Vaughan has talent to be real threat with ball

Fourth Test: England captain must take more serious view of opener's off-spin as chairman of selectors on receiving end of abusive mail

Henry Blofeld
Tuesday 21 January 2014 03:25

Nasser Hussain is not the only England captain in recent times to have a grave suspicion about the effectiveness of English spinners as a breed. This may derive from the fact that English conditions make it almost impossible for top-class wrist spinners to be successfully developed and it is they and not the finger spinners who produce the results in modern Test cricket.

The finger spinner – the off-spinner and the orthodox slow left-armer – has been turned into a stock bowler who is looking for exactly the sort of figures, 48-12-98-2, which Giles returned in India's first innings, rather than, say, 7 for 28 in many fewer overs.

It was the latter which were, from time to time, his reward when the game was played on uncovered pitches and the sun was able to get to work on the pitch after rain. He is no longer considered a strike weapon.

Of course, Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq are off-spinners, but of a freakish nature. Muralitharan has a double-jointed wrist while Saqlain's freakery comes from the ability also to turn the ball away from the right-hander although not as a result of any unusual physical attribute.

The most significant wicket to fall after Rahul Dravid on the fourth day at The Oval was that of Ajit Agarkar. He is a flashing strokemaker who relies a good deal more on eye than footwork as we saw when he made that exciting hundred in the Lord's Test match. He now faced Michael Vaughan, who had shown at Trent Bridge when he bowled Sachin Tendulkar with a beauty, that he has it in him to become a serious contributor as an off-spinner.

Agarkar first produced the stroke of the day when he drove Vaughan effortlessly with the spin over a straight midwicket for six. The next ball was thrown up outside the off-stump and was almost an exact replica of the one which had bowled Tendulkar. Agarkar threw his bat into an expansive cover drive without the requisite footwork and the ball spun back between bat and pad and knocked out his middle stump.

It was a beauty, tempting the batsman to go for the off-drive and earning its reward when the gap appeared between bat and pad. It was a delivery which should have made Hussain realise that he must take a more serious view of Vaughan's off-spin. If he is trusted more and given the opportunity to develop further, he would soon become a regular option.

There is no reason that Vaughan should not be considered as the second spinner in the party for Australia for he is already a better bet than those other occasionals, Mark Ramprakash or Graeme Hick, ever were. But Hussain's natural suspicion will take some lifting.

After tea on this fourth day India were eight wickets down with only the tail-enders left and the ball turning. Even then, he did not have the confidence to bowl Giles and Vaughan in tandem. If he had, one felt that the innings would have ended sooner than it did. Old habits die hard.

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