The England cricket selectors haven’t half got themselves in a spin before the first Test of the five-match series against India, which begins at Edgbaston tomorrow.
It’s likely that England will field two spinners, with Moeen Ali recalled in favour of Dom Bess, who featured in both Tests against Pakistan earlier this season, in a like-for-like off spinner switch and Adil Rashid, who hasn’t played first-class cricket since last September following his decision to play white-ball cricket only for Yorkshire, plying his right-arm wrist spin ahead of the claims of left-arm finger spinner Jack Leach.
Like some, though not all, I think the selection of Rashid is a disgrace and merely serves to give county championship cricket, which has been largely pushed to the season’s extremities in recent years, yet another massive kick in the teeth. But what I find equally disagreeable are the circumstances and words surrounding the non-selection of the Somerset pair Leach and Bess.
“Jack Leach has had an exceptional run of bad luck which now leaves him short of bowling at the start of the series against India,” National Selector Ed Smith said. “Having broken his thumb before the first Test against Pakistan, Jack then suffered concussion on his return to county cricket. As a result, Jack has bowled only 37 overs in county or [England] Lions cricket since first being injured.
“The same applies to Dom Bess… For different reasons, unfortunately, Dom has also found opportunities scarce in championship cricket.”
Leach did miss two championship matches in June because of those injuries, but the ridiculous scheduling of the championship means that last week’s game against Worcestershire was Somerset’s sole four-day match in July – and Leach played in that, as well as a first-class Lions game against India A just before the Worcestershire match. He couldn’t have played any more first-class cricket in July even if he’d been fully fit.
Bess, for his part, also represented the Lions against India A, but to suggest that he has “found opportunities scarce in championship cricket” is bizarre. He didn’t play in the Worcestershire game, but appeared in Somerset’s four previous championship matches – the last one of which was over a month ago.
Maybe Smith should have said that Bess has found championship opportunities scarce, but that’s because the ECB choose to schedule very little championship cricket in high summer, when pitches are more likely to be spinner-friendly, because they’re obsessed by white-ball cricket and making money.
And so we have Moeen, a batting all-rounder who has played one first-class match this season (seven fewer than Bess). And we have Rashid, who has turned his back on championship cricket and yet has been selected because of his deeds in altogether different formats of the game.
If Moeen and Rashid perform poorly against India, Smith surely won’t turn to Leach or Bess any time soon if he follows his own logic about their lack of red-ball bowling. Somerset’s next championship match starts on 19 August – after the third Test has started.