Graeme Swann has encouraged Jack Leach to follow Rangana Herath’s lead in England’s first Test in Chennai this week, telling him that he needs to be “metronomic” and “boring” if he wants to take wickets against India’s batting line-up.
Leach took 10 wickets at 35.50 in England’s two-match series in Sri Lanka last month, nine of them across the two third innings after he had performed a holding role in the first. He bowled better than his figures might suggest, but will be playing a Test match in India for the first time this week against a side boasting exceptional records against spin in their own conditions.
Swann, who was England’s leading wicket-taker in their 2-1 series win in India in late 2012 – India’s most recent home series defeat – said that the ideal gameplan for Leach to follow entailed being “deadly boring” and bowling tight lines for long spells.
“What you see is what you get with him,” Swann said. “He’s a no-frills left-arm spinner, who runs up and pitches it on the stumps. I’d tell him very simply to watch what Herath used to do for Sri Lanka. That’s the blueprint for Leach: run up, put it on the spot, be metronomic, and be almost deadly boring in the way he operates in India.
“India’s batsmen will respect a good ball, and he doesn’t bowl very many bad ones. Generally, Indian batsmen will play the long game. That’s brilliant for him because it gives him the chance to get into a rhythm and find his groove. He can definitely be consistent enough to hold down an end.”
England look set to make a late call as to which of their offspinners partners Leach in the side. Dom Bess was their leading wicket-taker in Sri Lanka with 12 wickets at 21.25, but lacked consistency and admitted that he “didn’t feel like I bowled very well” after benefitting from some bizarre shot selection in taking 5 for 30 on the first day of the series. If they decide against picking Bess, the alternative is to play Moeen Ali, who missed the Sri Lanka series after contracting Covid-19, but has performed well against India with both bat and ball in the past.
Swann said that he believes Bess will be “brilliant for England over a 10-year period” but suggested that he should encourage Joe Root to set less defensive fields off his bowling. Root has often posted a deep point or a deep cover to avoid Bess leaking runs when he drops short, but Swann suggested that doing so could be detrimental to Bess’ confidence.
“The only time you should have a deep point or a deep cover in a Test match is if a team are 500 ahead and it’s about damage limitation,” he said. “It’s there for a bad ball, and I don’t think it helps a bowler at all. Having protection is saying that the captain doesn’t believe in you and that you don’t believe in yourself. You wouldn’t have a long-off in for an opening bowler, would you?
“Having said that, it’s easier said than done. The fact that Dom is still young and hasn’t bowled a great number of overs in his life means that he’s not as consistent as he might be in the future. It’s a tricky one, because Bess is a wicket-taker. He didn’t bowl particularly well in Sri Lanka and I think he’d admit that, but he took 12 wickets and he does bowl wicket-taking balls.
“I saw Mo say he’s hungry to play after 18 months away and if he’s fit and going well, I would prefer the shape he gets when he drifts it away and gets dip to Bess’ shape which drifts in, because he doesn’t finish his action off all the time. I think it’s a mental thing and that he might not be believing in himself, but with good mentoring and support he’ll nail that.
“He’s going to be brilliant, and he’ll be brilliant for England over a 10-year period. It’s just about getting there.”
In 2012, we went to India and won. We had a bloody brilliant team… [but] the next time we went, not a single lesson had been learned so we lost 4-0
Swann, speaking from Abu Dhabi in his capacity as a Betfair ambassador, has said repeatedly in recent months that he would like to be involved in the England set-up in a coaching role, suggesting that his expertise has not been used enough and that he has “so much to offer the spinners on the mental side of Test cricket”.
But he said that he did not apply for the current vacancy as England’s spin-bowling coach, and claimed that he had only learned about it when he was “phoned up by someone going for the interview who wanted to pick my brains”. He had been lined up to spend some time with Trent Rockets in the Hundred last summer before the competition’s postponement and hopes to be involved with them this season to demonstrate his desire to help young spinners develop.
“I couldn’t commit to a full-time coaching role realistically, but I would love to help in some way, maybe consulting. I don’t think I’m on their radar. The Hundred job is a bit of an unknown as yet but I’d love to do it. Maybe I have to prove that I’m serious and willing to put in the hard yards.
“In 2012, we went to India and we won. We had a bloody brilliant team but we won a series against a very fine side, and the next time we went, not a single lesson had been learned so we lost 4-0. I don’t think we’d taken it seriously because the focus is so much on going to Australia to win the Ashes.
“We’ve taken our eye off the ball. India are actually the best out team in the world these days, especially in India, so I hope this time that we can get back to competing over there. Taking 20 wickets on a regular basis will be a struggle: it’s an awesome seam attack and they’ve got it in them once or twice in the series, especially in the day-night match, but whether they can do it in all four games in yet to be seen.”
For more from Betfair Ambassador Graeme Swann, head to his blog on Betting.Betfair
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98