Jack Leach, Dom Bess, Moeen Ali and, perhaps, Adil Rashid in frame to be England's Test spinner
Bess played against Pakistan but will he make way for India series?
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 26/07/18 12:02pm
Spin will be the dominant issue when the England selectors convene to pick their squad for the first Test against India, with an announcement due on Thursday.
There are four main contenders for the tweaker's berth at Edgbaston from Wednesday week - the man in possession, Dom Bess, the man who was in possession before an untimely injury, Jack Leach, the man who was in possession for the best part of four years between 2014 and 2018, Moeen Ali, and the wildcard who has shelved red-ball cricket, Adil Rashid.
Somerset off-spinner Bess, 21, played in the drawn two-Test series against Pakistan earlier this summer after being the beneficiary of the broken thumb sustained by county colleague Leach while warming up ahead of a Specsavers County Championship fixture against Hampshire.
Bess showed boundless enthusiasm and no lack of skill or stomach with the bat at Lord's and Headingley, scoring 57 on debut at HQ to prevent England suffering a three-day defeat and then hitting 49 in Leeds after being stuck in as night-watchman.
The youngster was not that penetrative with the ball, though - he went wicketless in the capital, while two of his three scalps in Yorkshire came from slapdash strokes. The fact Bess was left out of Somerset's ongoing fixture against Ali's Worcestershire may have further dented his chances.
Slow left-armer Leach looked nailed on to be England's spin option in the opening Test against Pakistan following his impressive debut in New Zealand in March, during which the 27-year-old was far from overawed after being preferred to Ali and took two wickets, including Ross Taylor, in the Black Caps' second dig as the tourists battled unsuccessfully for victory.
That cracked digit, plus a bout of concussion he suffered after being struck on the helmet by a Morne Morkel bouncer during a match against Surrey, set Leach back and he has been short of overs and wickets since.
Leach will, inwardly at least, feel he deserves a lengthy run in the XI after taking over 50 first-class scalps in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons, while, as an orthodox left-arm spinner, he will take the ball away from India's wealth of right-handed batsmen.
If getting in the mind of the opposition is in England's thinking, then Ali comes to the fore. As an off-spinner his stock delivery goes into the right-handers, but in 2014 he regularly got India's batsmen out.
Nineteen times, to be precise.
The Worcestershire player's struggles during the Ashes were stark - five wickets in as many Tests at a whopping average of 115 - but he was named Man of the Series at home to South Africa last summer, principally for his 25 wickets, including a hat-trick at The Oval.
Ali's average in home Tests is a not-too-shabby 33.47, he has enjoyed a fine white-ball summer and he bagged eight in the match against Somerset this week, featuring a five-for in the second innings when he removed five of the visitors' top six, including Azhar Ali and Marcus Trescothick.
Additionally, he is the best batsman among the spin candidates and England do care about that sort of thing.
Rashid - Ali's spin twin in England's white-ball side and best buddy off the park - seemed set for nothing but a watching brief of the Test series and T20 duty for Yorkshire at the backend of the summer having parked red-ball cricket at the start of the season.
Yet, in his Sky Sports column following England's ODI series win over India, in which he bowled an astonished Virat Kohli with a stunning delivery that pitched on leg and ragged back to strike off-stump, Rashid made the shock admission that he would "consider" playing in the Test series if asked.
That came despite the Daily Mail's Paul Newman reporting that Rashid had rejected Yorkshire's approach to don his white clothing for the Roses match against Lancashire. As it turned out, the Tykes did not need Rashid. They had fellow spin sensation Joe Root instead!
Quick-witted folk on social media were swift to joke that Root should be England's sole spinner in Birmingham after his 4-5 but that isn't going to happen. If England are seriously thinking about giving Rashid - the leading wicket-taker in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup with 110 victims in 68 games - that role, though, there is a lot for them to consider.
The case for Rashid is that he took 23 wickets during England's hammering in India in 2016/17 - a full 13 more than any other visiting bowler - and the fact Kohli's side struggled to pick him in the recently-concluded ODIs.
What shouldn't be ruled out either is England selecting two spinners, in the squad if not the final XI, such have been the bone-dry conditions across the country of late. Decisions, decisions…
Batting and in terms of seam-bowling, England's calls seem far simpler. Keaton Jennings, having been recalled as Alastair Cook's opening partner following Mark Stoneman's loss of form, is unlikely to be jettisoned after one game, with his ability to play spin - a trait evident as he made a ton on Test debut in India - a boon, especially with India set to select two slow bowlers.
Dawid Malan's first-class season for club and country has been sketchy but his back-to-back fifties for England Lions against India A should keep him at No 4 and Surrey's Rory Burns and Ollie Pope - the top two run-getters in Division One of the Championship - on the outside looking in for now.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, all on the comeback trail from injury, will surely comprise the pace attack if fit, particularly with Mark Wood being hampered by a heel injury.
Sam Curran, Jake Ball and Craig Overton are other potential names in the frame - Curran perhaps more so when key all-rounder and nailed-on pick Ben Stokes misses the second Test at Lord's due to his court appearance.
A maverick pick, though, would be Overton's brother Jamie - more injury-prone, yes, but he brings greater pace.
Follow England's Test squad announcement on Sky Sports News and across Sky Sports' digital platforms on Thursday. Then catch the entire five-Test series against India live on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with the opener, at Edgbaston, from 10am on Wednesday, August 1.
Comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click 'Report'.