England’s lack of post-Swann spinners laid bare by India – and dry pitches

Moeen Ali has been thrust into a role of front line spinner for which he is as yet ill-equipped

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The Independent Online

Spin and all its arcane slipperiness might yet come back to haunt England. With the Test series against India starting tomorrow, it is becoming worryingly apparent that slow bowling may play a much more prominent role than the home side would prefer.

The evidence of the first two Tests of the summer suggests pitches could be dry and low, wearing as the match goes on. The home side and the tourists had different views on this on Monday. England have no specialist spinners in their squad, India could pick two. Stuart Broad, one of England’s four fast bowlers, said the ball did not carry through to the keeper in either match against Sri Lanka, at Lord’s and Headingley.

“They turned out to be really slow and both really should have been draw wickets,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how this series plays out. But if they’re dry, India will be licking their lips with the two spinners won’t they?”

It is clear England have thought of this scenario. While India are top-heavy with fast bowling of unproven quality, they also have spin options in R Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja. Virat Kohli, the middle order  batsman from whom great things are expected, made it his mission on Monday to suggest England should worry about the absence of the retired Graeme Swann.

“He’s been one of England’s most important bowlers in the last few years,” said Kohli. “Obviously his absence will be something that will be a key factor. You knew even if the fast bowlers had finished their spells there was a  quality spinner who could get you out.”

England must be offering a prayer, if not outright instructions to groundsmen throughout the land. They also have to trust that Moeen Ali, thrust into a role of front line spinner for which he is as yet ill-equipped, can somehow bridge the gap between part-timer and world class twirler.

Moeen looks proficient against left-handers but all of India’s likely middle order are right-handed. That presents an entirely different challenge for Moeen’s plain off breaks.

The state of the pitches  perplexed Broad and may vex his colleagues if the sun shines. Last year, when Swann was around, dry pitches were what England sought (and got) against Australia, but it is not so easy to prepare something different.

“I think it’s the drainage,” said Broad. “Clubs have all spent huge money on drainage systems to make sure we can get out on the field but I don’t know how much research was done into what they’ll do to the pitches.

“I know our players three or four years ago brought the  theory up that they were making the wickets too dry too early and it is quite hard to keep bounce in them now unless you leave them really green, which Test match wickets just don’t do. So it is a bit of an issue we’re  suffering with.”

The lack of a spinner is compounded by the schedule. So cramped is it, with a five-match series over 42 days, the fast bowlers on whom England almost wholly depend will be exhausted, if not injured, by the end of proceedings.