IF ENGLAND go on to win the third and final Test match against Sri Lanka in Colombo, which they surely must after the hosts ended day three on 53-4 in pursuit of 327, they will owe much to Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid.
The leg-spinner turned the game – and the ball a prodigious amount – to trigger a dramatic collapse in the Sri Lanka first innings after another Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, scored a hundred on the opening day.
Rashid’s best Test figures of 5-49, as Sri Lanka collapsed from 173-1 to 240 all-out in reply to 336, to go with useful contributions of 21 not out in the first innings and 24 in England’s second innings 230 yesterday, emphasised his value to the England side.
It is a value that has not been sufficiently appreciated down the years, to the extent that Rashid has played only 18 Tests as he approaches his 31st birthday.
The fallacy of his treatment must, in part, have contributed to Rashid’s decision to quit red-ball cricket last February, only for England – and the player – to come to their senses.
Rashid was recalled for the Test series against India last August – remarkably, his first Tests on English soil – and has since taken 22 wickets at 26.09, a pretty handy return for a man who had not bowled with a red ball for almost a year. In one-day cricket, he has certainly been valued by England, becoming an integral part of their white-ball side.
As such, Rashid has become one of cricket’s wasted talents, a story of what might have been as much as what could yet be in the coming years.Chris Waters
But they have been reluctant – scared, even – of showing faith in him in the five-day arena, one in which their attitude now seems to be shifting as they become more aggressive per se in their general approach.
That Rashid’s five-fer represented the best Test figures by an English leg-spinner for almost 60 years – since Tommy Greenhough’s 5-35 against India at Lord’s in 1959 – tells its own story.
This is not a country that has produced too many top-class leg-spin bowlers and, even when it has done, has rarely seemed to know what to do with them or how to get the best out of them.
If Rashid was Australian, for example, it is inconceivable that he would not have won many more Test caps.
But England have long been obsessed with spinners who can keep it tight, who can keep down the runs and bowl dots, as opposed to out-and-out wicket-takers like Rashid who are liable to have their wayward days.
As such, Rashid has become one of cricket’s wasted talents, a story of what might have been as much as what could yet be in the coming years.
Granted, he is not without his faults as an all-round package, while the saga surrounding his decision to quit red-ball – and his subsequent U-turn – reflected well on neither him, his county nor his country.
But he is “a confidence player”, as the old saying goes, as fragile at times as a leaf in the wind, and the lack of confidence that England have shown in him has done nothing to foster his belief in himself. The fact that he is presently prospering in a three-man spin attack behind Moeen Ali and Jack Leach is perhaps a safety blanket that he is not too disappointed to have draped around his shoulders; it also gives him an extra licence to attack.
But will he be playing in the Ashes series next year?
That, as they say, is the million dollar question.
In more seamer-friendly conditions, England may only go with one spinner – Moeen, with Rashid perceived as a luxury item, the cricketing equivalent of a yacht, perhaps, or an indoor swimming pool.
Yet what talent he has with bat and ball.
Despite being recognised, first and foremost, as a bowler, Rashid’s first-class batting average of 32 is only five behind Moeen’s 37.
He has 10 first-class hundreds and 37 fifties.
He also has more than 500 first-class wickets to his name – over 150 more than fellow spinner Moeen.
It is too late now to turn back the clock, too late to pick Rashid for Test matches long since consigned to the pages of history.
But England could still get another five productive years out of him at Test level if they are smart enough to give him his head.
With his eclectic mixture of leg-breaks and googlies, Rashid is just the sort of weapon who could help England in their bid to become world No 1.
He flipped the third Test on its head in the blink of an eye just when it seemed as though England might suffer defeat.
Not so now as the tourists stand on the brink of completing a comfortable whitewash.
On another error-strewn day, both in terms of the cricket and some hapless umpiring, Sri Lanka showed just how toothless they are in the post Jayawardene/Sangakkara/Herath era.
Barring rain and/or something truly remarkable, the series will finish today in victory for Joe Root’s men.
That will be a feather in the cap for all concerned – not least the oft-criminally overlooked Rashid.