As the new series against India gets underway, starting with England's 1,000th Test match, there's one issue, or one player, that everyone is discussing. It's not the big-hitting of Ben Stokes (both on and off the pitch); it's not the legendary Indian batting lineup of Kohli and Dhoni. It is the unassuming star of the white ball series, Adil Rashid, whose selection for the England Test squad has put the whole game in a spin.
We haven't seen a spin bowler make so many headlines since Shane Warne's 'ball of the century' delivery 25 years ago. The issue has split cricket and has led to a bitter war of words between officials, players and pundits. But what is the problem with Adil Rashid and why should his selection cause such a fuss?
© Photo by DncnH from Melton Mowbray, CC BY 2.0
To understand the current situation, you need to cast your mind back to the selection for the winter tour of Australia and New Zealand. Rashid was not chosen for the tour, with England preferring Somerset's Mason Crane instead. After a winter contemplating his future, Rashid decided to concentrate on the shorter form of the game and signed a white-ball-only contract with Yorkshire in February this year.
Everyone seemed happy with this, even though it left the county so short of spin that they had to borrow Warwickshire spinner Josh Poysden for the Roses Match last month. It seemed to suit Rashid, who has used the rest and refocus to improve his game. Since he left the longer form of the game, he has had an impressive white-ball summer, claiming 18 wickets at an average of 22.61 and developing a Graeme Swann-style habit of taking a wicket almost as soon as he comes on to bowl.
© Photo by Anand Anil, CC BY-SA 4.0
It was all going well until Rashid's 'ball of the century' came along in the one-day series against India, which left Kohli's face the picture of bemusement. Suddenly, Rashid became a must-have for the Test series and a no-brainer for selection. Anyone who can take apart one of India's best batsmen so comprehensively has to be on the team — or at least that is what the selectors thought. However, others in the game thought differently.
"Ridiculous" cried Michael Vaughan, denouncing the selection as "a stab in the back for the county game". Yorkshire Chief Executive, Mark Arthur, said he was "very surprised", while their director of cricket, Martyn Moxon, said he was 'disappointed' and described a "frank exchange of views" with the chief selector, Ed Smith. Geoffrey Boycott even went as far as describing Rashid as "spoilt brat".
Of course, you could argue that all Ed Smith has done is fulfil his role as a selector. Trying to pick a Test team from the available players is like trying to make the best hand at the poker table. You can only work with the cards dealt, the players who are fit and in form. But with Rashid, the selectors seem to have introduced a wild card, a one-eyed jack, and not everyone approves. There's no denying that Rashid is an ace, but the question remains whether he is a valid card to play in the England Test deck.
Smith claims that these are exceptional circumstances, brought about by a lack of available players, yet Jack Leach and Dom Bess would probably dispute this. The ECB says they don't have the game time, with Leach only playing three first-class matches this summer, and Bess only playing four, yet this is still three or four more first-class games than Rashid has played in.
The situation is not without precedent. The England rugby side have often gone without star players who have chosen to play abroad, including the Top-14 record try-scorer of 2018, Chris Ashton. The sacrifice of these players is for the good of the domestic game in England and encourages them to stay put and ply their trade in the Premiership - and the same sacrifice needs to be made for the county game in cricket, whatever the cost for the national side.
By the end of the summer, Ed Smith could well be vindicated by results, and Rashid could be a national hero. Sir Ian Botham hopes so - "I hope he does really well," he commented. "I like the kid. I have seen some ridiculous stuff written, and I am very much on Adil's side". That said, whether he is still a Yorkshire player after the dust settles seems uncertain.