Sunday, 5 January 2014


Rejoice indeed, for not only is that whole, horrible series now over, there's a new kid in town. Scott Borthwick has done the impossible. He has grown up bowling leg-spin in England and despite this has actually managed to bowl it in a Test for England. That does not happen every day. Over the last few decades it has hardly happened at all. Monday 11th December 2000 can now be stricken from the record books as the last time a leg-break bowler turned his arm over in Test cricket for England, Ian Salisbury bowling 3 wicketless overs on the final day of that famous Karachi Test after enduring a pretty awful tour.

The English leg-spinner really has become the Himalayan Snow Leopard of Test cricket, rarely seen and seemingly extinct until a small colony is miraculously unearthed every now and then. An Englishman undoubtedly invented the leg-break, since it is pretty much as old as cricket itself, albeit that it started as an underarm delivery. An English underarm bowler - George Simpson-Hayward - should probably take the credit for having invented the flipper action, and of course it was Bernard Bosanquet who introduced the world to the Googly, still often named as the Bosey in Australia in his honour. There were no end of English leg-spinners in the inter-war years such as Titch Freeman, Doug Wright and Eric Hollies, the latter two continuing after the war, but since then the number of leg-spinners playing for England has dwindled dramatically. 

Out of 370 players picked since the war, there seem to have been just eleven English leg-spinning specialists*: Eric Hollies, Doug Wright, Peter Smith, Roly Jenkins, Eddie Leadbeater, Tommy Greenhough, Bob Barber, Robin Hobbs, Ian Salisbury, Chris Schofield and of course now we have Scott Borthwick. Between them they've bowled just over 20 thousand deliveries and taken 246 wickets - 9 fewer than a single Graeme Swann - at an average of 41.2. Contrary to popular perception it is perhaps interesting to note that their combined economy rate of 2.98 is EXACTLY the same as Swann's...

Hollies of course found fame for conquering the Don in his final Test innings, and Wright has a very impressive reputation too. Tommy Greenhough seems to have been extremely unlucky to have only played four tests given his 16 wickets at 22.31, conceding just 1.89 runs an over. Bob Barber took an impressive 42 wickets, but at an unimpressive average of 43.00, and Robin Hobbs seemed to be the last of the breed until Ian Salisbury came along. Salisbury made his Test début at just 22, and was named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1993, but after a bright start his stats took a disappointing trajectory. At least he fared better than Schofield, who in two tests only bowled in one innings and took no wickets.

The three huge gaps where no specialist leg-spinners played for England read 1953 to 1958 (6 years), 1972 to 1991 (20 years) and 2001 to 2013 (13 years). There were a number of part-timers during the first two hiatuses, including some notable names - Len Hutton, Tom Graveney, Colin Cowdrey, Keith Fletcher, Michael Atherton, Robin Smith and Nasser Hussain - and also ones time has forgotten - Jack Ikin, Raman Subba Row, Geoff Pullar, Jim Parks, Kim Barnett and Tim Curtis. Of all the part-timers, only Ken Barrington really made a mark by taking 29 wickets at 44.83.

Since Salisbury though, there's been not so much as a single lazy over before the tea break by either expert or dabbler.

Until now. REJOICE!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Not only did Borthwick take the best bowling figures in Australia's second innings, he's also cheekily snuck to the top of England's series bowling averages, and holds the best average of any post-war English leg-spinner. It can't last but it's nice to enjoy it for the moment.

For all that I am delighted to see a fellow leggie don the three lions and do so well, I'm not fool enough to let figures blind me as to Borthwick's ultimate performance. His figures of 1 for 49 and 3 for 33 are pretty much as good as a débutante could dare to hope for, but while I didn't see his spells ball-by-ball I have seen Hawkeye's tracking of his 13 overs, and frankly it's a bit of a mess. He does bowl some good balls and seemed to get better as he went along but there's a bit of a length problem with far too many full tosses for a Test-level bowler.

That said, on the basis of the last two Tests I'm beginning to wonder whether Alistair Cook picks spinners so he can insult them at closer range. Both in Melbourne (Panesar) and in Sydney (Borthwick) there were times when, for no reason I can think of, the specialist spinner was left to twiddle his thumbs while the part-timer (Root, Pietersen) was given some overs. I do not understand this, and surely even if it didn't seem to do Borthwick any harm, it probably didn't do him any good either. How Monty felt about it I would love to know.

Add to that the very short spells Borthwick was given - 3-0-21-0 and 4-0-28-1 on day one, 2-0-8-0 at the end of day two, then 2-0-8-1 and 2-0-17-2 either side of lunch on day three - and it's no wonder he was a little wayward. He wasn't given the opportunity to settle into a groove by his own captain let alone the opposition batsmen.

Meanwhile there was a predictable lack of sympathy from some fans I saw on Twitter. Were the same people pointing an accusing finger at Borthwick's 7 runs per over economy rate in the first innings saying the same when, after five second innings overs, Stokes was going at 7.2? Nope, thought not. But then Stokes isn't a leg-spinner so there's no stereotype to hang one's prejudices on.

So how good is Borthwick? Jarrod Kimber was I think a tad unkind to call him "a bad Warne clone", Boycott harder still to call him "club standard", the only thing I'll say about his appearance in Sydney is it's nowhere near enough to base a judgement on, except that batting aside he's made a decent enough start to his Test career. At least that's more than can be said for poor Rankin and Kerrigan...

*I searched for right-handed spinners on Cricinfo, but this excluded Doug Wright so perhaps there are others.

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