Ben Jones analyses a ball that defined a World Cup.
A brief confession – I always wanted to be a leg-spinner. I wasn’t great, I grew at the wrong time, and was too easily frightened off by aggressive batsmen, but I wanted it badly. There was enough promise that at 12 years old, I was invited to attend a coaching session with Australian leg-spinning guru Terry Jenner, he of Shane Warne mentorship. It was a group of all the lads who bowled leg-spin in the Midlands, a seriously wide range of quality and potential.
In amongst my roof-bothering wrong uns, he mentioned something that stuck with me. He said , if we were to emulate anyone, if there was anyone in the world to focus our efforts in imitation of, it was another English youngster. There was a young lad from Bradford, 20 years old at the time, who Jenner had been working with. A slow, looping mystery bowler who was willing to toss the ball up and beat the batsman in the air. Warne had been retired two years; the world was still looking for the next one. This youngster, from northern England, was seen as the best hope, by a man who knew better than most.
But England wasn’t ready for him. The story of how this young man was messed around, how he was given a limited opportunity to succeed and a never-ending chance to fail, has been well-trodden. We needn’t rehash it.
Express Yourself. That’s what England said they wanted to do, from the outset. It’s hellishly easy to say that without backing it up; but Eoin Morgan, Trevor Bayliss, Andrew Strauss, they all changed England’s attitude with practical, tangible actions. They spoke differently, they selected differently, they played differently. They changed England’s cricketing culture; they made English cricket ready for Adil Rashid.
They were repaid handsomely. Across four years, they were repaid over, and over, and over again. Nobody in the world has taken more wickets since the last World Cup than the Yorkshire leggie.
The varying risk of those wicket-taking spells was always a slight worry, but the benefits outweighed the dangers. Rashid has the highest economy of anyone with more than 60 wickets since the last World Cup; he exemplifies, completely, England’s commitment to taking the high-risk option.
Batting is the most obvious example of England being more attacking than they used to be; they come out, they swing from ball one and they try to take the bowler down. It’s tangibly different from what came before. England made Rashid their lead spinner, and have backed him to the hilt, because they recognised that they needed a bowler like him – and he was the best they had. It was a break from English history. There have been 149 wickets by English leg-spinners in ODI history. 143 have been Adil Rashid’s.
It’s one thing doing it it in the middle of a bilateral series. It’s another doing it in the biggest match of their lives, with everything to play for. Hence, today, there was jeopardy. The shoulder injury Rashid suffered earlier in the year had affected his ability to bowl that googly, and there was genuine concern that it was damaging his threat. Those early games – when he took two wickets in four matches – were a worry.
Like all great stories, we needed some threat. We needed to feel, collectively, that maybe that moment of fulfilment wouldn’t arrive. We felt it in this match alone, as the pairing of Steve Smith and a patched up Alex Carey drove Australia forwards. Nervous English hearts add a fair few runs to the scorecard, in that scenario.
Then Carey holed out. Or rather, Adil Rashid laid a trap, and Carey walked straight into it. England’s coaching staff are meticulous in their research, just like any other international side, but they have buy in from their captain. Eoin Morgan listens. He will have known that Alex Carey is a big slog sweeper, a big scorer through mid-wicket. This was always in their minds.
The ball from Rashid to Carey spun 4.4°, the most of any ball Rashid had bowled all today. He found something extra. That extra spin disrupted Carey’s up-to-that-point immaculate strokeplay, drawing a less than middled skew to the fielder in the deep, in the heart of Carey’s hot zone.
The real magic was close though. It was just around the corner.
Marcus Stoinis is not an elite hitter. In terms of his heightened reputation, he benefits from plenty. An epochal innings early in his career, against New Zealand; an all-round skillset; a face, body and personality that advertisers and fans drool over. His Batting Impact is, despite the hype, just +0.6. He is the opposite of a Moneyball man.
And yet, he has enough hitting ability to take a game away from a side; with him at the crease, Australia had a chance. His wicket had enormous value, match-defining value.
And so, Rashid sent down a ball laced with the wonder that comes with a career that only he has had. It fizzed down with 1.3° of drift through the air, humming with the skill of a thousand balls bowled in nets up and down the country, across the world; it gripped, turning 1.4° off the surface, a shock that spat off the Birmingham turf like a kick from a mule; it would have cannoned emphatically into the stumps were it not for the lump of Western Australian in the way. Stoinis was gone. The game was won.
The googly isn’t a normal ball. It’s high-risk, it flies out of the back of your hand into neighbours gardens, taking your dignity with it; it is the sign of an elite spinner to be able to nail it more often than not. It’s freakish to be able to even land one. Let alone land it like Adil.
Plenty of people criticise England for the fact that the ancestry of their playing XI is scattered around the globe. To do so is often coming from a place that, if we were being kind, is only a gentle form of xenophobia.
But Britain is a country in flux. It’s a nation where Tommy Robinson is a figure no longer on the fringes, where questioning the Britishness of people born on these shores is a mainstream act, despite being a violent, hateful one; Adil Rashid is far more than a Muslim athlete, far far more, but he is that as well. English cricket should be proud of that. English cricket should shout it from the rooftops.
But it should be almost as proud that finally, they have sculpted and shaped a talent like Rashid. His like has not been welcome in English cricket for many a year; too risky, too unreliable, too other. Whilst the vast, vast majority of credit for his achievements falls on him and him alone, the culture which allowed him to flourish deserves credit. England changed, to accommodate Adil Rashid. It’s all the better for it.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.