Matthew Carter (Nottinghamshire)
Style: Offspin
First-class record: 10 wickets at 19.50
When an unknown spin bowler, not yet 20, takes 10 wickets in his maiden first-class appearance - and in Division One of the Championship too - then it is time to sit up and take notice. Matthew Carter achieved just that for Nottinghamshire against Somerset at Taunton last season. Sound judges observed this tall and slender offspinner and praised good control from a classically high action, loop and turn (although he was unable to spin his side to victory in a thrilling finish). He did not play another Championship game all season - the next time he took seven wickets it was for the Minor County, Lincolnshire - as Notts returned to the seam-bowling haven of Trent Bridge. At least he got a two-year contract at the end of the season.
Attention grabbing: Carter's seven wickets in the first innings at Taunton returned the best figures by a spin bowler on Championship debut since Leicestershire's Jack Walsh claimed 7 for 46 against Northamptonshire in 1938.
Ravi Patel (Middlesex)
Style: Slow left-arm
First-class record: 56 wickets at 34.67
Angus Fraser is an England selector so he has especially good reason to be desperate for a Test-quality spin bowler to announce himself, but as Middlesex's director of cricket, he only found cause to select Ravi Patel for one Championship match in 2015. Patel's much-praised effectiveness in T20 cricket faltered markedly, too, as he conceded nearly 10 an over and failed to take wicket in five matches. Spin bowlers mature later, but even allowing for that, it suggests a career in danger of going astray. Patel is a big tweaker of the ball - in Loughborough tests a few years ago he came behind only Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, established England internationals at the time, and he has had England Lions honours. He will be at England's spin bowling camp in Dubai - but officially only as a "net bowler" rather than one of the gilded group sitting at Dan Vettori's knee. Fraser has said he has the potential to be a fine bowler. He will be 25 at the start of next season and needs to make progress.
Attention grabbing: Brought back from a loan spell with Essex in 2015 (one wicket, one match), Patel bowled extremely well to take 4 for 42, his best Championship figures, against Sussex at Lord's.
Mason Crane (Hampshire)
Style: Legspin
First-class record: 10 wickets at 33.60
With a name that suggests he should have been an American private investigator, perhaps Mason Crane can solve the problem of England spin bowling. As an eight-year-old, he was transfixed by the sight of Shane Warne bowling in the 2005 Ashes and set out to become a legspinner. He suffered a setback when he was left out of the Sussex Under-14 squad because his batting and fielding were regarded as strikingly weak, but like so many young cricketers who make the grade in England, he had a private schooling and the support of Raj Maru, his cricket master at Lancing College, who arranged an opportunity at Hampshire, was critical. Coaching now seeks to provide what limited match opportunities can not. After his eye-catching entrance into county cricket (see below), Mark Butcher, on ESPNcricinfo's Switch Hit, floated the idea of Crane as the third spinner for England's squad to tour the UAE. But Hampshire soon dropped him and the selectors demurred. Instead, along with his Hampshire team-mate Brad Taylor, Durham's Adam Hickey and Max Holden of Middlesex he will soon be heading to Colombo for an U-19 tri-series against Sri Lanka and India.
Attention grabbing: Warwickshire were bamboozled as Crane, at 18 years 171 days, became the youngest Hampshire player to take five wickets in a Championship innings. In his second first-class match, he counted Varun Chopra, Jonathan Trott and Sam Hain among his victims.
Adam Riley (Kent)
Style: Offspin
First-class record: 115 wickets at 35.09
Adam Riley thinks he is a wizard, but before English cricket lovers become over-excited, it is just that his ginger hair brings suggestions that he resembles Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter movies. His offspin received more scrutiny than most when Graeme Swann abruptly retired near the end of the 2013-14 Ashes series. In James Tredwell's England absences, he had advanced his Kent career with two decent seasons, Swann gave him some one-to-one tuition and there was heady talk of immediate elevation to the Test side. Nick Cook was one former England spinner to tip him as a medium-term solution, but only after saying: "The cupboard is bloody bare". But it was premature and in 2015 his form faltered with only eight Championship wickets as many matches. Tredwell, back from a loan period at Sussex, was understandably preferred. In 2016, he has to begin again.
Attention grabbing: Riley bowled with courage and intelligence during a 21-over spell during the afternoon and evening sessions to dislodge a young Surrey middle order including Jason Roy and Ansari.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps