“The time has completely changed after Swann’s retirement in 2013. England have been one of the worst performers in Asia in the last five years and that can be attributed to their failure of finding a spinner as good as Swann”
England are back to touring Asia after a gap of two years. The last time they were here, they suffered a 4-0 series loss to the Indian team and brought an end to a forgettable period of Asian tour where they lost seven out of the 10 matches they played since 2014.
Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had totally spun them out of the contest. They had succumbed to the pressure created by the Bangladeshi spinners on the previous tour as well. The English spinners, on the other hand, were not able to match the levels of their Asian counterparts in any way. And that was the main problem that led to such poor results, despite decent batting performances.
However, as they return to Asian conditions this time to compete against Sri Lanka, they would like to prove that they are capable of bouncing back. But the challenge would be in front of their spinners to perform better than last time, to somehow try to match the level set by the likes of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar between 2008-2013.
The years between 2008 and 2013 had turned out to be the best period for the English spinners in Tests in Asia. That was mainly because of Graeme Swann who established himself as the best English spinner of all time. Not only he became the joint highest wicket-taker (73 along with Derek Underwood) amongst English spinners on Asian soil, he also registered the best overall average (25.97) and strike-rate (54.8) for an English spinner with five or more Test matches and 20 or more wickets to their names in Asia.
England also established themselves as the most successful team amongst SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) to tour Asia during that period, and that was mostly because of Swann’s success as a spinner. Also, there was Monty Panesar, who had the best time of his career as he spun the web in Asia along with Swann. Both of them had figures far better than the global mean average, economy rate and strike-rate for SENA spinners in Asia, which stood at 37.28, 3.06 and 72.9 respectively.
Table: Performance of SENA spinners in Asia between 2008 and 2013
Although they started that period with a 1-0 series defeat against India, they followed it up with a 2-0 series victory over Bangladesh, a 1-1 series draw with Sri Lanka and a most memorable series victory over India by a 2-1 margin. Their only regret would be the 3-0 whitewash to Pakistan in 2012 but that doesn’t take away any credit for the way they conducted themselves during that whole period.
Table: Performance of SENA countries in Asia between 2008 and 2013
They recorded the highest win percentage (38.46) in Asia during that stretch of five years whereas the other three teams—South Africa, Australia and New Zealand—had win percentages of 33.33, 11.11 and 9.09 respectively. The most fascinating part visible in the aforementioned two tables is the South African side’s record as the second most successful team, despite not having any spinners in the top wicket-takers list during that period. That tells a lot about their seam bowling strength during that period but again sums up the importance of a good spinner to become the most successful side in Asia.
However, the time has completely changed after Swann’s retirement in 2013. England have been one of the worst performers in Asia in the last five years and that can be attributed to their failure of finding a spinner as good as Swann. Between January 2014 and November 2018, England have won just one match out of a total of 10 matches they have played. The record of the other three SENA countries hasn’t improved at all during this period but that of England has deteriorated.
Table showing the performance of SENA countries in Asia after Swann’s retirement
The performance of England in each of those 10 matches was quite competitive but they were let down almost every time in one area, and that was their spin bowling department.
Table showing the performance of SENA spinners with 15 or more wickets in Asia since Swann’s retirement
The table above shows how the two English spinners, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, have the third and second worst averages among SENA spinners with 15 or more wickets in Asia during that period. Even their strike rates stand at first and third worst on that list. All other SENA spinners had better averages and strike rates than the Global mean average and strike rate of 38.69 and 68.4 respectively for SENA spinners during that period in Asia. So it is quite clear how poor Rashid and Ali’s standards have been as compared to other spinners.
However, the good thing for them, this time around, is that they have the experience behind them. They know the ‘DOs and DONTs’ to follow in these conditions, and they would be looking to put that to good use. The duo also have the support of the third spinner in Jack Leach, who has done fairly well in England’s domestic circuit in recent seasons. So, if they can put their acts together to good effect, they might well spin their way back to the days of Asian glory.