England have inadvertently created a problem

England have inadvertently created a problem.
In the emergence of Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley on the tour of India, Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have raised the question of where the young spinners go next.
There is a decent chance neither will start the home season as first choice at their respective counties.
Bashir, 20, will likely slot in behind Jack Leach at Somerset if England’s number one recovers from knee surgery in time, while 24-year-old Hartley is about to be joined at Lancashire by Australia’s Nathan Lyon, one of the greatest finger spinners of all time.
“It will be a slight frustration of ours if they weren’t given opportunities at county level,” said England coach McCullum.
“There’s a very real possibility that might be the case, but without wanting to dictate to counties because they have their own agendas as well, when you see performances like we have out of those two bowlers, you’d be slightly mad if you didn’t give them more opportunities in county cricket.”

At this stage, it feels important to make a couple of things clear.
This is not a debate about the county schedule and how it affects the development of young spinners, England’s chances of winning abroad or the strength of the pound.
While the number of deliveries bowled by pace bowlers in the County Championship has roughly held steady since 2018, there was a 50% increase of more than 20,000 deliveries when comparing the spin bowled in 2018 to 2022 – there was a drop-off again last summer, no doubt partly a result of the awful weather.
There is also no intention to attack Somerset or Lancashire. Somerset gave Bashir his chance after he was released by Surrey and, along with Leach and Dom Bess, have provided three spinners to England in the past six years.

Hartley has been in the Lancashire system since he was a teenager. The opportunity for the Red Rose to sign a player of Lyon’s calibre must have been irresistible, perhaps partly motivated by the wisdom he can impart to Hartley.
For both counties, an obvious solution would be to play both of their spinners in conditions that get the best from them.
“As much as England is about playing on good wickets and having the ball move off the seam, it should also be about playing on spinning wickets too,” said McCullum.
“I guess if we lived in a world where we could have both Bash and Leachy able to operate in spinning conditions at Somerset and Hartley and Lyon bowl together at Lancashire I think that would be a great viewing point for spectators.”
It is a strong theory, especially given the conditions of Somerset’s Taunton home and Lancashire’s Test venue at Old Trafford.
Since 2018, only a Chelmsford pitch partly tailored for Essex’s brilliant Simon Harmer and Sussex’s Hove have experienced more County Championship deliveries of spin than Old Trafford. Taunton is sixth on that list, behind The Oval and Trent Bridge.

But there are obstacles – an obvious one being half of matches are played away from home. The other is counties knowing for certain that spinning conditions are absolutely right for them. Imagine Lancashire preparing a turner when James Anderson is available and the Manchester clouds are more moody than a £9 note.
“Counties have got teams to pick and balance to work with,” Stokes told BBC Sport. “It’s very tough to tell counties ‘these guys need to play, because they are playing for England’.”
‘We’ve got to keep giving both of them chances’
The next chapter in these respective stories will be fascinating and hopefully as compelling as what has come so far.
Bashir has gone from minor counties cricket with Berkshire to Test matches in 18 months, via being spotted on Twitter by Stokes and hopping continents in order to sort his Indian visa.
Hartley fills in at his family’s garden centre when he is not playing cricket. Rehan Ahmed, still a teenager, feels like the veteran of England’s young spin trio after making his Test debut as an 18-year-old in Pakistan at the end of 2022.

Between them, they have performed remarkably, especially given the limited part Leach was able to play in India before going home with a knee injury. There is a case to make that Bashir and Hartley are two of the most inspired England selections in recent memory.

Hartley’s 20 victims make him the leading wicket-taker on either side. The left-armer’s match-winning 7-62 in the first Test is the best by an England spinner on debut since 1933.
Bashir’s 5-119 in the first innings of the fourth Test made him the second-youngest England bowler, behind Ahmed, to take a five-wicket haul. Collectively, the 53 wickets England’s spinners have taken in this series are the most by any England team for 66 years.
“What you can’t tell from the outside of a man’s body is the size of their heart and we’ve seen both of them have big hearts and they’re up for international cricket,” said McCullum of Bashir and Hartley.
“It doesn’t get any harder than it is right now and they’ve both stood up and performed so we’ve just got to keep giving both of them chances.”
The success of Hartley and Bashir also highlights the nuance and art of selection, with both performing well at Test level despite modest first-class records.
In this case, Bashir and Hartley were identified as having the skills to do a specific job in Indian conditions. Both are tall and drive the ball into the pitch hard, increasing the chances of finding the natural variation that can be so dangerous in this part of the world.
According to McCullum, a skill-based criteria does not mean the end of selections on county performances.

“We certainly don’t pick in spite of county cricket,” said the New Zealander. “County cricket is a good system and it’s given a lot of cricketers opportunities. It’s got a volume of cricket and different conditions.
“Some guys who have got great county numbers might not find themselves necessarily in the England team and some guys who don’t will find themselves in but that’s not a reflection of county cricket, it’s just about the skillset we want.”
Making selections on attributes has worked on this occasion, but perhaps the ultimate aim should be ensuring young players develop their skills to be successful in all conditions, like Joe Root adapting his batting to score runs across the globe, or Anderson mastering the craft of fast bowling to stay potent on unresponsive pitches.
Hartley, already a white-ball international, could become a multi-format option for England. His useful batting makes him an attractive Test proposition in seam-friendly conditions, when a frontline spinner might otherwise be discarded.
Bashir’s extra bounce immediately earmarks him as a weapon to be used in Australia at the end of 2025 and Ahmed could yet improve his batting to become a genuine all-rounder. All three could be in the mix for the tour of Pakistan next winter.
There are other exciting young spinners too. There were eight slow bowlers on the England Lions camp in the United Arab Emirates before Christmas. Sussex’s Jack Carson spent a lot of time in the nets with England last summer and Middlesex’s Josh de Caires, the son of Michael Atherton, had a strong second half of the season.
For once, a tour of India is not leaving questions as to the whereabouts of England’s spinners, but rather how best to manage the plethora of emerging talent.

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