By Peter Hayter
One ball was all it took but what a ball it was. Pitching on leg-stump, it spun sharply and, seemingly gathering pace off the pitch, beat India’s Virat Kohli before he had had a chance to work out how to play it, crashed into his off stump and turned the third and final One-Day International decisively in England’s favour.
It was not quite Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century, though the pursed-lipped shock on the face of the best batsman in world cricket did bring to mind the expression on Mike Gatting’s mug at Old Trafford that day in 1993, described eloquently by his Middlesex and England teammate Phil Tufnell as “looking like someone had nicked his lunch”.
And it sparked newspaper offices into a frenzy of graphic design, sports editors demanding and getting screen-grabs of TV pictures accompanied by coloured lines displaying where the ball would have ended up had it not turned and where it actually did, and revealing the delivery achieved 5.7 degrees of turn, something that, in layman’s turns, roughly equated to ragging square.
The significance of what Kohli and everyone else had witnessed, sandwiched in between the wickets of Dinesh Karthik and, five balls after the Indian skipper, Suresh Raina, reverberated round Headingley long after England’s Test skipper Joe Root had celebrated his match-winning century.
Not just for the actual ball itself, but just as much for the threat of its presence, if Rashid was capable of doing Kohli so comprehensively in white-ball cricket, on the sun-baked pitches the teams are likely to play on in the upcoming five-Test series, why could the Yorkshireman not do exactly the same to him and his colleagues with the red ball?
Alongside England’s other spin options; the inexperience of Jack Leach or Dom Bess, or even the experience of Moeen Ali, whose one-day form seems to have nudged him back into the frame, with this ball Rashid instantly appeared, by a country mile more than 5.7 degrees, the most dangerous spinner available to Ed Smith and his fellow selectors as they prepare to pick their Test squad. And the message rang out loud and clear – get him in. Whatever it takes, get him in.
Except that Rashid has apparently decided he no longer wishes to be considered available for Test cricket, having told his county at the start of this season that he only wished to play for them in coloured clothing, and had set his sights on mixing his England short-form commitments with opportunities to fill his bowling boots with untold riches from global T20 franchises. No-one should blame him for that, and the England and Wales Cricket Board certainly aren’t, especially as the man who may well lead them to their first World Cup win ever.
Eoin Morgan, made the very same call years ago, and Director of England Cricket Andrew Strauss continues to offer his ODI skipper full support.
Yorkshire have a less charitable view, of course. After having been stung by what they viewed as his rudely late call to play white-ball cricket only for them before the start of the season, the signs are that his days at the club might not extend beyond the end of their involvement in this summer’s Vitality Blast, and, as things stand, it will definitely not include any of their remaining Championship matches.
Rashid might, with some justification, point to the fact that when England had the chance to pick him for last winter’s Ashes series Down Under, they chose instead to invest in Mason Crane, the young Hampshire leg-spinner full of youthful promise but precious little in the way of wickets to justify such elevation.
It will not have escaped Rashid’s attention that one of the men making that call was his county colleague Root.
But, assuming that historic difficulty can be overcome, with five Tests against India this summer, a series in Sri Lanka which would not clash with any Big Bash gig and a home Ashes series next year, is there really no way back for him to Test cricket? Is that really it for him at the highest level? After that ball?
Coach Trevor Bayliss thinks that is a question well worth further exploration.
“That’s a decision he’s got to make,” says Bayliss. “Could he get picked in the Test team on white-ball form? Well,
it’s already been proven this year it’s happened once. So, look I’m sure he’ll be up for discussion definitely.”
In his short time as National Selector, Smith has already shown he is not afraid to take risks or to buck current trends. Root may not have needed a great deal of persuading to move up to number three, but the fact that he resisted the notion for so long indicates it may not have happened had Smith not got the job.
Jos Buttler’s return was far more controversial, of course, particularly in view of the poke in the eye it represented to those committing themselves to the more conventional process of trying to earn Test match recognition by playing Championship cricket. No one is arguing now.
And there are those the length and breadth of county cricket who will argue that the appointment of James Taylor as Smith’s right-hand man is a snub to all those who have been around far longer and seen far more.
The proof of that pudding will be in the selecting, but from those who know Taylor, the size of his cricket brain and the acuteness of his instincts, there has been no dissent whatsoever.
Would efforts to change Rashid’s mind bear fruit? No guarantee. Would they be worth a try? After what he did to Kohli at Headingley last week, why on earth not?
After all, while one ball was all it took, what a ball it was.
Kohli can't believe it! An incredible delivery @AdilRashid03! 😲
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 17, 2018