While England’s concerns over who will lead their spin attack in the future continue, they can take heart from looking at the South Africans, and how well they cope without a world-class spinner in their ranks.
After just one game as captain, Hashim Amla is now one win away from taking the Proteas back to the summit of the ICC Test Rankings. A 2-0 series victory against Sri Lanka will put them above Australia.
And whilst touring on the sub-continent, they have once again exhibited their ability to star in the Test arena without the services of a fear-evoking spin bowler.
Sure, they did have Imran Tahir in their side, but the Pakistan-born bowler only averages 45 with the ball from the 14 Test matches he has played in. In the recent victory at Galle, Tahir claimed match figures of 1/139.
The 35-year-old’s best return in a five-day contest came last October, when he took 5/32 against Pakistan in Dubai. But generally speaking, the leg-spinner offers more of a supporting role to the stars of the South African side.
Equally as important as batting behemoths like Amla and Ab de Villiers, are the seam bowlers.
World-class seam attack
In Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, South Africa possess a tricky triumvirate of fast bowlers – wicket-takers who rarely fail to deliver what is asked of them by their skipper.
With such a reliable flow of wickets streaming when these players are on a hot streak, there isn’t as much necessity for a spin bowler to be working his magic towards the end of a Test match.
In addition to Tahir, the side often make the most of part-time off-breaker, JP Duminy. The diminutive batsman has 30 Test wickets at a better average than the Proteas’ senior spinner.
Reliable batting order
While South Africa would be even stronger with a player who can turn the ball round corners and take 25 wickets in a series, the sheer quality of their other bowling options and their batting put them amongst the best in the world.
High scores with the bat are virtually assured, which means that they can afford to dismiss opposition sides for more in their final innings.
Sri Lanka victory
In the recent 153-run win at Galle, it looked for a time as though Amla would pay the price for declaring too cheaply, especially when Sri Lanka were 110/1 at the close of play on day four.
Still 260 shy of victory, they started strongly, only to be undone by the quality of Steyn and Morkel. The pair took four wickets apiece as they skittled the Sri Lankans for just 216 all out in the end.
England need a spinner
Unfortunately for England, they can’t rely on the likes of Steyn, Philander and Morkel – ranked first, third and 16th respectively in the ICC Test bowling rankings – and as such, they need to help themselves by selecting a spinner capable of turning a game situation on its head with a quick flurry of wickets.
While South Africa are on the brink of returning to the top of the world rankings, it could be some time before England find themselves in a similar situation.
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