How many spinners do England need in India?

Any time a team tours India, or anywhere in the subcontinent, there is a the question of the balance of the side and whether or not a second spinner is needed. Generally speaking, the answer at which is arrived is ‘yes’ with the reasoning being that in the conditions so favourable to spin the usual attack must be tweaked. There is very little actually wrong with this reasoning and there are many benefits to playing two spinners. They can bowl more overs in the heat of India, they can work in tandem and they can balance attack and defence generally better than the seamers when the conditions get unhelpful.

But with England not having won in India since 1984/85, it is perhaps worth casting a critical eye over that policy. Since 1970 England have only had four spinners take ten wickets or more in India compared to ten pacemen. Seam bowlers have also taken 267 wickets in total compared to only 164 by spinners. Of course, that stat will generally favour the pacemen as there are simply more of them. But what is interesting is to look at the individual performers. Only Derek Underwood has really found success in India as a spinner. And he did fare very well, taking 54 wickets in 16 matches at an average of 26.51. But there are actually seven pace bowlers with a better average than that in India and five of them have a better wickets-to-match ratio as well. Overall, English spinners in India (since 1970) average seven runs per wicket more than their pace colleagues.

All of which is interesting and does damage the notion that spinners are necessarily a huge asset in India. But what does it mean for England’s selection on this tour? I definitely would not say it argues sternly that England must not play two spinners, but I do think it means they should not go in with a plan of playing two spinners. What they need to asses is whether Panesar/Patel are going to be better than their pace colleagues in the conditions and knowing that English spinners have a history of being less effective than pace bowlers in the subcontinent. It should not be a hard decision with respect to Patel; I cannot see him being a better choice than any of the pace bowlers. Monty is more interesting and it may come down to how many bowlers England want to play. If they stick with a four man attack then I think Steven Finn has to be selected over Panesar. But if it is a five-man attack then the question of Bresnan, Onions or Panesar is a much closer one and may be down to warmup performances.

3 thoughts on “How many spinners do England need in India?

  1. Interesting piece. Monty bowled reasonable well this winter as I remember, but it is the dropped catches that stick out most clearly, how important will that be in England’s thinking? Four seamers, a specialist spinner, backed up by part timers (KP….) might just do it, it would be a show of intent, putting pressure on the opposition (Fin for one is a wicket taker if nothing else, and not reliant on swing…). not risk free, but one batsman more makes no difference if they fail en mass as the did last time against spinners………Bresnan consistent but at risk of being England’s last Ashes Hilfenhouse???


    1. Monty did bowl quite well in the UAE, but he was poor in the first Test in Sri Lanka. Not sure which one the selectors will rate more and my guess is that it would be down to warmup matches. I like the notion of five specialist bowlers and for me Finn should definitely play regardless of the balance. Bresnan is an interesting one though as he has not looked the same since his elbow injury. If he is back to his best then he is probably the first choice, but otherwise it’s probably Onions or Panesar.


  2. I’d say that Monty, as a second spinner, could play an important role in tying up an end, even if he isn’t threatening, allowing the seamers to bowl short spells with the old ball at the other end.

    Ideally Swann could do that job, but I think he’s better used as an attacking option/left hander specialist (not that India have many).


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