England’s mauling in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane this time last year offered an uncomfortable glimpse into what was to follow on the tour from hell.
Scott Borthwick was both fortunate and unfortunate to play a part in the final Test of that series in Sydney, by which time England’s fate was well and truly sealed.
He was fortunate in the sense that he got to make his England Test debut in the Ashes at a ground that has traditionally been a spinning haven. The Durham man was also unfortunate that his sole appearance coincided with perhaps the most miserable capitulation of this or any other era.
Having been whistled up from a spell in grade cricket in the city, Borthwick took four wickets with his leg-spin but failed with the bat as a demoralised England could only manage 321 runs in both innings against Australia’s rampant attack.
Borthwick is yet to add to that solitary Test cap. In a summer when he captured just 13 wickets at a cost of almost 60 for Durham, he has hardly been knocking loudly on the selectors’ door. He is spending the winter in Sri Lanka but will not form part of the England one-day squad there for the build-up to the World Cup. Instead he is one of four players who have been sent out by the England Performance Programme to hone their skills in first-class cricket on the island.
Borthwick hopes to emerge from the experience as a genuine spin option when Australia arrive in England next summer. “Playing out there should be good for me,” he tells The Independent. “I’m looking forward to getting out to Sri Lanka and bowling as many overs as I can.
“Last winter I was playing grade cricket in Australia when I got the call-up before the fourth Test in Melbourne and, obviously, on a personal level I was just so happy to be there and be involved in an Ashes tour. It was a shame about the result, clearly, but to play in front of a full house at Sydney was fantastic.
“I probably wished I had bowled a bit better or batted a bit better, but looking back I managed to burgle a few wickets. It was just a great honour and I’m really hungry to have another crack at it.”
The dressing room that Borthwick walked into last winter was hardly the easiest place for a rookie spinner to enter. So was he aware of any of the problems that would subsequently emerge?
“Any team that you play for, when you lose five games on the trot it’s not a nice place to be,” he said. “I was only there for the last two Test matches and, on a personal note, I was still really just buzzing because I had been called up. I didn’t notice the really massive downside. It’s never nice losing and, obviously, the dressing room is going to be down. Losing 5-0 to the Aussies is always going to be a massive disappointment.”
There was more disappointment to follow for Borthwick after a frustrating season, blighted by injuries which impacted his ability to bowl the number of overs a leg-spinner of any age needs to get confidence and rhythm.
It is a measure of his all-round ability, though, that the 24-year-old was not only able to hold down his place in the Durham side but also scored 1,249 runs at an average of 43, batting mainly in the top three.
That said, it is the ball, rather than bat, that represents Borthwick’s best chance of adding to his solitary England cap and he has not been short of high-profile assistance as he looks to offer his country a leg-spinning alternative.
“I worked with Shane [Warne] before the MCC anniversary game,” he says. “I had done a little bit with him in the past but to actually spend a couple of hours with him in the nets was absolutely fantastic.
“I was really picking his brains and he was massive on how to work batsmen out, that was really his strength. He was really emphasising that leg-spin isn’t about bowling that ball that pitches leg and hits off. It’s not about bowling that perfect ball, it’s about working backwards from there, really, and putting the pressure on the batsman.”
Borthwick still has time on his side to put that advice into practice. Graeme Swann, who retired from England duty midway through last winter’s disastrous series, had a wait of almost nine years between his first one-day appearance for England and his Test debut.
“Spin bowling is an art where you need to keep learning and keep working things out,” says Borthwick. “You’re never too old. I’m only 24 and that’s still young as a leg-spinner. You need to keep backing yourself and keep enjoying it.”Reuse content