England gave the strongest hint yesterday that they will continue with their controversial bowling policy and go into the Boxing Day Test without a specialist spinner. Photo: Reuters

England gave the strongest hint yesterday that they will continue with their controversial bowling policy and go into the Boxing Day Test without a specialist spinner.

Chris Silverwood, the England coach, made his first visit on this tour to the scene of the opening match of a hugely important four-Test series against South Africa — and appeared to rule out the chances of any of his three spinners playing.

England dropped Jack Leach in Hamilton for the second Test against New Zealand last month and left the slow bowling to captain Joe Root and leg-spinner Joe Denly, and they seem certain to repeat that move.

‘Yes, I think it is,’ said Silverwood when asked if a five-man seam attack was something he would replicate on the high veld. ‘We looked at the stats in Hamilton and they showed spin didn’t have much effect on games there. It’s the same here.

‘It’s not rocket science and those stats are readily available. Look at the amount of wickets taken by seam and spin in Centurion and the averages that go with them. They suggest seam is the way forward. We’re seriously looking at that.’

It is a contentious move and one not connected with Leach being one of the ‘flu-ridden three’ in the early stages of this tour as, along with Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer, he has made a full recovery, and bowled and batted in the nets yesterday.

England wanted Moeen Ali to make this trip but he will continue his self-imposed exile from Tests, while leg-spinner Matt Parkinson looked raw in the extreme in his lengthy spells in the warm-up matches in Benoni. But Silverwood denied the move was in any way a reflection of the quality of spin at his disposal, even though the call-up of off-spinner Dom Bess as cover here while Leach was ill appeared a tacit admission that Parkinson, in particular, is far from ready.

‘We’re just looking at what is effective on this ground,’ insisted Silverwood. ‘We’ve got good resources in the spin department. Leach is coming back to fitness and we’ve got Dom Bess here, while Parky bowled nicely in Benoni.’

The question then is which seamers England will play alongside all-rounder Ben Stokes, whose presence at No 5 in the batting order really should allow for a balanced attack. The bowlers badly affected by the flu virus that hit the camp in their first week here were allowed out of quarantine yesterday to mix with the rest of the squad.

Broad and Archer looked much more like their old selves, bowling six overs each in the nets with the promise of 10 more today in a lengthy session for the full squad. Broad spent an hour pacing round the Centurion outfield to replicate something of the time he will spend on his feet in a match. Such a determined competitor at 33, he looks certain to play alongside the returning Jimmy Anderson, and Archer now appears to have a better chance of joining them than earlier this week. England’s new pace weapon looked much happier yesterday and took out Craig Overton’s off stump with the first ball he bowled.

‘Jofra has had two good days,’ said Silverwood. ‘As long as his pace is up, he feels good and he’s got the practice he needs, then he comes into serious contention. Stuart has more experience and if he tells me he’s fit I’ve got to believe him.

‘Maybe there’s a little more caution around Jofra, but more than anything that’s for his well-being. We will need to make sure he’s 100 per cent but we saw today he was running in and bowling fast. If we see a couple more sessions like that, he’ll throw his hat into the ring.’

Sam Curran may have the edge on Chris Woakes for the final place with the variety of his left-arm swing. And if England hold Archer back until the second Test in Cape Town, then both Curran and Woakes will play. But, either way, it will be South Africa, in the form of Keshav Maharaj, who will field a slow bowler in this first Test while England’s spinning cupboard looks bare.

l England are ‘open to discussions’ about a new annual one-day tournament against Australia and India, even though the calendar is already overcrowded. Sourav Ganguly, president of the Indian board, was quoted in Kolkata yesterday saying the three countries and one invited guest will take part in the inaugural Super Series in India in 2021. The ECB admitted talks have been held about the idea between cricket’s ‘big three’ but said no details have yet been agreed.

Silverwood admits England are likely to go into crucial first Test without a specialist spinner

Daily Mail