England are prepared to take a huge gamble in pursuit of the Ashes. They are seriously considering trying to counter Australia’s pace and bouncer onslaught by picking two spinners for the second Test on the drop-in pitch here at the Adelaide Oval.
In one sense, they are in exactly the right place for such an audacious switch in policy since Australia, land of the pokie machine, is the gambling capital of the world. But the tourists will doubtless bear in mind that this also means more money is lost per head each year on betting here than in any other country.
In another sense, of course, it is a gamble only in modern terms. Up until 40 years ago, two spinners were all but de rigueur. Then, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann might already have played 50 Test matches together instead of the 10 they have managed in this era.
Alastair Cook, England’s captain, said on Tuesday as he sat in front of the Sir Don Bradman Pavilion overlooking this incomplete new stadium: “I think it is a serious option. The wicket looks good. I haven’t seen it today but it looked quite dry yesterday.
“We will do whatever to make sure we pick the best-balanced XI for those conditions,” he added. “It would be wrong to look at the Australian side and think, ‘this is what they would least like us to do’. We must do what we want to for the conditions.”
It is possible that Cook and England are merely teasing. By the time play starts at 10.30am local time, they might have plumped for something slightly less bold, recalling the paceman Tim Bresnan in an attack containing the habitual three seamers and a spinner. That would probably mean Gary Ballance of Yorkshire coming into the side for his debut at No 6.
Perhaps nothing should be read into Panesar, who missed the first Test in Brisbane, spending 15 minutes out in the middle yesterday with the spin bowling coach, Mushtaq Ahmed. They appeared to be speaking the language of spin bowlers, assessing wind direction and which end might be more suitable for the left-arm spinner.
But the tourists were pushed mischievously in the direction of two spinners by Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke, who named England’s team for the first Test a week before it was officially announced and was spot on. This time he declined to have a bash at all XI.
“I have no idea who they’re going to select, and I’m not going to get involved in that,” said Clarke. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if they played two spinners. The wicket generally in Adelaide is pretty good, I think there is the possibility as the game goes on that the wicket will spin, there’s no doubt about that.
“With so many right-handers through our middle-order I think Monty Panesar could bowl to the right-handers; spinning the ball away, he certainly has an advantage. So I wouldn’t be surprised if England picked two spinners.”
A year ago, the Swann-Panesar combination in Mumbai hauled England back into the series against India after a heavy loss in the first Test. Between them they took 19 of India’s 20 wickets.
If that is bound to come into England’s thinking, they resisted the temptation to play them both at home last summer on dry, slow, turning pitches. Perhaps Clarke was right and the plethora of right-handers allied to Australia’s determination to plunder Swann will persuade England on a bold course.
Its implementation would substantially increase the chances of Ben Stokes making his debut as a batting all-rounder at No 6 to pick up the slack as third seamer. That would also enhance the audacity because there is a general feeling that Stokes is not yet ready to be the fulcrum of England’s middle-order.
The last time England played two spinners in a Test match in Australia was in 1990-91: Eddie Hemmings and Phil Tufnell at Sydney. At Adelaide, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds both played in 1986-87 and bowled 149 of England’s 261 overs.
Back in the day, two spinners were the norm. Even when England won the Ashes largely through the raw pace of Frank Tyson in 1954-55, Johnny Wardle and Bob Appleyard appeared in four of the five matches. In 1970-71 when John Snow was ensuring Australia had their full quota of chin music, Ray Illingworth and Derek Underwood were also in tandem.
Whatever option they choose, Cook is aware that the men with the caps have to be influential in this match. There is a general view that the squad’s sojourn to Alice Springs last week helped in allowing the dust to settle after the 381-run defeat in Brisbane. There, the captain told his team they had to pull their socks up.
“There were frank words spoken because you can’t hide behind the fact we lost heavily in Brisbane,” he said. “If you start wrapping yourselves in cotton wool and saying ‘it will be all right’ then you’ve missed the point. We didn’t play very well and were exposed at certain points in that game.
“Now we need people to stand up and deliver. It’s all well and good talking about it in the classroom, it’s about doing in out there.”
While the nature of the pitch is largely unknown, it will certainly not be as quick or as bouncy as The Gabba. That will not exactly neuter Mitchell Johnson but it may diminish his menace.
Cook, no sledger himself (“not funny enough”), has had a word with the match referee, Jeff Crowe, about the teams’ conduct. He is aware of his duties and that it might have gone too far at Brisbane.
“Some of those scenes were ugly at the end of that game and we do have a duty to play the game in the right way,” he said. “We want to play tough cricket just like Australia, but we have to make sure we stick to those boundaries and I bear a responsibility for that.”
For a team who were crushed at The Gabba, England seem remarkably relaxed. If they can win the toss, if they can make at least 450, if the pitch wears, if they can recapture their self-belief in the big moments, they can level the series. Big ifs maybe, but not insurmountable.
Spin twins: Swann and Panesar
Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar have appeared in the same England team on 10 occasions but did not win a match together until the eighth attempt – against India in Mumbai last year.
Panesar 44 wickets.
Swann 43 wickets.
Second Ashes Test: Adelaide details
Australia M J Clarke (capt), C J L Rogers, D A Warner, S R Watson, S P D Smith, G J Bailey, B J Haddin (wk), M G Johnson, P M Siddle, R J Harris, N M Lyon.
England A N Cook (capt), M A Carberry, J E Root, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, B A Stokes, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Umpires M Erasmus (SA) & K Dharmasena (SL).
Day 1 Overcast, Max temp: 18C.
Day 2 Overcast, 21C.
Day 3 Sunny spells, 28C.
Day 4 Mainly overcast, 29C.
Day 5 Sunny spells, 22C.
Television Sky Sports 2, 11pm-8am.
Test odds Australia 13/8; Draw 6/4; England 5/2.Reuse content