We are at the bottom. England has three remaining World Cup games in India to endure, this disappointing – and not in a positive way – attempt at defending their title, to the point where you start to question if giving the younger players a chance is the best option. However, there are not many young players available, with only Gus Atkinson, Sam Curran, and Harry Brook under the age of 26 on the team. The experienced players will have to guide the team for one last effort to salvage their pride and secure a spot in the Champions Trophy.
Instead, several members of the upcoming generation are preparing for a three-week training camp with the England Lions in the United Arab Emirates this month. The main emphasis of the camp will be on playing with the red ball, and it will take place before a tour of India in the upcoming year. This tour will be Bazball’s most challenging assignment yet, as they will face off against the Indian team in five Test matches. It should be noted that India has not lost a home series since 2012.
The composition of the Lions team indicates an effort to address a persistent issue – the quest for a top-notch slow bowler. Out of the 21 players, nine fall under the category of specialized spinners, all-rounders who bowl spin, or batsmen who can bowl spin decently. It paints a picture similar to the reality TV show Love Island, where a spinner is eliminated every few days until the final couple teams up with Jack Leach for the grand prize: an opportunity to compete against Ashwin and Jadeja in their specialty.
The truth is not the same. Mo Bobat, in charge of finding upcoming talent as the director of performance for England men, claims that the India tour is not the ultimate goal. The England and Wales Cricket Board is instead making “development investments,” although being chosen for the senior team is still a possibility. “Some players are likely on the verge of being selected,” he states.
Rehan Ahmed, who already has a Test five-wicket haul and recently signed a two-year deal with England, is the standout in the group of spinners and likely a contender for the India tour. While some of the other spinners have shown potential, they have not been able to dominate in county cricket, where spin is not a major focus. The most experienced spinner in the group is left-arm bowler Callum Parkinson, 27, who recently joined Durham and has taken 145 first-class wickets. Another promising spinner is Tom Hartley, 24, from Lancashire, who is tall, quick, and has the potential to emulate Axar Patel.
According to Bobat, it could be argued that the way he bowls in white-ball cricket is an effective approach for spin bowling in the subcontinent with a red ball. Bobat also mentions that 22-year-old Sussex off-spinner Jack Carson is eager to improve his skills, and 22-year-old players James Coles, Ollie Price, and Dan Mousley are all strong choices as all-rounders.
Shoaib Bashir, a 20-year-old from Somerset, recently played his first professional cricket match against Essex. Despite only starting his career four months ago, his off-spin deliveries, released from a great height, have been highly impressive. According to Andy Hurry, Somerset’s director of cricket, Bashir’s first over was against the legendary English batsman Sir Alastair Cook. Despite feeling nervous and anxious, Bashir managed to put Cook under immense pressure and almost created an opportunity to take his wicket. Hurry acknowledges that Bashir “held his own” in this challenging situation.
The name that stands out the most on the list is Josh de Caires, who is 21 years old. Just six months ago, the main topic of discussion surrounding De Caires was his family background; as the son of Michael Atherton, he was establishing himself as a top-order batsman at Middlesex. However, Ian Salisbury, the former England leg-spinner who joined Lord’s as a consultant coach earlier this year, was immediately impressed by De Caires’s off-breaks during training.
“I believe that you can identify a spinner just by observing how the ball leaves their fingers,” states Salisbury. “The way it comes off his fingers is quite impressive.” According to him, it’s all in the wrist and the way the seam moves, allowing the ball to drift and spin back.
De Caires ended the previous season with a total of 27 wickets at an average of 25.59 in the Championship, surpassing the seven wickets he took against Hampshire with his impressive first-innings figures of eight for 106 against Essex. Moving on to the Lions team now.
This is the romantic side of spin bowling in England. Run through a team in an afternoon and, suddenly, you’re the guy people want a piece of, worth a look for a winter tour because you are capable of giving it a half-decent rip. The reality can be brutal, though.
During England’s most recent trip to India in 2021, their Test team featured four up-and-coming spin bowlers, in addition to Leach and Moeen Ali: Dom Bess as a regular player, and Mason Crane, Matt Parkinson, and Amar Virdi as back-up options. Since then, Bess has not been selected for England’s matches. Parkinson, although still a joy to watch, has not been considered for any formats in over a year. Crane has primarily focused on white-ball cricket for Hampshire, while Virdi did not make an appearance in the County Championship games for Surrey during their consecutive title wins in 2022 and 2023.
Each one of them is a unique and talented bowler who must battle through different challenges, some more difficult than others. These challenges may include unfavorable conditions, fluctuations in performance, or pressure from those in charge to perform well as a batsman.
You sympathize with the next group and wish for them to receive some extra care, as Salisbury has given to De Caires, who is inexperienced and still learning the ropes. The coach has been communicating with his student to ensure he is taking care of his fingers to prevent any injuries before the camp. They have also worked on pre-game routines to ensure the ball comes out perfectly: “A pianist doesn’t just show up at the Albert Hall and start playing, right?” says Salisbury. The search begins for England’s next talented players.