ENGLAND’s decision to play two spinners in the Adelaide Test was bad news for Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance, both of whom would have expected to feature had the pitch not been drier than the Sahara desert.
Bresnan – happily recovered from a stress fracture of the back – had been in line to replace Chris Tremlett in the pace bowling department.
And Ballance had been poised to make his debut at No 6 after some impressive displays at county level.
Instead, England took one look at the dusty surface and recalled spinner Monty Panesar alongside Graeme Swann, with Panesar’s inclusion having the knock-on effect of earning Ben Stokes his debut at No 6, with the Durham all-rounder also able to bowl the overs that Bresnan would have given.
It is difficult from 10,000 miles’ distance to criticise England’s double-spin tactic, which most sages on the ground agree was the right one. However, I can’t help but wonder whether there was another option that England could have taken.
Would it be unreasonable to suggest that Yorkshire’s Joe Root could have stepped up as that second spinner and consequently enabled England to strengthen their batting, the main area of the game in which they have struggled?
Of course, the problem with writing comment pieces on Test matches in Australia is that by the time they come out the picture has changed.
For all I know, Panesar could have run through the Australians in the early hours of this morning after they were set to begin day two on 273-5.
However, regardless of whether he was successful or if England go on to win this match with the line-up they have chosen, Root’s versatility should certainly not be ignored.
It extends beyond his ability to bat in practically every position in the England top-order, with the 22-year-old having been up-and-down the line-up like the proverbial yo-yo.
At Trent Bridge last summer, Root took the key wicket of Ed Cowan in a match Australia lost by just 14 runs – a result that we can retrospectively say decided the series.
And in the second Test at Lord’s, he weighed in with the wickets of Michael Clarke and Usman Khawaja in quick succession, with those batsmen the only two Australians to pass 50 in the match.
Of course, no one is saying that Root is Jim Laker – never mind Bob Appleyard or Raymond Illingworth – but nor is he the worst with a ball in his hand.
In fact, he is an emerging off-spinner of some potential, one who could ultimately develop into a batting all-rounder.
My argument is that England’s biggest need at present is to score more runs.
Going into this match, they had not reached 400 in their previous 17 innings – a sequence that went back to Wellington in March.
Stokes at No 6 is a risk and, I accept, one that could pay off.
However, I would prefer a stronger batting line-up, which, as I have previously stated, would be a top-six of Alastair Cook, Root, Kevin Pietersen, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell and Ballance.
I would agree with the idea of playing Panesar if Australia possessed an outstanding batting line-up which might well be inconvenienced by an extra specialist, but they do not. Indeed, it has been every bit as flakey as England’s in recent times – if not more so.
Therefore, could not a lesser spinner such as Root still get the job done while at the same time freeing up space to play another batsman?
Panesar is clearly a better bowler than the Yorkshireman, but the point is that he is bowling at the likes of Steve Smith and George Bailey, not Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist. Root, I would suggest, should be encouraged to bowl more.
Yorkshire have led the way in this respect, even giving him the opening over in Twenty20 cricket – a responsibility they would hardly have entrusted to an incompetent.
Root is a bit more than the archetypal fill-in; like Australia’s Smith, who doubles-up as an emerging leg-spinner, he can turn the ball too.
He would not be intimidated by this Australian side.
There is another aspect of the matter – Panesar’s fielding.
Panesar dropped Bailey on 10 off his own bowling yesterday –one of three catches spilled by the England fielders.
Root also grassed one – a very difficult chance diving to his right offered by Clarke – and Michael Carberry shelled a sitter at backward-point offered by Brad Haddin, but Panesar remains a fielding liability.
People say that England’s decision to play two spinners was a bold and aggressive tactic.
But I would argue that the more courageous course of action would have been to bolster and re-jig the batting and back the other bowlers.