“Moeen Ali and Jack Leach’s efforts have revived England’s Asian fortunes once again. Hopefully, they will keep on improving in the coming time ahead”
The last time a right arm off-break and left-arm orthodox spin bowling combination led England to a Test series victory in Asia were back in 2012, when the duo of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar had wickets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and thus made the Indian spinners look like rookies in front of them.
Six years down the line, the same combination has helped them to register yet another memorable series victory in Asia. Only their names and the opposition are different this time around. While it was Swann and Panesar back in 2012, it is Moeen Ali and Jack Leach now, who have tamed the Lankan lions in their own backyard.
This victory is quite significant for England in the context of their Asian record post that 2012 series win in India. Since then, they didn’t win even a single series in these conditions until this one. With just one victory and seven losses, their record reads quite abysmal in the 10 Test matches they played in Asia in the period between that 2012 series victory and the ongoing series.
But that record is now being set straight, thanks to the exploits of Ali and Leach. The duo has taken a combined 27 wickets in the series thus far out of the 40 Sri Lankan wickets in total. That accounts for almost 70 per cent of the wickets that England has claimed in this series.
In fact, Ali and Leach aren’t the only spinners in the current England side. There is Adil Rashid too who is probably a more skilful bowler than the other two. Joe Root has also rolled his arm over a couple of times and that has helped the English spinners to take their combined wicket tally to 35 wickets in the series—almost 90 per cent of the total Lankan wickets. The fact that Ali and Leach have accounted for 27 of those 35 wickets—77.14 per cent of wickets taken by English spinners—sums up their domination with the ball.
This is quite inspiring for England who had to struggle in Asia since the time Swann retired and Panesar faded away. Between 2008 and 2013, Swann and Panesar were the top two wicket-takers amongst SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) spinners in Asia, with 73 and 39 wickets to their names respectively. While Swann averaged 25.97 in 13 matches, Panesar wasn’t far behind with an overall average of 29.79 in 8 matches.
However, the period after their exit from international cricket saw their main spinners, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, struggling to match their Asian counterparts with their bowling skills. Rashid and Ali’s averages of 42.78 and 44.63 and strike rates of 66.9 and 74.0 respectively in 10 matches prior to this series, summed up their struggles in these conditions.
But they have shown that they have learnt from their bitter experiences in the past. The way they have implemented their plans in this series against Sri Lanka has been quite wonderful to watch. The addition of Jack Leach to the squad has brought a fresh breeze of air and a new dimension totally to this English spin attack.
Rashid’s figures of 7 wickets in 2 matches at an average of 30.85 and strike rate of 56.7 are quite decent as compared to that of his on previous tours. However, it is the duo of Ali and Leach which is doing the same to Sri Lanka what Swann and Panesar did to India in England’s 2-1 victory in the four-match series against them in 2012. They had accounted for 37 wickets together in that series against India, which accounted for almost 63 per cent of the total 58 wickets taken by the English bowlers.
Ali has a total of 14 wickets in this series thus far at an impressive average and strike-rate of 21.00 and 36.4 respectively; these are figures far better and completely opposite to that of his on previous Asian tours. Leach, on the other hand, has impressed everyone with his discipline and skills in his debut series for England. He has 13 wickets to his name at an average of 19.53 and strike-rate of 44.3. His economy of 2.64 has been the second best in this series, next only to James Anderson’s 2.56. In fact, their numbers are much better than that of Swann and Panesar on that Indian tour where they recorded averages of 24.75 and 26.82 and strike rates of 55.7 and 64.5 respectively.
However, that Indian batting unit was much stronger than this Sri Lankan outfit at present. So there is no way in which these statistics could be used to place Ali and Leach above that of Swann and Panesar. But credit cannot be taken away from them as well. The way they bowled certainly puts their performance on par with that of Swann and Panesar’s during that memorable victory of 2012. Their efforts have revived England’s away fortunes once again. Hopefully, they will keep on improving in the coming time ahead.