Fast four cannot hide the awful truth

Quick men are fine but lack of class spinner is alarming
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The Independent Online

The final selection of the England 11 underlined an unpalatable truth which has been self-evident for a while. There is no longer an English spin bowler of true international class.

The final selection of the England 11 underlined an unpalatable truth which has been self-evident for a while. There is no longer an English spin bowler of true international class.

Phil Tufnell has won the odd Test match for England and two of them have been at The Oval. But Tufnell brings other baggage with him which has probably counted against him now, and his county form has not been that irresistible.

In the last 10 years Tufnell has played in four Tests at The Oval, Ian Salisbury two, and Peter Such, Mike Watkinson and Robert Croft one each. In 1994 against South Africa, there was - as now - no full-time spinner and Graeme Hick had to do the honours.

None of these, including Tufnell, has ever really established himself as a regular member of the side. The last finger spinner to do this was John Emburey, who played 64 Tests between 1980 and 1992.

Ashley Giles was picked for the 12 at The Oval now and, like all the team in a somewhat strange decision at this stage, knows he will be touring Pakistan. He owes his selection to disenchantment with Tufnell and he may find the tour more pleasurable in anticipation than in fact. We shall see.

The irony now is that for 20 years West Indies beat the world with a phalanx of four fast bowlers while paying only lip service to spin. Perm four from Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Croft, Daniel, Walsh and Ambrose. Now England are returning the favour.But they still need a class spin bowler in order to be balanced and prepared for everything.

The only finger spinners able to capture five quick wickets are the freaks, Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq, who both miraculously are also able to turn the ball from the leg.

These two apart, the spinners who bowl sides out are the wrist spinners: Shane Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed, Anil Kumble, while Zimbabwe's Paul Strang has had his moments. Before the Second World War and immediately afterwards, there were a number of wrist spinners in England; now they are an endangered species and there is not a single unorthodox slow left-armer to be found.

There are only two serious purveyors of leg spin in county cricket who are English: Ian Salisbury and Chris Schofield. Alas, for all their talent, neither appears to have quite the temperament to go with their art. Salisbury is a sensitive soul who was scarred by the justified criticism heaped upon him after his unsuccessful return to the England side for three Tests in 1998, against South Africa and Sri Lanka. Then, the pressures of the big occasion were too much for him as was Hansie Cronje's assault at Trent Bridge.

He is said to be a more mature bowler now. But when bowling for Surrey he has Saqlain at the other end, which may be highly significant, for spinners, like the fast men, bowl better in pairs and feed off each other. In Pakistan, Salisbury will be wearing an England sweater and the closest he will come to Saqlain is when he has to bowl to him. His selection is a gamble which will not have been taken lightly and I only hope that it succeeds.

Another big punt was taken with Schofield when he was given a central contract. This has not worked and the main problem seems to be Schofield himself, who has taken selfconfidence beyond reasonable boundaries.

Even Bobby Simpson, the former Australian captain who is coaching Lancashire, has not been able to work his usual wonders and England's spinning future hangs by a thread.