India v England Tests
Aussie influence overcomes English bias
Rajkot could be the making of Adil Rashid, repaying the faith of two Australian coaches responsible for overcoming England's bias against leg-spin
Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.
When Adil Rashid dismissed Murali Vijay with his final ball on the third day of this first Test against India it may well have been the breakthrough moment of his career.
England and Australia have many things in common - the language, parliamentary system, common law and a love of cricket.
Yet they are two countries diametrically opposed on one subject – leg-spin.
Quick single: Proteas to be without biggest weapon
In Australia, where the pitches have traditionally rewarded wrist spinners, the likes of Shane Warne, Richie Benaud and Stuart MacGill are cherished.
In England, where finger-spinners reign supreme, leg-spin has been deeply distrusted for decades – and with good reason.
Before Rashid the three leg-spinners who were parachuted into England’s Test team were eminently forgettable.
Ian Salisbury took 20 wickets in 15 Tests between 1992 to 2000 at 76.95. Chris Schofield managed none in two Tests in 2000. Then there was Scott Borthwick, whose four wickets at 20 during England’s final Ashes humiliation of the 2013-14 series in Sydney were almost all exclusively caught at long-on or long-off as Australia’s batsmen, with the luxury of runs on the board, attempted to hit him into the nearby Fox Studios.
There’s a reason Borthwick is now regarded as a top-order batsman and it’s not because England expect him to be the next Warne.
Indeed, while Warne amassed more than 1,000 international wickets during his career, England’s most prolific leg-spinner, Doug Wright, only took 108 and his last Test was in 1951.
So Rashid, for whom the Rajkot Test is just his sixth for England, was handicapped even before he got into the team.
Moreover, the decades of English scorn towards leg-spinners means even when he broke into the team he suffered from confirmation bias, with people judging his performances within the pre-existing framework of English leg-spin scepticism.
Quick single: The science keeping quicks on the park
Thankfully for Rashid, though, he has benefitted from one significant advantage his predecessor’s did not have – an Australian coach in Trevor Bayliss.
In fact, if we include Jason Gillespie during his time at Yorkshire, Rashid has benefitted from the help of two Antipodeans who appreciate the art of leg-spin bowling.
Gillespie, in his five years at Headingley from 2011 to the end of the last English summer, was instrumental in helping Rashid recover after he lost his way following a promising start to his career. The belief he showed in the Yorkshireman and the mentality of just asking him to spin the ball as much as he could would never have come from an English coach.
However, it’s an approach that built Rashid’s confidence back up and when Bayliss took over as England coach last year he was bowling well enough to be selected for the series in the UAE against Pakistan.
Rashid’s first Test in Abu Dhabi last October was literally a game of two halves. In the first innings he returned the most expensive figures by an England spinner on debut – 0-163 – before almost winning his side the match with a second-innings haul of 5-64.
Since then his bowling has been patchy as, before this Test, a return of 15 wickets at an average of 51 testifies.
Indeed, after his performances during the recent series in Bangladesh, when he took just seven wickets in turning conditions and conceded 3.81 runs per over, it would have been easy for Bayliss to drop Rashid.
However, the Australian, knowing England’s spin options are so threadbare, gambled on the x-factor the leg-spinner could potentially bring.
Dizzy's column: Australia's batsmen need to be ruthless
His faith may well be rewarded if Rashid’s performance on day three of this Test is anything to go by.
Whereas in Bangladesh the 28-year-old was wayward, he offered far more control against India’s far-more-accomplished batsmen, going at less than three runs an over during 14 overs that saw him concede 39 runs and snare the wicket of Vijay, who had made 126, with his googly.
If he can build on that performance and take advantage of a helpful pitch during India’s second innings it may well be the making of him.
If that happens it will a happy accident, with the timely intervention of two Australian coaches responsible for Rashid overcoming the traditional English bias against leg-spin.