From September 1987, when the firm of Edmonds and Emburey lost its senior partner, to May 1994, England's spinners were slowly but steadily marginalised. In an age of high pace they were just too slow and too steady. Where once they had used them in pairs, the England selectors - who were never led by a spinner - began to settle for only one, and sometimes none at all. Up to the other day, the last six times England picked two proper spinners they lost (all in 1993, against India, Sri Lanka and Australia), whereas when they picked none, their fortunes were mixed, and included some famous victories - Kingston, 1990, Headingley, 1991, The Oval, 1994.
It was more than the spinning classes could take. First they rose up and seized the chair of the England Committee, replacing a batsman-seamer, Ted Dexter, with a spinner who could bat - Raymond Illingworth. Not content with occupying the top of the tree, they soon lopped off other selectors who had been batsmen (first Amiss, then Bolus) and replaced them with horney-handed sons of twirl - first Titmus, then Graveney.
Still not satisfied, they plotted to overthrow the England manager (a batsman, especially proficient against spinners) and got his job rolled into that of the chairman (a spinner not all that proficient against batsmen).
They thought about unseating the captain, too, on the grounds that he was a batter, but narrowly relented, on the grounds that he had once been a bowler of leg-breaks. His Test record - 61 overs, 11 maidens, 282 runs, one wicket - merely confirmed that he had been as misunderstood and poorly deployed as all the other latter-day tweakers.
For a while, the all-spin selection panel tried to be even-handed. Only one spinner was named in the squads for the first two Tests of 1995, and since he was Richard Illingworth, it could be argued that he wasn't a spinner at all, just a very slow bowler. Hailed by his namesake as "a good pro who won't let anybody down,'' he responded with figures of 2 for 119 from 49 overs in three Tests. Some might have felt let down by this performance, but not the selectors, who this week gave him his second recall of the summer.
It was only a matter of time before the selectors turned back to a two- man spin attack.
Alas, Illy junior was indisposed, so they had to go through more contortions than Abdul Qadir's run-up. As their senior spinner, they plumped for the only cricketer in England who was on record as saying that it would be a bad idea to pick him. Widely billed as the best spinner in England, he proved only what didn't need proving - that he was one of the tidiest. He didn't actually take a wicket, but he was reckoned to have bowled well, and in a valuable contribution with the bat, he was clearly unlucky not to reach double figures.
Meanwhile, at the other end, England unleashed Mike Watkinson, a finger- spinner who, perhaps because he has not been doing it for long, really spins the ball. Startled by this ploy, five West Indian batsmen got out to him. The Test match was won - the first time since the pre-revolutionary days of 1992 that England had won two matches in a series.
This turn of events so emboldened the leaders of the spinning party that they moved to tighten their grip on the England set-up. The previous winter, the England A-team had swept all before them. Their cricket manager, Phil Neale, had been a good, but uncapped batsman, a trophy-laden county captain, and lately a successful county manager. Their tour manager, John Barclay, had been another good but uncapped batsman. His captaincy had been well thought of, and he was now a popular and able coach of schoolboy cricketers. He had also been a spinner.
So Barclay was promoted to tour manager for the senior party, while Neale was not even asked to stay with the A-team. His post was handed to John Emburey, who commands respect throughout the game, but has never held office - apart from leading England in two Tests - higher than the Middlesex vice-captaincy. He is, of course, a spinner.
I'm not seriously suggesting that all this is a conspiracy. John Barclay, youthful, enthusiastic and Corinthian, should make a fine foil to Illy senior. And Emburey will bring many qualities to the A-tour. But if I were Phil Neale, or David Lloyd, or Bob Woolmer, there would be two things I would want to know. Why is the present England supremo sounding off as if it were up to him to appoint the next one? And why is the front- runner for the succession reliably reported to be a man who has no experience of management?Reuse content