So, the news is out. After a lot of debate, Adil Rashid has been selected to represent England in the form of a game that he does not currently have a contract. ‘Ridiculous’ is how the decision was branded by former captain, Michael Vaughan, while Rashid’s own county’s CEO, Mark Arthur, suggested that Yorkshire were ‘very surprised’ by the move due to Rashid not having touched a red ball this season.
National selector Ed Smith, who seems determined to be remembered as the most daring man to ever hold his role (if not the most popular) has defended the ‘unusual circumstances’ of Rashid’s return. He has spoken of how the three-man selection panel of himself, former international James Taylor and coach Trevor Bayliss were ‘unanimous’ in their decision to pick the leg-spinner, clearly neglecting the need to ask any of the hundreds of people outside this select group, who feel that Rashid’s desire to neglect the longer form should make him unavailable.
Instead, they have put their faith in a man who, only a short while ago, said his ‘heart was not in red-ball cricket’ to bring consistency to a talented but often hollow team. Smith’s hope that Rashid will bamboozle an Indian team notorious for their spin-playing ability is not unfounded following his impressive displays in the One-Day Internationals against them.
Yet test cricket is such a different game to the limited-overs form that Rashid excels at, most notably in the fewer fielders that captains can afford to put on the boundary as well as the lack of necessity for batsmen to score quickly, which means that they can milk bowlers for runs rather than attack them full on.
It is, therefore, a different game that Rashid will encounter when he steps out at Headingley on Wednesday and one that he has struggled at before, returning a meagre 38 wickets at an average of 42.78 from 10 subcontinent Tests, in which spinners are meant to dominate.
Rashid’s supporters will point to the success of Jos Buttler upon his surprise return to the Test team earlier this summer as proof that their man can succeed. However, there are many differences between the two. First, Buttler is an extraordinary talent who is enjoying a purple patch of form and,despite playing some of his best ever cricket, Rashid has not delivered performances equal to those that thrusted Buttler into the selectors’ minds.
Second, Buttler is included as a specialist batsman at number seven, a role enabled by Ben Stokes’ all-round ability that has been described as a luxury that the team can afford in the hope that Buttler can take certain games away from the opposition. Rashid does not have the same margin for error in his role as the team’s premier spinner, especially in this driest of English summers in which he will be expected to bowl teams out in the fourth innings.
The third, and most important difference, is that Buttler had never turned his back on red-ball cricket in the way that Rashid did and would have played for his county if England had not come calling. This is proven by his involvement in the Roses County Championship match last week, which Rashid refused to participate in leaving his county needing to loan Josh Poysden from Warwickshire to bowl leg-spin for them.
This refusal has irked Rashid’s many detractors, not least the Yorkshire faithful who he will turn out in front of next week, who believe his selection devalues the County Championship and its importance to Test selection.
Among these must be Jack Leach, the Somerset left-armer, whose place Rashid has taken. Leach must be cursing his bad luck as Smith suggested a lack of overs after injury were the cause of his exclusion, ignoring the fact that Leach’s 37 overs of first-class bowling are 37 more than Rashid’s this season.
Other players such as Leach should prepare for such disappointment, because if Smith continues on his path he will begin to look further afield for his next selection. Soon, he will be asking England’s penalty shootout hero, Jordan Pickford, to don a different type of glove if Jonny Bairstow picks up an injury or turning to Owen Farrell to become Alastair Cook’s next partner at the top of the innings due to his inner steel and ability to accumulate scores.
Neither has expressed an interest in cricket before, but such interest is not required for test selection any more if you are performing well for your team and so they should keep their phones ready for Smith’s call. If Rashid’s selection is a success, then why shouldn’t the national selector spread his Midas touch wider as he strives to create a team to rule the world.
Image: Dave Morton