IND vs ENG Test series: Dravid and McCullum comparison

From the time Lancashire spin bowling coach Carl Crowe met Tom Hartley, there has been one ritual that has been followed till date. After discussing everything under the sun, the conversation would gradually veer towards spin bowling. And it will ultimately end with Crowe and Hartley studying the footage of Ravindra Jadeja. At times, even Instagram reels of the all-rounder outfoxing batsmen are shared. Ahead of the ongoing tour to India, the two even watched a lot of videos of Axar Patel.

When England picked three inexperienced spinners to partner Jack Leach, Hartley’s was mostly seen as a back-up to the frontline left-arm spinner. But during the two trips that Hartley made to the UAE in December and January – first with England Lions and then with the senior team for a pre-series camp – would turn into a game-changer. And in the first Test at Hyderabad, despite looking out of place in the first innings, Hartley would walk away with 7/62 in the second and bowl England to victory.

Like most English spinners, Hartley doesn’t have a side-on run-up, and his approach to the stumps is at times quick. More importantly, he seldom flights the ball. But these factors worked in his favour in India, rather than just relying on the revs. It is the reason why Hartley and Crowe have been analysing the footages of India’s two spinners for a while.

“We watch a lot of Jadeja and Axar, especially in terms of how they vary their speeds and the approach they have when it comes to bowling across conditions. With a repeatable action, they are able to be consistent. And the idea for us is not to copy them, but learn what they are doing to be successful. That is what we impart in his bowling,” Crowe adds.

And one of the key learnings was that in spin-friendly conditions, the straighter one is as lethal as the one that turns sharply. It is what Jadeja and Axar rely on to outfox batsmen, who are often trapped in front or end up losing their stumps. “On such pitches, you need to have those. While the delivery to KS Bharat (bowled by a big-turning delivery in the second innings) was indeed special, we enjoyed the one to Rohit (Sharma) much more as it went in with the angle. Those subtle variations would keep you in the game,” Crowe adds.

Willing to learn

Festive offer

That Crowe also knows the conditions in India also played its part. Having been part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ support staff in the past, Crowe would pass on whatever he picked up from his stint. “He is a very coachable player, one who wants to talk and learn about spin. It just doesn’t end with the net session. He is very craft-oriented even off the field. A couple of seasons ago, when Washington Sundar was here, Tom spent a lot of time with him and learnt a few things,” Crowe adds.

While the manner in which Hartley bounced back after being hit all over the park in the first innings and returning with figures of 131/2 in 25 overs, back home in Lancashire, they weren’t a worried lot. “Of course, Test cricket is always challenging. But one thing we knew was, he would bounce back very quickly. Because that is what he is used to doing here. At Old Trafford, we have a short boundary on one side. And invariably, when we play white-ball games, Hartley always puts his hand up to bowl from the end where the leg-side boundary is short. He is a very level-headed fellow, whose attitude stands out. He is a very relaxed person and you need that as a spinner,” Crowe says.

Despite playing top-flight cricket in England, the other stand-out quality of Hartley, according to Crowe, is how he still keeps connections with his roots. A product of the Ormskirk Cricket Club, a small team in the west side of Lancashire, he maintains his membership despite turning out for the Red Rose county.

Son of Bill Hartley, a former European Championship gold medallist in 4x400m relay, during the off-season, he is used to spending time at the family’s nursery, taking care of the plants on a daily basis.

“He has acquired a lot of qualities from his father,” Mark Chilton, Lancashire’s director of cricket, tells this daily. “That he comes from a family which knows what it takes to be a high-performance athlete has a lot of bearing on him. His father has had a huge influence on him and it especially shows when he is handling adversity. He never flinches even in high-pressure moments,” Chilton says.

Rapid improvement

During his time at Lancashire, first as a coach and now as a director, Chilton has seen Hartley grow. There was a time, especially at age-group levels, when it seemed that Hartley would not make it beyond the youth team. Chilton says he just about made it to the academy, but all of it would change for good.

Having played rugby and football during his formative years, cricket became Hartley’s first love only later. “He developed fairly late. Even when he left school, he wasn’t the player he was. But when he was 19-20, he went on a tour to Australia in the winter to play some club cricket as it was summer there. He came back as a different cricketer and just established himself from there on. In the pre-season tour we took to Dubai, he showed how far he has come as a spinner and has just got better and better,” Chilton adds.

Despite starting his Test career with a bang, when the county season begins in a few months from now, there is a strong chance that Hartley would not even find a spot in Lancashire’s XI. Having signed Australia’s Nathan Lyon as one of their overseas pros, Harltey may have to warm the bench. It isn’t a unique experience for spinners in England. On each of their previous tours to India, they have come with inexperienced tweakers. And despite having good returns, they tend to go missing from the Test side in the summer. “Our county system doesn’t support the development of spinners,” Chilton admits. “At least at Old Trafford, there will be times when conditions will aid them, but in most counties, spinners don’t even make the XI. With Lyon coming over, we believe it would also help Hartley a great deal. Even if doesn’t play, I’m sure he is going to learn plenty from the training sessions,” Chilton says.

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