London, June 5 (IANS) Former England captain Michael Atherton feels left-arm spin all-rounder Liam Dawson can be a like-for-like replacement for injured Jack Leach, after he suffered a lower-back stress fracture, thus ruling him out of the upcoming Ashes series against Australia.
Leach developed lower-back stress fracture symptoms during England’s ten-wicket victory over Ireland in their one-off Test at the Lord’s last week, where the left-arm spinner took four wickets and scans on Sunday revealed the fracture, which will keep him out of five-match Ashes series starting from June 16 at Edgbaston.
Leach had established himself as England’s main spinner under Ben Stokes’ captaincy and was the only specialist spinner named in the 16-man squad for the first two Tests. His absence is a huge blow to England, who now have only 11 days in hand to decide on his replacement for the Ashes.
“In the last 12 months, he’d really established himself as a central part of Ben Stokes’ team. He’s been ever-present, Stokes clearly believes in him. He’s been flourishing as a spinner under Stokes. The expectation was he’d have a key part to play so for him it’s a desperate blow.”
“It’s the series every England cricketer wants to play in. If you want an absolute like-for-like replacement then Liam Dawson is a steady, experienced left-arm spinner. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s been in pretty good form at the start of the season for Hampshire. He bats as well,” Atherton was quoted as saying by Sky Sports News.
Talking about other options in contention, Atherton said, “England’s second and third spinners in Pakistan were Rehan Ahmed and Will Jacks, who both did very well when they played. Jacks took six wickets on debut in Rawalpindi and Ahmed got seven in Karachi. They would be the next cabs off the rank.”
“I don’t think they’ll be worried about throwing Ahmed or Jacks back in but it’s not as simple a decision as that. Bowling leg-spin in Karachi is very different to the start of an Ashes series in England. If they want a really reliable spinner to allow the quicks to operate at the other end then it may not be that they want a young leg-spinner who has not bowled that much.”
Atherton also thinks that with Stokes managing a troublesome left knee, they ca’ use Joe Root’s part-time off-spin as their sole spinning option in the playing eleven and field a four-man pace attack.
“The other issue is Stokes’ knee. They may decide to play the extra seamer at Edgbaston and just have Root as a spinner because they’re unsure about Stokes’ knee. He hasn’t bowled for ages, he did about 10 minutes of bowling in the warm-up before the Test match the other day but he didn’t look fit when he took a catch.”
Atherton signed off by saying he would reach out to off-spin all-rounder Moeen Ali, who retired from Test cricket a few years ago. “I wouldn’t if I was captain because they had a conversation with him ahead of Pakistan and Moeen said publicly his time as a Test cricketer was done.”
“He was moving on elsewhere to a different focus for the rest of his career in franchise cricket. Although The Ashes is a hugely tempting thing, I can’t see what would have changed in the meantime. They may make that call and who knows what can happen.”