Ireland's Spin Depth
MALAHIDE, IRELAND - MAY 15: Tim Murtagh of Ireland celebrates with team mates after taking the wicket of Asad Shafiq of Pakistan during the fifth day of the international test cricket match between Ireland and Pakistan on May 15, 2018 in Malahide, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

In recent news, perhaps the Irish border ‘backstop’ was crucial to a Brexit deal defeat but when you poke your nose around in a cricketing context, you could see the Irish spin depth with bowlers providing a measure of last resort whenever they play at home on pitches greener than a bottle of Chartreuse.

On their tour to India, the spinners dictated the terms and prevented another drubbing at the hands of the Afghans. After seeing the Afghan batsmen, Hazratullah Zazai in particular, go absolutely ballistic in the T20I series, the Irishmen managed to regain some lost ground in the ODI series as they returned to a more familiar format where they have created ripples in the past.

Assessing Ireland’s Spin Depth

Very rarely would you see spin depth concerning the Afghan batsmen and it being the reason behind their batting discomforts but the recent ODI series served as a great exhibition between the Afghan spinners and the Irish finger spinners. It can be argued that the finger spinners may not have as many variations as wrist spinners do but consistency and accuracy became their watchword. Add experience to it and you have just the right elements a spinner would need to get the ball talking.

Moving onto the one-off Test match, the spin attacks on either side don’t change a lot. Mujeeb Zadran, the mystery spinner, has been rested but to replace him, Afghanistan have brought in the Intercontinental Cup stalwart, Zahir Khan, a left-arm wrist spinner to add variety to a bowling attack comprising of top-ranked leg-spinner in T20s, a wily off-spinner and a promising pace attack.

It is no secret that Afghanistan boast an enviable spin attack, but how do the Irish spinners stack up in a format deemed successful for finger spinners?

As a bowling unit in the ODIs, Andy McBrine‘s consistency in terms of economy and average has given Ireland a major shot in the arm. He has bowled in the powerplay as well as the middle overs, providing flexibility. Add some spice to the deck and he is a potent force to reckon with. His control and the ability to turn the ball square have been major talking points and the stats reflect the depth.

Since the Champions Trophy in 2017, he boasts of a staggering economy of just a shade above four as he sits well above the likes of Moeen Ali, Shakib Al Hasan, Ravindra Jadeja, Mitchell Santner and Mohammad Nabi to name a few.

Ian Callender, an Irish cricket journalist who has covered over 550 games, feels Andy McBrine is perfectly suited for the conditions who can bat a bit as well. ” McBrine is our most economical bowler, he had an economy of almost exactly four in the ODIs and can turn the ball square. He has played in 15 of the last 17 ODIs and regularly opens the bowling. He’s also a better batsman than he has shown. ”

The batting approach McBrine employed to score off Mujeeb and Rashid Khan in the ODI series, albeit for brief phases, vindicates the point that he is adept at playing spin and could therefore be a key lower order contributor with the bat.

George Dockrell, who missed out on a spot in the 15-member squad for Ireland’s maiden Test appearance against Pakistan is set to earn his first Test cap on Friday. If his recent performances in the ODI series were anything to go by, Dockrell will be expected to play a vital cog in the wheel in the longer format with his ability to tackle spin, score off the spinners and attack the stumps regularly as a spinner. With two scores of above 40 in the ODIs, he will look to live up to his newly gained reputation of being a genuine all-rounder. Questions resurfaced before the series if Dockrell was working enough on his bowling but Ian feels he remains Ireland’s frontline spinner.

“Dockrell is still our number one spinner. He took eight wickets in the ODIs at an average of 25, albeit at an economy of just over five. With his improved batting form, he is a certainty for the team. ”

As the bowling stocks of Dockrell and McBrine continue to rise, the tour hasn’t been fruitful for the Indian-born all-rounder Simi Singh.  His off breaks have been serviceable but not incisive. Ian suggests the inclusion of an extra batsman in place of Simi.

“Apart from the first ODI, when he bowled ten overs for 19, he has not impressed and he is not a number four batsman. He has been practising leg breaks but they have been few and far between and I don’t think he will make the cut. Stirling (and even Balbirnie) can be used as a fourth spinner or partnership breaker, if required.”

The inclusion of James McCollum, who top-scored with 193 runs across two unofficial Tests on tour to Sri Lanka, for a batting spot in the middle order seems to be justified. Lorcan Tucker, young wicket-keeper batsman capped in T20Is, too impressed in Sri Lanka with long, gutsy and well-paced knocks but Stuart Poynter’s experience in the form of County Championship stints with Durham could well see him don the gloves in the absence of Gary Wilson.

The latest spin bowling sensation to come out of Belfast’s InterPro team Northern Knights has been another left-arm spinner James Cameron-Dow. Making his ODI debut, he showed glimpses of what he brings to the table in form of a genuine spinner but his lack of consistency in the shorter formats so far could see him be a long format specialist for Ireland, a role similar to England’s Jack Leach.

” James is the 28-year-old new ‘kid’ on the block. He impressed on the recent Ireland Wolves trip to Sri Lanka and was called up for this tour. As another left-armer, he will play as Afghanistan have so many right handers and his preferred format is red-ball. He is also a useful lower order bat with an economy virtually identical to Dockrell. ”

The pitch, if it stays true to its nature, can be deemed as a result-oriented surface, as is the case with dry and worn out pitches in the country. The conditions, if skilfully exploited, can produce a contest on even keels. However, Ireland need to exercise caution with aggression especially with the bat, let the spinners step up to take the center stage and expect the fast bowlers to be a ‘backstop’ for a while.

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