Ideal Rashid is ready to turn heads
One-day side still needs fine-tuning but emerging all-rounder can help to provide balance
The one-day match played at The Oval on Friday will soon be forgotten. Most of the 20,000 who watched it might have struggled to recall it by the time they reached the Hobbs Gates on the way out of the ground.
In one important respect, however, the first match of the 2009 NatWest Series between England and Australia will be recalled down the years. It was the day – the day-night, to use the correct one-day parlance – on which an international cricketer emerged.
Adil Rashid is not the finished article but he is the real deal. He must be given time to cope with the demands of big-time cricket and it would be futile to expect great all-round deeds yet awhile. But on the ground where 11 days previously England had recaptured the Ashes was a cricketer who might very well help his country to keep winning them.
The statistical evidence for such an assertion is superficially flimsy. Ten overs of leg spin for 37 runs and 31 not out from 23 balls in a losing cause are not quite the headlines of heroes. But the manner in which Rashid went about his work in both departments was confirmation that he knew his business.
Finding a pitch which suited him, he bowled with some skill and guile. There was turn and there was drift. Crucially, the bad balls which have marred his ascent were, if not absent, then rare. The middle part of the innings when he bowled might have been the right time for a young bowler to be on but he was not intimidated. He was the only England bowler to go at under four runs an over.
His batting was equally measured. Coming in at 178 for 6, it was all seemingly up for England. Perhaps cajoled by the unbridled hitting of Luke Wright, Rashid did not panic in the face of an increasingly oppressive target. The pair's efforts ensured that England took the game to the last ball. Had Rashid managed to face just a couple of balls more, England might have won a game that they had done their best to lose throughout their innings.
For Rashid anything is possible. If England are to prosper at the one-day game it needs to be as well. Despite his deceptively easy assurance there is still evidently a lot of work to be done on the side that are nominally fourth in the world rankings but who will go to the Champions Trophy in South Africa next month with only mild expectations of reaching the semi-final stage.
Rashid gives the impression of knowing how good a cricketer he is and he is also more worldly than the 18-year-old who began playing for Yorkshire three years ago and surprised more knowing team-mates. He will not be 22 until next February and his bowling discipline, leg spin, is one of the most complex in cricket, sometimes as deep a mystery to its purveyor as to those receiving it.
He has sometimes gone round the park this summer – 14 overs cost 97 runs against Nottinghamshire – but in his last two Championship matches he has taken five wickets in an innings and scored a hundred. That takes a player of rare gifts.
Rashid will be important for what he represents, of course, a kid of Asian background born in Bradford. He and Ravi Bopara, from the other end of the country, can be seminal figures in the development and evolution of Asian cricketers in the England team. Nasser Hussain, the finest of all England captains in the past 20 years, led the way, but things can be expected to change rapidly in the next decade.
There will be a regular supply of cricketers of Asian background and culture. One of them, Monty Panesar, became almost overnight one of the most popular sportsmen in the country. His place in the team is now under profound and imminent threat – from Rashid.
It will be fascinating to discover if Rashid and Graeme Swann appear regularly together in England's one-day team. They were undoubtedly a success at The Oval on Friday but the team still had an odd balance.
There were only four specialist batsmen in the side, discounting Matt Prior. Although Wright is an admirable cricketer in so many ways and plays attractive, full-on cricket, to have him as the fulcrum of the side at No 6 is probably not a realistic option for long. He is a blaster and the No 6 position demands a finisher, an accumulator as well as a slogger, which he may struggle to become – unless England have plans to devise a system of their own. They certainly need some batsmen with cool heads and cooler bats.
Too much seems still to be up in the air, if not being executed on a wing and a prayer. Despite the victories against West Indies this year, there seems no pattern yet to England's one-day cricket. The second match in the NatWest Series is today at Lord's and, September or not, all seven will be crucial for England to be anything like prepared for the Champions Trophy.
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