England's spin options: who can threaten Moeen Ali?

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Moeen Ali will turn out in three County Championship games for Worcestershire in an effort to secure his place as England's first-choice spinner for the summer series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan beginning in May.

Ali will likely be a shoo-in but there will always be the looming possibility that the 28-year-old will be dropped to allow a more permanent spin option the chance to develop.

He is fortunate that there are few other spinners who would be able to match his test bowling average of 39.76 and even fewer that will be able to back that up with a batting average of 27.91.


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Although that average is admirable, England are going to have to find a spinner who can take that number closer to 30 if they ever want to be the best test side in the world once again.

Ali himself recognises that he can't afford to be complacent as he has said he is aiming to 'get some form with the bat and ball and put my hand up for selection in the test series'.

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If Moeen is unsure about his position in the side then who might possibly be threatening his position as England's premium slow bowler?

Adil Rashid

The 28-year-old Yorkshire leg-spinner is a fixture of England's limited overs team but is yet to push on for regular selection with the red ball in hand.

In the UAE against Pakistan, he averaged nearly 70 over three matches despite taking five wickets in a sensational spell that gave his side an unlikely chance of victory.

Pakistan v England - 3rd Test: Day Three

Other than that five-for, Rashid only took three more wickets against the same opponents he would have to face later on in the summer. Although Ali didn't fare too much better, with nine wickets in the series, an off-spinner will always be perceived as having more control.

When comparing their first-class records, there is little to choose between the two but Rashid probably didn't do enough on friendly UAE wickets to be England's only spinner.

Zafar Ansari

Had it not been for a broken thumb on the day of the 24-year-old's call-up, there was a fair chance that this Surrey opener and left-arm spinner would have made his test debut.

Instead, Moeen Ali was forced into becoming a makeshift opener where he averaged only 14. Chances are, Ansari would have done better than that: his 2,469 first-class runs came at a strike rate of just 36, suggesting he has the grit to grind out a score in any conditions.

While his thumb injury might make a selection for the Sri Lanka series a long-shot, if Alex Hales can't improve as Alastair Cook's opening partner, Ansari would surely be a fair bet to open against Pakistan.

Lancashire v Surrey - LV County Championship Division Two

Even though he may not need to directly replace Ali, his bowling average of 35 is four fewer than that of England's current first choice so he could well be given the chance to open and be the sole spinner if Trevor Bayliss and Cook feel the need to bolster their seam options.

Ollie Rayner

At 30 years of age, your first reaction might be "why should England waste their time on someone so old?"

It may go against the young ethos that Bayliss has been pivotal in implementing but as Rayner himself writes, he strongly believes in "the theory that spinners get better with age".

Standing at six foot five, he has the raw traits to produce turn and bounce but has been a victim of English domestic cricket tailoring pitches to suit seam bowling.

Northamptonshire v Middlesex - LV County Championship

Jeetan Patel criticised Rayner for not practising enough but the problem may be more with the reluctance of county captains to give spin bowlers the chance to bowl long spells.

Patel has played nearly double the number of first-class games as Rayner yet if the Englishman had played the same number of matches, he would still have bowled around 12,000 balls fewer than the Kiwi.

Despite his lack of use by Middlesex, his 203 wickets at 35 came while conceding just 2.86 runs per over.

Danny Briggs

With a first-class average that few other English spinners will be able to match, the 24-year-old who recently moved to Sussex has 194 wickets at an average of just 32.

His outings for England in the T20 and ODI formats may have left a slightly unfavourable taste in the mouth of English selectors (his T20 economy from seven matches is just over 11) but he is still known as one the best limited overs bowlers in the country.

His 4-day record warrants test match recognition but he may struggle to shake off his tag as a specialist in shorter forms for the time being.

Sussex v Surrey

His switch from Hampshire is designed to get him more games in the County Championship and with the toss now being abandoned to allow for fairer pitches, the factors may be coming together in his - and every other spinner's - favour.

Anyone else?

England could always turn to Samit Patel who has only ever played test cricket in the sub-continent but with only seven wickets in his six test matches, he would just be a stop-gap when extra batting and more spin options are required.

It is a shame Simon Kerrigan's only test match outing was such a disaster (he went wicketless and got whacked everywhere at an economy of 6.62) as his first-class average of 29 is better than anyone mentioned on this list.

That performance could possibly prevent any further international recognition: as soon as your hear the name of the 26-year-old left arm orthodox, your mind goes straight to Shane Watson swatting him around the Oval.

England and India Net Sessions

There is also a lot of buzz around 19-year-old Mason Crane and while it would be tempting to chuck in such an exciting prospect, as Rayner has said, spinners get better as they age and putting him in too early might do irreparable damage.

There are promising words for young spinners coming from England's current coach Bayliss and a successful former coach Andy Flower however.

Australian Bayliss has said he wouldn't be afraid to play two spinners in the future to give players the chance to develop and Flower has been heavily critical of English pitches and how they favour "dibbly-dobbly bowlers".

It's unlikely Ali will be dropped for the foreseeable future but young English spinners should take heart from the fact that those with influence in the game are seriously concerned about their plight in the domestic game.

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