Spinning all-rounders deserve their due

Ritesh Misra Roar Guru

By , Ritesh Misra is a Roar Guru

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    Ben Stokes is currently the best all-rounder in the world, an oft-quoted assessment that will be accepted by many followers of the great game without any counter query.

    However is he so? As keen analysts of the game, should we accept blindly or should we ask counter queries before agreeing? Some queries that come to mind could be, first, do we automatically romanticise pace bowling all-rounders; second, do we not give due credit to spin bowling all-rounders; or third, are there any spinning all-rounders today who can pose a challenge to Stokes?

    Let’s have a look.

    An all-rounder is one who can be selected for both batting or bowling alone. The classic example is Gary Sobers, called a five-in-one cricketer by the great Don Bradman. Kallis too was one, and he batted as well as Dravid and took as many wickets as Zaheer Khan.

    However, no-one in modern cricket can stake such a claim except maybe Moeen Ali of England. Therefore it is prudent to talk of all-rounders today as batting all-rounders, such as Stokes, and bowling all-rounders, such as Ashwin and Jadeja. 

    Let us for a moment go back to the beginning of England’s just concluded series against South Africa. Coach Bayliss said Moeen Ali was a batsman who can bowl a bit. According to both his coach and captain, Moeen was the second spinner for his team behind Liam Dawson.

    However, Moeen responded with a magical series, performing every match, whether it was an 87 and a ten-for in the first Test, four crucial wickets in the second, a hat trick in the third to dramatically end the Test or a five-for and a blazing 75 in the fourth and final Test.

    Indeed, Moeen played a crucial role in England’s 3-1 win over South Africa. which was their first home series win agains them in almost 20 years.

    Ben Stokes too performed splendidly, and these two all-rounders played a stellar role for England. Moeen took 25 wickets at 15.64, which is the best performance by an English spinner since 1961. He also scored 252 runs in the series and, more importantly, he and Stokes had crucial knocks in potentially troublesome positions – indeed both of them proved themselves to be worthy all-rounders. Moeen’s double of 20 wickets and over 200 runs was only the seventh such occurrence in the last 17 years.

    Who else has performed this feat?

    (Image: AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

    Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock did so in the 2000-01 away series against the West Indies. Kallis scored 267 runs and took 20 wickets. Pollock too took 20 wickets and scored 302 runs in their team’s 2-1 series win, with super performances by Heschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Cullinan and Donald Bradman. 

    Andrew Flintoff and Shane Warne both performed this feat in the 2005 Ashes series, which is universally accepted as one of the most thrilling series of all time. Warne took a magical 40 wickets and scored 249 runs.

    Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath also had good performances with the ball while Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer and Michael Clarke did well with the bat. Yet England won 2-1 with stellar batting performances by Kevin Pietersen and Marcus Trescothick and super bowling by Simon Jones and Steve Harmison.

    However, the star was Flintoff, who scored 402 runs in the series and took 24 wickets to be England’s most successful bowler. Not surprisingly, Warne and Flintoff were joint men of the series.

    Flintoff is the only player who has done achieved difficult feat twice. He helped England to a 2-1 series win in South Africa by taking 23 wickets and scoring 227 runs. While Andrew Strauss and Matthew Hoggard also shone for the Englishmen, it was Flintoff who played crucial roles for his team.

    England were, however, at the receiving end in 2016 when India handed them a four-nil defeat. The two Indian spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravinder Jadeja performed very well for India and were a crucial difference between the two sides as the English spinners in comparison did not do as well.

    Left arm spinner Jadeja took 26 wickets and scored 224 runs while Ashwin scored 306 runs and took 28 wickets. Joe Root was England’s best batsman with 491 runs while Virat Kohli scored 655 runs for India. Moeen Ali had two Test hundreds; however, inexplicably he did not do as well with the ball as expected.

    Now let us not fall into the trap of assuming that this all-rounders feat having been achieved seven times in 17 years, is an easy feat. That it is an achievement can be understood from the fact that before 2000 this milestone was reached only way back in 1985, and there was no such performance in all Test series for the next 15 to 16 years.

    The last person to do the double of 20 and 200 in the 20th century was none other than the peerless Ian Botham in the 1985 Ashes series, which was won 3-1 by England with two Tests drawn. Botham took 31 wickets and scored 250 runs contributing to the series victory.

    Now if one analyses the above performances, one sees that along with Botham there were three more great pace bowling all-rounders, namely Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. Then there was Kallis, Pollock and Flintoff. After that there is only Stokes.

    Is the fact that he is the only pace bowling all-rounder, adding to the romance? Otherwise, apart from Warne and Kumble, who have both retired, all the current bowling all-rounders are spinning all-rounders, namely Moeen, Ashwin, Jadeja and Shakib. 

    Let us examine their performances in recent times. I have taken Test performances only and have put below how many runs and wickets have been scored and taken by the four spin bowling all-rounders and the sole pace bowling all-rounder. 

    Performance of all-rounders in Test matches in the last year
    Runs + wickets
    865 + 48 Moeen Ali
    684 + 97 R Ashwin
    663 + 87 Ravindra Jadeja
    656 + 29 Shakib AHasan
    772 + 26 Ben Stokes

    Not unsurprisingly Moeen leads the runs table followed by Stokes, while Ashwin and Jadeja lead the wickets tally comfortably.

    While Stokes is indeed an incredible impact player in the sense that he scores runs when needed and does the same while bowling as well, it is seen that the spin bowling all-rounders, except Shakib, are far ahead of him with regard to bowling. Indeed Ashwin, Jadeja and Moeen are all ahead of Stokes very comfortably. The latest ICC all-rounders table also sees Jadeja at the top. 

    In conclusion, without going into who is the best all-rounder in the world, this proves that spinning all-rounders need to be given their due in world cricket. They are worth their weight in gold.

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