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Decade in review

Who should be the spinner in Wisden’s Test team of the decade?

spinner test team of the decade
by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

The final podcast in the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast’s Decade in Review series, picking Wisden’s men’s Test team of the decade, is available to listen to now.

An esteemed panel of Lawrence Booth, Wisden Almanack editor, and Phil Walker, Jo Harman, and John Stern, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief, magazine editor, and editor-at-large respectively, pored over the selections for over an hour in a debate chaired by regular WCW host Yas Rana.

One of the most contentious areas of debate concerned the identity of the team’s spin bowler, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Yasir Shah, Rangana Herath, Nathan Lyon, and Graeme Swann all mooted at one point or another. This is how the discussion unfolded:

Phil Walker: I’ve picked Yasir Shah. 37 Test matches, not a huge selection there, granted, but 207 wickets from 37 games… he averages five and a half wickets a game. The only leggie in the longlist, three 10-wicket hauls in those 37 games, and a personal favourite of mine is his 6-72 at Lord’s to win that game in 2016. That will always stay with me, spinners always struggle to take wickets at Lord’s. We all know leggies struggle to take wickets in Test cricket full stop.

I know that he’s had a dud year, it may be that he’s losing the magic, it may be that there are technical problems, but I think his record is good, very good – he’s a match-winner. He’s a leg-spinner doing almost the impossible in this era of dart-bowling finger-spinners. He’s my little bit of romance in there.

Jo Harman: I found this the hardest selection, partly because there aren’t that many standout options. I looked at the averages over the decade, Ravi Jadeja’s is best, followed by Ravi Ashwin and Rangana Herath. In terms of strike-rates, Ashwin is best, followed by Yasir Shah and Herath. And even though Herath didn’t win either of those things, for me he was the one that stood out throughout the decade even though he debuted in the previous century.

363 wickets at 26, 30 five-fors and nine 10-wicket hauls – no side has depended on their spinner more and no spinner has been more reliable over the last decade. His record overseas is not great, his record in India is not great.

Lawrence Booth: Rather boringly, the only three I thought could possibly make it were Lyon, Ashwin and Herath. They’re miles ahead in terms of wickets. It’s hard to split the three. With the spinner, it’s an old Duncan Fletcher idea, but the spinner always has to be able to bat because the spinner often doesn’t play a role until the fourth innings of a game.

Ashwin wins that one hands down, he’s almost an all-rounder and he’s batted in the top six for India in the past. He’s at eight in my team mainly because it’s virtually impossible to split those three. The fact that he averages 25 and Lyon averages 32 can be explained by the conditions they mainly bowl in but Ashwin’s extra ability with the bat gets him in for me.

Yas Rana: Ashwin’s only played 20 Tests outside Asia. His record outside Asia isn’t great and we don’t know where this hypothetical match is taking place. There’s not much between those three. What about Graeme Swann? Much of his best work was this decade, he only had one year as a Test cricketer outside of this decade. He was a core part of a team that went to number one in the world.

John Stern: I went for Lyon. He’s an impressive cricketer. The volume of wickets, he’s won matches, he’s won matches around the world.

JH: You could argue that he’s the most adaptable of those spinners. He’s got a good record in Australia for a finger spinner.

PW: Lyon averages around 32. It’s the highest of the six spinners of this decade if you’re just looking at wickets taken. I would personally be a bit uncomfortable having him in this side. I think he has been shown up here and there, you’d expect his record in Asia to be absolutely brilliant and it’s not. In England, he did struggle a little bit. I personally wouldn’t be throwing the hat in the ring for Nathan Lyon. Ashwin is very persuasive.

JH: I think Ashwin is probably the most persuasive because he does offer solid runs. I’d be more comfortable with Ashwin than Lyon even if Herath is still my number one pick.

PW: Herath’s modest record in India is interesting.

YR: Small sample size though.

LB: Trouble with Swann, it’s similar to the Prior debate, it’s a bit Anglo-centric. ‘Well he was part of the England team that went to the top of the world eight years ago.’ The rest of the world probably wouldn’t be very impressed with that argument.

PW: I would also add that he was great in 2012 in India but I think Panesar out-bowled him. Certainly shoulder-to-shoulder at that time. I’m comfortable with Swann missing out.

Eventually, the panel decided on Ashwin as the side’s sole spinner. To hear how they selected the rest of the XI, either listen below or head to the Podcast App or Spotify.

Wisden’s decade in review series is brought to you in association with Perry, designers of distinctive club blazers made in Yorkshire since 1946. Vote in the decade in review readers’ survey.

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