With England’s bowling attack struggling for penetration in the Ashes in Australia, it’s time to question the apparently accepted absence of Adil Rashid.

England have trouble taking wickets on flat pitches, yet faced with five Tests in Australia they didn’t bother bringing their most effective flat-pitch bowler. I’d quite like someone to explain that to me.

It’s not that I think Adil Rashid would have completely changed England’s fortunes. I don’t. I just don’t really get what’s happened with him or why everyone seems to be absolutely fine with it.

Here we have a right-arm fast-medium attack garnished with a single right-arm finger spinner for variety; and here we have the wrist-spinner who took more Test wickets than any of his teammates on last winter’s India tour. If Rashid is not the answer, he is surely at the very least a half-decent educated guess.

[caption id=”attachment_59043″ align=”alignnone” width=”796″] Rashid was England’s top wicket-taker last winter[/caption]

Put it this way: if James Anderson and Stuart Broad aren’t doing the job with 900-and-odd Test wickets to their names, then are two more 80-85mph bowlers attempting to do the exact same thing really likely to crack the Aussie team open like a cold can of VB?

Partially discarded

At some point last winter, England concluded that Rashid couldn’t hack Test cricket and everyone went: “Yeah, well, that seems fair enough. He’s had plenty of chances, after all.”

The decision was odd in that the management team clearly still feel he has a major part to play in international cricket. The two limited-overs attacks are, to a great extent, built around him. He is the d20 England roll when more conventional six-sided dice begin to get panned.

It’s also odd that we should all accept this contradictory position. Rashid’s Test career has taken in some of the higher scoring pitches of recent times and he has, at times, shown signs that he might actually be capable of unpicking Test batting line-ups when it’s otherwise a batting day.

[caption id=”attachment_59044″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] Rashid: the d20 England roll when more conventional six-sided dice begin to get panned[/caption]

In limited-overs cricket, England accept that predictability can be a weakness. They welcome the great range of possibilities when the ball leaves Rashid’s hand.

In contrast, this variety – often framed as an inability to build pressure – seems viewed as wholly a bad thing in Test cricket. But it can be a strength – particularly when a partnership builds and the rest of the bowling attack starts to look a bit fast-medium.

As totals increase, a poor ball becomes less and less costly while a wicket becomes more and more valuable. It’s all well and good landing the ball exactly where you want, but if it doesn’t then do something to trouble the batsman, what exactly is the point? What do you do when bowling dry eventually leaves you parched and gasping for a more obvious threat?

Another way to make use of extra bounce

Rashid has taken wickets on flat Test pitches before now, but there seems no real willingness to try and refine him for the longest format. Why he is not deemed worthy of Test investment in the same way as other promising 20-something cricketers is something that isn’t easy to understand.

[caption id=”attachment_59046″ align=”alignnone” width=”852″] England’s right-arm fast-medium attack has looked slightly one-dimensional[/caption]

His debut, when he took 5-64 against Pakistan to spirit up the possibility of an unlikely fifth-day England win, was an early sign of what he can do – but his efforts in India last winter in the face of relentlessly punishing home batting are perhaps more instructive.

In five Tests on that tour, he took four wickets in an innings on four occasions. If he also conceded over 100 runs in an innings five times, it’s worth pondering what his figures might have been had anyone else – anyone else at all – actually bothered to break a partnership.

England played six (count ’em, six!) bowlers in those Tests and yet it was still left to the Yorkshireman to take 23 of the 100 wickets that were theoretically available. Being as 35 of those actually went unclaimed, this means that Rashid took 23 wickets to 42 claimed by the whole of the rest of England’s pointlessly bloated attack.

And yet Rashid was the one who was dropped? Seemingly never to return.

[caption id=”attachment_59045″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″] England picked Mason Crane as their second spinner on the Ashes tour[/caption]

If a Test bowling average of 42.78 cries out for inclusion, then it’s not at all easy to hear. But when you’ve been playing alongside ineffective teammates in matches where the opposition have racked up 700, it’s easy to see how a little bit of average inflation might manifest itself.

As England labour ineffectually Down Under, they might like to review some of Rashid’s first-innings performances from last winter and ponder what such a bowler might have achieved given a modicum more bounce to work with in Australia.

[breakout]His 1-153 in Chennai has become his defining performance, even if India’s 759-7 makes it abundantly clear that he wasn’t the only one struggling in that match[/breakout]

In Rajkot, when India made 488, Rashid took 4-114; in Chandigarh, when they made 417, he took 4-118; and in Mumbai, when they made 631, he took 4-192.

Expensive, yes, but at least he was taking wickets. Clearly no one else was. Sadly for him, his 1-153 in Chennai has become his defining performance, even if India’s 759-7 makes it abundantly clear that he wasn’t the only one struggling in that match.

So why didn’t Rashid at least make it into England’s Ashes squad?

England have been desperate to deploy a leg-spinner Down Under for as long as most of us can remember and unlike Mason Crane, here was one who was blooded and ready to contribute.

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A fixture in the limited-overs teams and with superb results on Australian pitches in the Big Bash League, a case can definitely be made that this was a tour which might have suited Rashid. It’s not even like he’s a rank tail-ender – the guy has 10 first-class hundreds.

There is of course one very striking difference between the 2016 team that lost to India and the one that is being similarly annihilated in Australia right now. I don’t know whether it’s pertinent, but it’s the only thing I can think of: Adil Rashid is yet to play a Test under Joe Root.