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Brendon McCullum: Counties must pick our young spinners

England's Shoaib Bashir celebrates taking a wicket in the Ranchi Test/Brendon McCullum: Counties must pick our young spinners
Spinners such as Shoaib Bashir have not always been given opportunities in the County Championship - Reuters/Amit Dave

England head coach Brendon McCullum has pleaded with county cricket to hand rookie spinners Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley game-time so they can build on a breakout tour of India.

Bashir, 20, and Hartley, 24, were plucked from the county game with little experience and modest records, but have been among the positives for England in a series defeat in India. Each have taken a maiden Test five-wicket haul, with Bashir’s eight for 198 in Ranchi taking his tally of Test wickets for England (12 in two games) ahead of his tally of first-class wickets for Somerset (10 in six games).

This summer, neither is likely to be their county’s first-choice spinner, however. At Somerset, Bashir is a team-mate of Jack Leach, who is having surgery on a knee injury this week but hopes to be back playing in April. Hartley’s county Lancashire have signed the Australian Nathan Lyon for the 2024 summer. Even before Lyon joined, Lancashire occasionally chose another young left-arm spinner, Jack Morley, over Hartley. The third young spinner on the tour, Rehan Ahmed, who is now at home for personal reasons, is at least Leicestershire’s first-choice spinner, with England Lions’ Callum Parkinson moving to Durham.

The county schedule sees much of the Championship played in colder months less conducive to spin bowling such as April and September, which means counties rarely employ twin tweakers, with some even opting for all-seam attacks. Pitches are generally unhelpful to spinners, and counties are even warier of producing turning tracks because of a draconian points deduction handed down to Somerset in 2019 for transforming Taunton into ‘Ciderabad’ to help Leach and another young England spinner, Dom Bess, who has since moved to Yorkshire in search of opportunities.

McCullum said he “gets” why Lancashire would sign Lyon, who has more than 500 Test wickets, but added he would not be meddling with the county loan system to ensure the two youngsters were given chances. Instead, he implored the counties to give the youngsters a go alongside their more senior colleagues. While it is not yet clear whether Leach will retain his status as England’s senior spinner this summer, all four are likely to tour Pakistan in October.

“I think that [getting game time] is really important, actually,” said McCullum. “Both of those guys have been outstanding in this series. Six weeks ago when we picked Tom and Bash, there was probably a little bit of hesitation from others around it and from us, there was a little bit of apprehension as well - we thought they had the skills but will they be good enough at this level? What we’ve seen is they are definitely good enough for this level.

“It will be a slight frustration of ours if they weren’t given opportunities at county level. There’s a very real possibility that might be the case. But without wanting to dictate to counties because they have their own agendas as well, when you see performances like we have out of those two bowlers throughout the series, you’d be slightly mad if you didn’t give them more opportunities in county cricket. Hopefully we’ll see those guys get plenty of chances and if it’s not for them then it might be for us.

“I think it’ll be harder [to develop] if they don’t play. Obviously everyone gets better with more time on the tools, right? It would be nice to think they’d get plenty of opportunities so that they can improve at a quicker rate. Whether those opportunities are with counties or with England, I think we’ve just to keep trying to get cricket into them.

“Whatever opportunity we can, we’ll try and give it to them because there’s two guys there more than good enough for international cricket. They’re also tough characters. What you can’t tell from the outside of a man’s body is the size of their heart and we’ve seen both of them have big hearts and they’re up for international cricket. It doesn’t get any harder than it is right now and they’ve both stood up and performed, so we’ve just to keep giving both of them chances.

“England’s about playing on good wickets and having the ball move off the seam, it should also be about playing on spinning wickets too. I guess if we lived in a world where both Bash and Leachy were able to operate in spinning conditions at Somerset and Hartley, and Lyon could bowl together at Lancashire, that would be a great viewing point for spectators.”

Tom Hartley bowling in the third Test between India and England
Tom Hartley is likely to retain his place for the final Test even though it promises to be more suited to seamers than previous pitches on the tour - AP/Ajit Solanki

It is likely that both Bashir and Hartley will retain their places for the final Test of the series in Dharamshala next Thursday, but the Himalayan chill (there was a high of 12 Celsius there on Tuesday), could make it the most seam-friendly conditions of the tour. That could suit Ollie Robinson, whom McCullum described as “hurting a lot” after a “tough game” on his return to cricket.

McCullum confirmed that an “emotional” Jonny Bairstow will scale his personal Everest by playing his 100th Test, but said the decision to retain him at the end of a middling tour did not come down to sentiment.

“He’ll play,” said McCullum. “It’ll be really emotional for him. Everyone knows Jonny’s story and he is quite an emotional character at times and big milestones like that do mean a lot to him.

“Of course we would [be picking him otherwise]. I think we’ve seen our selection policy is around loyalty and making sure we give guys every opportunity.”

Having gone to Abu Dhabi in the first break of the series earlier this month, England’s players are this time staying in India, but not staying together. A group of golfers are heading to Bangalore, while others are opting to relax in Chandigarh, where the group will reconvene this weekend to travel to Dharamshala.

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