wake up in a cold sweat at the very thought.
As far as I’m concerned, however, England’s real problem lies elsewhere. None of the four first class matches played at the Oval so far this year have yielded a positive result, with rain interruptions to blame on only one of those occasions. Surrey Chief Executive Paul Sheldon has declared that his groundsman Bill Gordon will not be “cooking the books” to help England and intends to produce a traditional hard, flat Oval wicket. England’s real problem, then, is how to take twenty wickets; the composition of the bowling attack should be the chief topic of discussion when the selectors convene.
Surrey’s team manager Chris Adams and retiring skipper Mark Butcher have just added their names to the list of people calling for England to pick two spinners. If the wicket behaves as expected, it should have decent pace and bounce, offer very little seam or swing but start to take turn as the match progresses. The one Championship fixture which almost produced a result there this summer saw two of England’s forgotten twirlers – Sean Udal and Chris Schofield – taking ten wickets between them on the last day. However, England’s current “second spinner,” Monty Panesar, is still struggling for wickets, and over the last few days has been thoroughly outbowled by Kent’s James Tredwell.
Meanwhile, my attention has been on the goings on at Basingstoke, where Adil Rashid has just inspired Yorkshire to their first Championship win in almost fifteen months. Yesterday, I tuned in to BBC Radio Leeds in time to catch coverage of the later stages of Rashid’s unbeaten 117. (He now has three first class centuries; Graeme Swann has four in more than three times as many innings and Stuart Broad has none). Yorkshire coach Martin Moxon had commented that after finally getting a couple of long spells under his belt, the young leggie was coming back into form, so I found myself hoping for warm weather and a dry fourth day pitch at May’s Bounty. It appears that I – along with Yorkshire fans and perhaps also the England selectors – got my wish today, and Rashid duly ripped through Hampshire to finish with figures of 5 for 42.
Rashid’s talent is not in doubt. The consensus on the county circuit is that he has the makings of a genuine international all-rounder. In the future, a combination of Rashid and Broad at seven and eight may prove the best way of filling the Flintoff-sized hole that is about to appear in the England line-up. As for the present, picking a 21-year-old debutant in an Ashes decider is a serious gamble. In this instance, however, it’s a gamble I would take.
As a bowler, Rashid is still learning his craft, still developing an understanding of how to deal with unresponsive wickets and belligerent batsmen, and this was evident in his performances during the ICC World Twenty20. What was also evident, however, was that he has real guts and isn’t fazed by the limelight. In fact, he seems to have a knack of rising to the occasion. When Yorkshire’s Director of Cricket David Byas turned up to watch him play for the Yorkshire Academy in 2006, the then 18-year-old took 4 for 61 and scored an unbeaten ton. Less than a week later, he spun Yorkshire to victory on his first class debut with second innings figures of 6 for 67. Today, confidence sky-high after his exploits with the bat, in conditions that offered him just enough assistance, Rashid provided the England selectors with a timely reminder that he is a genuinely dangerous, classical, attacking legspinner. I think England have a better chance of winning at the Oval if he is in their side.
My England XI for the Oval Test would be: 1)Strauss, 2)Cook, 3)Key/Bopara, 4)Collingwood, 5)Bell, 6)Prior, 7)Flintoff, 8)Rashid, 9)Broad, 10)Swann, 11)Anderson.
There was an additional reason why I decided to tune to BBC Radio Leeds. Adil Rashid is only the third Yorkshire-born Asian to represent the county. Seamer Ajmal Shahzad made history in May 2004 when he became the first. Yesterday, Shahzad followed up four first innings wickets by scoring a career-best 78. The history of racial exclusion in Yorkshire cricket is well documented, but there are clear signs that the situation is improving. As Rashid and Shahzad combined to put on 192 for the eighth wicket, I couldn’t help but feel that – for its significance beyond the boundary – this would go down as one of Yorkshire CCC’s most poignant victories.