Cricket

England: Do they really need a specialist spinner?

Moeen Ali has proven he is more than just a part-time spinner (©GettyImages)
Moeen Ali has proven he is more than just a part-time spinner (©GettyImages).

Not many people would have predicted headlines such as 'Ali spins England to 266-run victory' or 'Moeen takes five-wicket haul in England win' but that is exactly what happened on the fifth day of the third Test match.

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Moeen Ali's performance at the Ageas Bowl against India has given England's spin bowling department a huge lift after months of criticism since Graeme Swann's premature departure from the winter Ashes series before Christmas.

Five-wicket Test haul

Ali's second innings figures of 6-67, his first five-wicket Test haul, simply blew away an Indian side who are historically very adept at playing spin bowling, even on helpful pitches. He also grabbed two wickets in the first innings to leave him with match-figures of 8-129. It is also worth noting that some of the players he dismissed were not just tailenders. Highly rated players such as Virat Kohli were his victims.

Although Ali still has a long way to go before he is regarded as a front-line Test match spin bowler this performance now begs the question whether England will be looking to employ a specialist spinner in future Test matches, certainly short-term anyway. There is no doubt there is a lot of work to do in the spin department in England but that will be more of a short to long-term issue for the ECB.

Moeen has definitely grown in confidence over the summer and this Test match could be a turning point in his career as a spin bowler. Cook himself has become more confident in using the Worcestershire player, whereas earlier in the summer you sensed a real reluctance from the England captain to use him at all. Perhaps Cook's own upturn in form and fortune, and therefore confidence, has inadvertently helped Ali.

Ideally England would like to have discovered a spin bowler who could step straight into Test match cricket but the fact that Ali is having to learn on the job is not necessarily the worst position to be in. He could well learn faster because of it.

Replacement 

Replacing Swann was never going to be easy, given his fantastic record at International level, but it was almost as if England were sent into a state of panic when Swann dramatically left their horrific Ashes tour.

Now, without getting too carried away, there is reason for optimism for England's supporters and Swann's retirement can be now put behind them.

Moeen will not bowl on pitches as helpful as the Ageas Bowl every week and this is where he will need to develop patience and a variety of deliveries in order to take wickets. I am sure his time working with, and listening to, Worcestershire's overseas player Saeed Ajmal has proven very productive for him and if he is still happy to learn and develop from the very best then he may have a good chance of becoming England's number one spin bowler for a number of years.

If Ali can continue bowling well then he will also help England's selectors as he will give them more options when selecting teams. As Ali is a batsman first and foremost, and then a spin bowler, England could employ four seam bowlers and a spinner in every game without affecting the depth of their batting line-up. They will also have the added back-up of Joe Root who could bowl his part-time off-breaks. Let's also not forget Gary Ballance as well. His leg spin, if developed, could also be another variation.

Question 

The only question mark that could arise about Moeen Ali's place in the England side is if he fails consistently to score runs.

One word of caution though. Typically England fans are very quick to build players up, and equally quick to knock them back down again, so we must not get carried away by Moeen Ali's performance in the third Test. However, he has proven that there are definitely reasons to be cheerful for both his and England's future.

Topics:
India cricket
Cricket
Graeme Swann
England cricket

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