Salisbury and Giles downcast by disuse

Spinners will spearhead Pakistan's Test bowling attack but England are undecided about their deployment
  • @stephenbrenkley

There are only two things lacking in England's ability with spin bowling. They can't play it and they can't bowl it. Whoever said that was being grossly unkind. The next five weeks will tell if the assessment was also unfair.

There are only two things lacking in England's ability with spin bowling. They can't play it and they can't bowl it. Whoever said that was being grossly unkind. The next five weeks will tell if the assessment was also unfair.

England's batsmen will almost certainly face trial by twirl in the Test series which begins next week: from the revitalised leg breaks of Mushtaq Ahmed; from the magical off-spinner who turns it every which way but loose, Saqlain Mushtaq; and possibly from a new wrist-spinner, Danish Kaneria, who further incited the Pakistani selectors last weekend by bringing home the bacon, if that were possible here, for Karachi Whites when he took 7 for 39 in 19.3 overs. The evidence so far is that England may be convicted as charged unless there is either an amnesty or they unearth some fresh information soon.

The side's two specialist slow bowlers have not been allowed such luxury as the conducting of a proper case. For Ashley Giles and Ian Salisbury habeas corpus was suspended as soon as the squad was announced back in August when they might as well have been taken outside and lynched by the mob. Such is the distrust of spin in England.

The nation purports to want it, does nothing about nurturing it and decries those who purvey it. Giles and Salisbury, orthodox slow left-armer and leg-spinner respectively, are probably the best around, which is hardly their fault. There is a case for them both playing in the First Test at Lahore, though it is likely to be only one of them. Only if the tour management are recklessly negligent will it be neither.

Salisbury and Giles are two extremely personable fellows who know where they stand. As Giles, the left-armer, said yesterday: "I don't really feel under all that much pressure because these guys [the Pakistanis] are stars. Saqlain is the best off-spinner in the world.

"We're up against these guys and we're on a hiding to nothing. Our records keep getting brought up here, there and everywhere so if we do well that's fantastic and people might just sit up and take note a bit."

His new partner said as they sat together by the hotel swimming pool: "It's only opinions. Some people might not read them." But his exasperation was barely concealed.

Their records are not formidable. Giles played his one Test in 1998 and took 1 for 106. He was omitted for the next three matches that summer to make way for Salisbury, who went on to win his 10th, 11th and 12th caps, the first time he had played three successive games since his debut in 1992. Unfortunately, he took only one wicket in those three matches and has a Test average of 70, which would be sensational for a batsman and, come to think of it, is sensational for a bowler as well.

It is obvious, not to say understandable, that they should feel disillusioned at being spin bowlers in England. "You've got live with it," Giles said. "We haven't played on too many helpful wickets. If we played a couple of years over here that would give us a lot of encouragement. Too much in the last three or four years we've been sitting waiting to bowl for 60 to 70 overs, then sometimes just coming on to fill in a few overs."

Salisbury was still more downbeat: "Here you will have noticed the difference in conditions straightaway. We use a softer ball which swings for the first 20 overs, then spinners have to bowl, whereas in England seamers can still swing the ball, bowl bouncers and seam it around in the 100th over and then they go 'Oh great we'll use another new ball now'. So where do spinners fit into the game?" To which the answer is they do not.

For all that, this pair may well be lining up together for the first time. Not since Phil Edmonds and John Emburey have England regularly used two slow bowlers and there is no doubt both would prefer it.

Salisbury again: "It's so much easier when there are two of you. They're probably going to hit us with two spinners, maybe three, and, say we're only playing one it seems a bit unfair.

"Imagine if you were in a schoolyard and there are three people ganging up on one, you know which person you'd back, but if there's somebody else to help you out it's more of an even battle."

England's coach, Duncan Fletcher, is definitely minded to include one spinner in the side and was pleased with the showing of both of them in Rawalpindi last week. They both turned it on a pitch not granting huge encouragement and Salisbury helped to win an A Test for England here four years ago when he took six in an innings.

"We've just got to bowl, not over-attack too much, " said Giles. "It's nice to be in a position where the ball might be thrown to you after 20 overs."

Salisbury is the more inconsistent, the more maddening of the two. He can be bowling beautifully, his googly disguised and menacing when suddenly round-arm dross will intrude. Giles is steadier, turns it less, may be able to tie an end up more effectively.

It is true they may work better together. But it may be too much to wish that Giles and Salisbury will ever have the ring, the fizz, the wickets of Saqlain, Mushtaq, or probably, Danish.