England have produced an inge-nious solution in their search for a mystery slow bowler. They have simply decided not to reveal the identity of the third spinner for the tour of India.
Brilliant though this ploy may be by selectors whose choices brought about the downfall of Australia - never mind whether he delivers googlies or doosras, simply keep everybody guessing who it might be - it also successfully obscures the real method by which their team might win the Test series.
Whoever clinches what is effectively a bowl-off for the final spinning place is highly unlikely to play a significant role in beating (or indeed losing to) India. One of Alex Loudon (off-spinning and doosra-bearing all-rounder), Ian Blackwell (slow left-arm and thunderous batsman) and Monty Panesar (pure slow left-arm) will make the trip mainly as an extra hoping for a speaking part.
If England are to win and reinvigorate their objective of becoming the No 1 side in the world they will do so because of the diverse potency of their seam attack. It was the combination of Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones that regained the Ashes. On the failed Test tour of Pakistan, three of that quartet took 36 of the 47 Pakistan wickets to fall.
Jones, of course, was absent, recovering from surgery on the injured ankle that forced him to miss the final match of the Ashes. Not for the first time he has worked hard and courageously to regain full fitness, and his return again completes the jigsaw. To take 20 Indian wickets to win a match, England will presumably need all four with new ball and old, but it is Jones's skill in reverse-swinging the old ball that may give them an edge.
To hope that any two of England's slow bowlers could compete with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh on their own pitches would be to make wishful thinking part of the Level Four coaching certificate. India's batsmen recently made relative mincemeat of Muttiah Mura-litharan while India's pair were irrepressible - notwithstanding the fact that in being pummelled by Pakistan yesterday they also came to resemble mincemeat.
This should not diminish the importance of Ashley Giles making the trip. His role as a holding bowler who eschews frills has become integral, and the fact that he managed to foil Australia's simple plan of smashing him should never be underestimated. His fitness after hip surgery is not quite touch and go, but nor is it a stone-cold certainty. On it may depend who else goes.
Panesar's supporters have hardly reduced in number in the past week, but they should remember that he is neither a complete bowler nor a complete cricketer. It turns out that his omission from the National Academy intake last September was probably a simple selectorial oversight, but it did tend to ignore one salient fact.
Left-arm spinners have played a traditional role in English Test cricket, greater than that of off-break bowlers. Of the 17 spinners to have taken 100 Test wickets for England, 11 have been left-armers. Panesar might one day be an honourable addition, and there is also the element of his Sikh background in the sudden clamour for his inclusion. Criticism is starting to be muttered that England are not making enough of their ethnic cricketers.
For now, however, they should probably go for Blackwell. He can bat, and he demonstrated in the one-day series in Pakistan that he can keep good batsmen reasonably quiet. But that England have to choose their third spinner fromthree men who have never played a Test match and a 36-year-old who has played in only three tells a story. Yet the selectors deserve credit for achieving one of their objectives: with a World Cup approaching, no fewer than 13 of the players are in both squads, thus confirming the notion of converging the teams, as outlined in 2004.
The A team to West Indies will be announced early this week. Dovetailing neatly as it does with the India tour, it will contain those members of the one-day squad for India (Kabir Ali, Jimmy Anderson, possibly Blackwell) who are not in the Test party, and several Academy students. If batting cover is required, the 20-year-old Alastair Cook will have to make his way from the Caribbean to the subcontinent.
Test party: M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, A Flintoff, G O Jones, A F Giles, S P Jones, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, P D Collingwood, S D Udal, L E Plunkett, M J Prior.
One-day party: Vaughan (capt), Trescothick, Strauss, Bell, Pietersen, Flintoff, G O Jones, Giles, S P Jones, Harmison, Collingwood, Plunkett, J M Anderson, I D Blackwell, Prior, Kabir Ali.
Itinerary: 13 Feb: Arrive in Bombay. 18-20 Feb: Three-day practice match, CCI Mumbai (involving all England players). 23-25 Feb: President's XI, Baroda. 1-5 March: First Test, Nagpur. 9-13 March: Second Test, Mohali. 18-22 March: Third Test, Bombay. 25 March: One-day tour match, Jaipur. 28 March: First ODI, Delhi. 31 March: Second ODI, Faridabad. 3 April: Third ODI, Goa. 6 April: Fourth ODI, Cochin. 9 April: Fifth ODI, Guwahati. 12 April: Sixth ODI, Jamshedpur. 15 April: Seventh ODI, Indore.Reuse content