Atherton's apprehension over spin

Henry Blofeld on a superb day for England's spinner Robert Croft

Henry Blofeld
Thursday 19 December 1996 00:02

While Robert Croft stole the show with his splendid off-spin bowling - it was the best spell I have seen for a long time - it was a day which also emphasised the inherent lack of faith that Mike Atherton has in spin bowling.

In the morning, after the boost of an early wicket, England's seam bowlers produced a most wasteful and disappointing display on a surface which with a little early moisture gave them some help.

Atherton tried all five of his bowlers. Yet by lunch the stirring strokeplay of Alistair Campbell and the more adhesive methods of opener Grant Flower had given Zimbabwe an important advantage. But there had been one crucial piece of evidence: both Croft and Phil Tufnell had turned the ball.

Campbell and Flower played themselves in again after lunch before Flower edged Chris Silverwood to slip. Six runs later Croft bowled to Campbell and gave a ball which he held back a beguiling amount of air. Campbell took the bait and came down the pitch and drove powerfully, but he was beaten in the air and the ball sliced to backward point. It was a great piece of bowling.

With the ball turning and with two new batsmen at the crease, it was now that Atherton missed a most important trick, and all because of his apprehensions about spin bowling which have all too often been evident. He should at once have brought Tufnell on at the Town End to partner Croft. It was the perfect moment for the two spinners to bowl in tandem.

Yet Atherton persisted with Silverwood and Darren Gough who, although they bowled better than they had in the morning, which was not difficult, were never likely to cause the same problems as the two spinners. The two new batsmen, David Houghton and Andy Flower, both started badly but managed to survive.

Croft continued at the airport end after tea and soon produced another beauty. He bowled Houghton a quicker ball which went on with his arm and away from the right hander and found the edge of his back-foot forcing stroke. This was another demonstration of the excellent and wide variety Croft has at his disposal. In Swansea, his mentor, Don Shepherd, the former Glamorgan bowler, must have been delighted.

It was only now that Atherton brought Tufnell into the attack with Croft and of course the left-arm spinner did not bowl with the confidence he would have done if he had joined forces with Croft soon after lunch. His captain had hardly given him a vote of confidence.

By not using Croft and Tufnell together until so late in the day, Atherton did not give Tufnell his best chance nor England the opportunity of bowling Zimbabwe out on this first day. He must realise that good spinners are an integral part of an attack and, just as important, he must learn to trust them - otherwise what is the point of having them in the side?

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