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Nixon column: What Moeen Ali needs to aim to improve to stave off the threat of Jack Leach

By Paul Nixon

It’s been great to see Jack Leach performing so well for the England Lions in the West Indies this winter. The spin department is one which has been highlighted by the Test selectors as an area where more wickets need to be taken and the Somerset left-armer is a top young talent who is certainly capable of that.

Jack is a real success story when it comes to developing young players, having started off in the Minor Counties with Dorset and, at 26, is the perfect age for a spinner to peak.

In fact, he’s still young for a spinner and taking 185 wickets at an average of 25 is an outstanding return thus far.

It’s important now that Jack starts to learn to bowl on flat pitches. It’s okay at his home ground, Taunton, as it is quite conducive to spin. Now he’s got to learn to be smart at certain times and that’s why this Lions tour has been such a success for him.

The West Indies is a great place to bowl spin as the pitches are worn and dry. In truth, he should have expected to be England’s top wicket-taker in their three unofficial Tests with West Indies A but the fact he was will give him a huge amount of confidence going into a long summer.

Personally, I feel sorry for England’s current incumbent, Moeen Ali, who has pretty much nailed down his place in the Test side prior to a disappointing winter.

Mo can bowl, there’s no two ways about that, but it’s key for him that if the ball isn’t turning that he is still building pressure on the batsman. When Moeen goes round the wicket, he struggles to find the right angle to trouble the batsman, often bowling too straight, and, as a result, tends to get picked off a bit too much.

Building pressure on the batsman is a key element of spin bowling, especially when things aren’t going your way. There have been a number of slower bowlers over the years who have carved out excellent careers for themselves without being the biggest spinner of a ball, Ashley Giles for one, who kept the batsman thinking on his toes, giving the pacemen a much-needed rest, without proving too expensive and picking up the odd crucial wicket.

What Moeen is, however, is a very good batsman and that will always stand him in good stead with the England selectors, as opposed to Leach, who averages just over 12 with the bat in first-class cricket.

Moeen has scored over 10,000 first-class runs at an average of over 37 across all forms and gives England an option in either the top or middle order.

Mason Crane’s admission to the team for his first Ashes Test in Sydney was a sign the selectors are looking at other options, but also a sign that Moeen could be used as a specialist batsman, coming in at seven.

Jack was undoubtedly the star of the 2017 County Championship but we are lucky to have a number of young spinners who, like Mason, will be looking to make their mark this summer.

Certainly, at Leicestershire, we are delighted with the form of young Callum Parkinson, who has been impressing Peter Such on the England Spin Programme this winter.

At 21 years of age, Callum is a very level-headed, well-balanced young man, can bat and bowl but, more importantly, has a great attitude to boot.

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