Could Adil Rashid be persuaded to make a return to Test cricket on the strength of his white-ball form? Don’t rule it out, is the message from Trevor Bayliss, after describing Rashid’s recent performances against Australia and India as “the best I’ve seen him bowl” since he took over as England’s head coach in 2015.
Rashid claimed 20 wickets at 23.95 in England’s nine-match ODI campaign this summer (and a further five in four T20s), including arguably the collector’s item of his career to date – a big-ripping legbreak to bowl Virat Kohli in the series decider at Headingley, a ball that turned so sharply the India captain was left open-mouthed in astonishment.
An unusually hot and dry summer has enhanced the conditions for spin bowling in England, and India have already responded by drafting the left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav into their Test squad after his own starring role in the limited-overs campaign.
The chances of Rashid following suit would still appear to be slim, given that he retired from red-ball cricket earlier this year, saying that “his heart was not in it” after picking up ten wickets at 50 in seven Championship appearances last summer.
He had not played a Test match for England since 2016-17, when he finished as England’s leading wicket-taker in India and Bangladesh with 30 scalps in seven Tests, and was overlooked for the home series against South Africa and West Indies, as well as the subsequent Ashes tour.
However, England’s selection panel has been overhauled since the winter, and as Bayliss pointed out, the new National Selector Ed Smith set a precedent for Test selection on white-ball form with his very first squad.
Against Pakistan in May, Jos Buttler returned to England’s Test team as a direct consequence of his hot run of form for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, and made an immediate impact with two half-centuries, including a match-defining 80 not out in the second Test at Headingley.
Asked if England would urge Rashid to consider and follow Buttler’s example in Test cricket, Bayliss replied: “Possibly,” but added that the ball remained in the player’s court.
“This year is probably the best we’ve seen him bowl,” Bayliss said of Rashid. “He’s bowled well in one-day cricket over the last few years but his control and his consistency this year has been top class and probably the best I’ve seen him bowl since I’ve been here.
“That’s a decision he’s got to make,” he added. “I’m not sure whether Ed Smith’s had a chat with him or not. 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.”
The desire to lure Rashid back to the fold is a reflection of England’s ongoing struggle to find a Test-class spinning option. In the wake of Moeen Ali’s loss of form during the Ashes, England blooded three new caps in their first four Tests in 2018, with Mason Crane and Jack Leach both suffering injuries that left Dom Bess as the man in possession by the end of the Pakistan series.
Bess, 20, let no-one down with his attitude against Pakistan – not least with the bat, in making vital runs in both Tests, including a maiden fifty at Lord’s. However, he didn’t claim a wicket until the final day of the series, and Bayliss hinted that, all things being equal, he would likely defer to his senior Somerset colleague, Leach, whose broken thumb had given him his opportunity in the first place.
“I think at this time of their careers that’s probably right,” said Bayliss.” I think Bess has got a lot of his career in front of him. But Leach was the one who was identified a couple of years ago and has done well over the last few seasons. I think if he shows any form at all, having a left-arm spinner in there would be of benefit.”
A return for Moeen cannot be ruled out, however. Like Rashid, he finished the one-dayers flushed with confidence after out-performing his Indian counterparts in the decisive moments of the series, and with Ben Stokes set to miss the second Test due to his court case in Bristol, Moeen’s allround qualities may well bring him further into the frame.
“He’s a confidence player and that’ll be a decision we have to make before that first Test. Do we take in two spinners for some of these games? Is it a bit drier this year and if we do we need to decide who those two are going to be.”
The spin situation aside, Bayliss believes that England’s plans for the first Test, starting at Edgbaston on August 1, are fairly clear-cut. Dawid Malan’s timely runs for England Lions against India A ensure that the top-order that finished the series against Pakistan are all in a decent vein of form – not least the Test captain Joe Root, whose back-to-back hundreds against India were a timely statement of intent.
“He was not necessarily out of form but he had a lack of runs I suppose in the last month or two,” said Bayliss. “Sometimes you get into a bit of a rut when the runs aren’t coming so to actually get that confidence back and play as he has done in the last two innings has been fantastic for Joe but also for the team as well.”