England’s mystery spin problem?

ESPN Cricinfo today published the results of an ‘investigation’ revealing that England use different methods to test the legality of bowling actions than the ICC. The report suggested that this was holding back the development of England’s own ‘mystery’ spinner and that contributed to England’s struggles in the subcontinent over the winter. But that’s a bit of an exaggeration and I think that England are well advised to keep strict restrictions on bowling actions.

The main problem with the suggestion that England cannot play mystery spin because there are no county mystery spinners is that England’s problem is actually not mystery spin, it’s just spin. England badly struggled in the UAE against Saeed Ajmal with many of the batsmen struggling to pick him. But there are two things to remember: the first is that most teams have struggled against Ajmal; he was the lead wicket taker in the 2011 calendar year. The second is that England’s problems are in no way limited to just the ‘mystery’ spin of Ajmal. England also struggled badly against Abdur Rehman in the Pakistan series (19 wickets at 16.73) and then against Rangana Herath in Sri Lanka (19 wickets at 17.94). Both are slow left arm spinners and although Herath did once have a ‘mystery’ delivery it was conventional turn that did for England in Sri Lanka. In fact, the most recent ‘mystery’ spinner England played was the much hyped Sunil Narine who was immediately picked and got hit around the park. He did not even manage to fool Steven Finn. Clearly England’s problem is not then related to ‘mystery’ is is just related to spin and mystery or not they have a problem with it in the subcontinent and little trouble elsewhere.

It is also not true to suggest that England would be better off developing a mystery spinner of their own. Graeme Swann has shown how successful a true off-spinner can be and Ajantha Mendis has shown that simply having variations is not enough to be successful. It is quite right that England have not altered their testing methods to encourage the development of mystery spinners for the sake thereof; there is very little if anything to be gained and it’s certainly not worth compromising what are very good standards set by England. The relaxation of the international standards ought only ever to have applied to bowlers like Murali who physically cannot straighten their elbows; applying it to everyone makes the regulation needlessly complex and difficult to apply. I would be very uneasy if England were to field a bowler with a questionable action and questionable delivery and would also prefer that the international regulations were returned to their original state. In the meantime England should continue to strictly apply their testing methods and standards.

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