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In a spin - what Adil Rashid's white ball decision means for England

February 23, 2018

The improvement in England's white ball cricket under Trevor Bayliss has been a notable one, notwithstanding the recent tri-series of Twenty20 matches in Australia and new Zealand. England were an over away from winning the World T20 two winters ago and their 50-over cricket has been utterly transformed.

Indeed, much of English cricket's ambitions now lie with their one-day international (ODI) team, so much so that fans booking corporate hospitality for the clash with Australia at the Kia Oval this summer may be as keen to see England take the World Cup off the Aussies' hands in 2019 as the Ashes. 

Ideally, of course, fans would love to see both, a feat that would make it perhaps the most memorable summer in English cricket history. 

However, for some players at least there has been a clear decision to opt for white ball cricket over red, or vice-versa. While Alastair Cook has been a Test specialist since losing the one-day captaincy before the 2015 World Cup, his replacement Eoin Morgan has long since exclusively become a white ball player. This month, Adil Rashid and Alex Hales have followed suit.

The decision may seem to make sense for Hales, who had played as a middle-order batsman for Nottinghamshire in the Specsavers County Championship last season, but opens in one-day cricket and had an unsuccessful spell at the top of the order in Tests. His focus might indeed help him become the best one-day opener in the world and help England compile even larger totals in limited-over games.

Leg-spinner Rashid's decision only to play limited-over cricket for Yorkshire, however, may raise a few eyebrows, as he has not played Test cricket since the series in India last winter and was overlooked for the Ashes squad in favour of Mason Crane. He had a highly successful ODI series in Australia and this may have persuaded him that this is where his future lies. 

Others, however, might lament that his variations were not unleashed in the Ashes, not least as his googly appeared to be the kryptonite England had been looking for against Steve Smith's superhuman accumulation of runs. 

Indeed, a substantial case could have been made for a Test recall for Rashid, a capable all-rounder who would also offer the runs Moeen Ali was not producing and tailender Crane could never have supplied. At 30, he is at an age when spinners come into their prime. 

Moreover, Moeen's own Ashes struggles - he took just five wickets in five Tests - left him vulnerable and if he cannot recapture some form in next month's two Tests in New Zealand, more questions will be asked.

A key question this summer, therefore, will be what happens in England's Test spin department. The Pakistan series is too early in the season for spin to play a big role and India play slow bowlers better than anyone, but there is a winter tour to spin-friendly Sri Lanka to follow. In the absence of Rashid, this summer offers a big opportunity for a spinner to emerge from county cricket to challenge Moeen and Crane.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moeen has backed Rashid's white ball decision, and that of Hales, telling the BBC Test Match Special programme: "It will be great for England long-term.

"We're going to have real specialists and it's something a lot of players will probably do further down the line."

That may be the case - and be good news for England's ODI and T20 teams. But it might also leave a vacancy for a truly top-class spinner who can win Test matches for England regularly to emerge.

Image: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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