The English spinners have proven me wrong about the need for Jack Leach’s control | England in India 2024

WWhen England left for India I thought Jack Leach would be their main bowler; Two games later – and he only played in the first Test – he was ruled out of the series and I’m not sure if that will have much impact. That’s because of the performances of England’s young spinners, Jasprit Bumrah’s reverse swing and the realization that seam bowling could be more important than anyone expected.

With his experience, Leach was the only England spinner who I believed could control his bowling in the heat of the moment when the pressure is on, and therefore seemed crucial to their chances of taking 20 wickets.

In home conditions, England use their fast-medium bowlers to gain some control, but in India it’s spin and they often struggle because they lack bowlers with sufficient accuracy. But in the first two Tests, Ben Stokes was exceptionally good at handling his young spinners, maneuvering his bowling attack and placing his fields. Leach’s absence has a very different feel now.

To be successful in Test cricket, you have to believe that you deserve to be out there and that your game is good enough. There is no room for doubt. Sometimes young players are wonderfully naive and just go out and play with no expectations of themselves, but they can also think too much and be a little intimidated.

Mentality is an important trait that England look at when assessing players – it’s not just about their playing ability. England’s management of their young players has been outstanding in recent years and Tom Hartley, Shoaib Bashir and Rehan Ahmed have come into the team, played well and will be a strong contender.

The importance of reverse swing in the series surprised me. It reminds me of the summer of 1992 when Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram were so brilliant in England. As a middle-order batter you often come into play with a ball that has lost its luster and that is usually hard work for the seamers, but in this series you knew after 40 overs that the ball would suddenly start going backwards at high speed to swing, and that’s what you would do in trouble.

Tom Hartley has stepped in for England in Jack Leach’s absence. Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

Finding the right angle against the inswing is difficult: I remember working with Joe Root on how to deal with Bumrah and the challenge was knowing where his off-stump was. Because of the wide throwing angle, you can be tempted to play balls you shouldn’t play, but if you keep that in mind, you can also pass balls you shouldn’t play. Someone like Zak Crawley, batting off-stump, may see the inswinger as a ball he can score, but his challenge is for his bat to get over the ball to play it to the on-side, and the margin for error is tiny.

Pace is important here: Ollie Robinson, for example, may be able to swing the ball too, but he gives the batsmen a little more time to adjust. Still, the Bumrah effect, Jimmy Anderson’s performance in the second Test and the success of the young spinners mean England will be optimistic.

They will certainly be well rested as they have been in Abu Dhabi since the end of the second test. A few decades ago they would have stayed in India and played a few first-class matches, but it seems sensible to avoid the situation they found themselves in at the end of their 1992/93 tour of India, when they played 16 matches and Phil Tufnell said, “I made the elephants and I made the poverty, it’s time to go home.”

It’s a different game now, but I wonder if England’s young spinners could have taken their game further while playing in India instead of relaxing in the United Arab Emirates. It would have had the added benefit of avoiding the visa issue that would certainly distract Rehan.

On the other hand, older players like Stokes, Root and Jonny Bairstow must have welcomed the move as they have enough experience to know what to do and how to prepare.

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I have often enjoyed these first-class tour games and felt they were a good opportunity to learn about unfamiliar conditions, but there is no perfect answer: Bairstow, a 34-year-old batsman who played 97 Tests and Having played 212 first-class matches, will want a completely different setup to Bashir, a 20-year-old spinner who has played one Test and seven first-class matches. For better or worse, England has chosen to de-stress on Abu Dhabi’s beaches, golf courses and luxury hotels.

With the series tied at 1-1 and after a long break, I’m not sure either side has the advantage. England seem to have the mindset that they are underdogs and will go for it. As long as they stay true to themselves, whatever will be will be, which seems like a good way to keep the pressure down. From their perspective, India has everything to lose given their great home record and demanding fans.

They have already lost Virat Kohli, who has now been ruled out of the entire series. Although they proved in the second Test that they can win without him, this is a huge blow: Kohli is one of the greatest players of his generation, but more than that, he drives his team forward and never accepts second best. He is great at communicating with the crowd, getting them excited and excited, and when an opposing player is going well, he is not afraid to engage in verbal exchanges to break their concentration.

He’s a titan of the modern game, a box office draw, and every team would be weaker without him.

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