Ahead of the Yorkshire leg-spinner’s return to the Test team, Ben Jones analyses whether Adil Rashid 2.0 has the technique to make an impact in the forthcoming series against India.
The selection of Adil Rashid in England’s squad for the first Test has raised eyebrows. Specifically, discussion of his inclusion has been dominated by the question of whether he should have been eligible for selection, or if his resistance to playing red ball cricket for Yorkshire should remove him from the pool of talent that Ed Smith and his colleagues can call upon. As is often the way with County v Country debates in recent times, the intensity of the rhetoric from either side has rarely reflected well on anyone, but in this instance it has actually masked a more fundamental question at the heart of the debate.
Not enough of the conversation regarding Rashid has been about his potential performances, about how he might actually play in the Tests. To paraphrase Dr Ian Malcolm from ‘Jurassic Park’, the cricketing world was so preoccupied with whether or not they could select Rashid, it didn’t pause to discuss if they should. In response, we’ve looked at the data to try and identify how much Rashid’s game has changed since he last pulled on the whites for England, and to explain how his excellent ODI form could bring improved returns in the Test arena.
GETTING THROUGH DEFENCES
One cricketing reason for not selecting Rashid has been the idea that without the necessity to attack created by the run-rate pressure in white ball cricket, Rashid will find it hard to take wickets. His detractors suggest that if batsmen set themselves just to defend, and to punish the occasional bad ball, then he is unable to build pressure and has nothing to penetrate their defences.
Looking at his Test career so far, this does seem reasonable criticism. Since he debuted, the average Test spinner dismisses a batsman playing a defensive shot every 70 balls; Rashid does so every 112. From this, one could infer that he doesn’t have the attacking weapons to break through defensive techniques.
Yet his record in ODIs suggests quite the opposite. Indeed, in ODIs since the start of 2010, only nine players beat defences as often as him in the 50 over format, across the best part of a decade, so the argument that he gets all of his wickets from batsmen charging down the pitch, caught at long on, is reductive.
A cynic may suggest that a batsman defending in an ODI is easier to dismiss than the Test equivalent, but this isn’t borne out in the data. In the last 12 months, the scoring rate of a defensive stroke in a Test is 0.42rpo, and the dismissal rate 54.2; in ODIs over the same period, the scoring rate for defensive strokes is 0.38rpo, and the dismissal rate is 55.9. It is a comparable skill to dismiss a batsman playing a defensive shot in ODIs as in Tests, and yet Rashid excels at one and struggles at the other. Why is that?
Perhaps it has to do with the role he is given with the side. In ODIs, Eoin Morgan uses Rashid as an attacking bowler, one who is allowed to go for runs precisely because his skipper trusts him to break through batting defences. It is worth noting that Rashid has only played under one Test captain, Alastair Cook, who never experienced Morgan’s captaincy – current Test skipper Joe Root has played alongside Rashid and under Morgan’s captaincy for nearly four years now. One might hope that some of Morgan’s tactical and motivational understanding of Rashid may have rubbed off on Root.
TAKING ON THE TWIRLERS
Whilst we have shown that Rashid has the technical skills to get through defences, it’s also important to acknowledge the false premise behind the earlier criticism. In the last 10 years of Test cricket, spinners have taken 5065 wickets; 32% of them have been when batsmen are defending, 47% when batsman have been attacking. These percentages don’t noticeably change when looking at just top order players, disproving the notion that dismissals from attacking shots are limited in Tests. It’s also key to note that as a wrist-spinner, Rashid is more likely to bring out that attacking mindset in a batsman than any other bowling type; as shown in this graphic, wrist spin is far more likely to be attacked than either finger spin or pace bowling. Again, Root’s use of Rashid will impact on his ability to take wickets in this way, but the idea that there isn’t a role in Test cricket for a bowler in his mould is not true.
In Rashid’s most recent Test outing, many pundits were suggesting that his slower bowling speed was harming his chance of success. For batsmen comfortable reading him off the pitch, so the critique went, Rashid didn’t have the zip to disrupt them. Whether this was a factor in his mixed returns is hard to assess, but it is fair to suggest that Rashid was slow. Since he made his debut, only two men have played more Tests with a slower average speed than Rashid’s 49.31mph, the Sri Lankan duo of Rangana Herath and Lakshan Sandakan.
However in recent times Rashid has been making some technical changes. In ODIs he’s been morphing increasingly into what you would imagine a white-ball leg-spinner would look like. Year on year, he’s bowled faster, with less spin and drift.
That closer resemblance to your archetypal white-ball spinner has brought improved results. Since announcing his intention to focus on limited overs cricket, Rashid has seen stronger returns in all areas of his bowling. Perhaps more importantly, it’s changed the way he gets his wickets. In 2015 and 2016, 23% of his wickets were LBW or bowled. Since the start of 2017, that’s risen to 29%.
Whilst the improved results are great news for Morgan’s side, it’s the technical overhaul that preceded them which offers hope for the Test team, because there is a clear connection between Rashid’s speeds across formats. In 2015 Rashid bowled at 48mph in both Tests and ODIs, and in 2016 he bowled at 50mph in both, showing that whilst his variety of pace may alter across forms, his average is seemingly a result of the mechanics of his action, and not something which changes. It’s reasonable to infer that Rashid will bowl quicker in this opening Test than he ever has done before in a Test match, given the increase in his ODI bowling speed, and according to those who criticised him for bowling too slowly, this will surely improve his returns.
The primary weapon of the leg-spin bowler is big turn, and Rashid certainly possesses that. In the CricViz database, we have ball-tracking data for 89 Test spin bowlers who’ve played over five Test matches. Of that group, only four spin the ball more than Adil Rashid. He may have had the benefit of playing on helpful pitches in Asia, but his degree of deviation far exceeds some sub-continent based players.
But wrist-spin bowling has always been a balancing act, and the issue for Rashid is that he has at times been unable to marry this turn with control. During England’s winter tours of Bangladesh and India in 2016/17, Zafar Ansari was the only spinner who played more than one match to have a lower dot-ball percentage than Rashid. He seemed to have an issue with players being able to rock back a little too often; in Tests since Rashid debuted, spinners are played off the back foot 28% of the time, but for Rashid, that figure leaps to 35%. Too often his action seemed to pull the ball back into the surface too short, giving the batsman far too much time to play the delivery.
Yet there are signs that Rashid’s control has improved. In the recent ODI series, only 13.2% of Rashid’s deliveries were short, a figure he’s bettered only once across his career. The relationship between his white-ball and red-ball bowling speeds suggests that his action is consistent across formats, and that this reduction in drag-downs will be seen in the Tests.
Of course, India’s batting against spin is strong. Both of Murali Vijay and KL Rahul average over 50 against spin; Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hardik Pandya average over 60. These are men with good techniques for playing spin bowling, and who will look to attack Rashid. However, as is hopefully made clear here, there is are numerous signs to suggest that this series could be Rashid’s best yet in the England whites, and those watching at Edgbaston and beyond could be in for a treat.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.