OPINION | Why I want to see more of Sam Curran in England’s Test side
After two pretty dismal bowling performances from England during the first Test and day one of the second Test down in New Zealand, it’s high time that England’s bowling (and bowlers) should come under some scrutiny. But that can wait, and instead I’d like to talk about one young man who I believe offers England something a little different from everyone else in the England set-up – Sam Curran.
So, what makes Sam Curran different from the rest of the batch of England’s seam attack? The eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted it – he’s a left-armer, and in my opinion having a good left-arm seam bowler in your team is a massive weapon that shouldn’t be understimated.
Because left-arm seamers are relatively few and far between, facing left arm seam bowling is a very unfamiliar situation for a batsman to be in, giving the batsman fresh problems to deal with (particularly right-handed batsmen). In particular, left-arm seamers angling the ball across a right-hander encourages them to drive through the covers, bringing the slips into play. Similarly, when targeting the stumps, it’s not uncommon to see right-handed batsmen fall over or play all around it. In other words, a good left-armer can bring all modes of dismissal into play against a right-handed batsman a great deal more easily than a right-armer can. I’m not suggesting that left-arm seamers are by-default better than their right-handed counterparts; just that they can offer something different, which can ultimately make the difference in a Test match.
There’s something about a good left-arm seamer that can make top class batsmen look incredibly uncomfortable at the crease, particularly those who can swing the ball. At Test level, we currently have Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Mitchell Starc, Wahab Riaz and 19 year-old Shaheen Afridi. Looking further back, we had the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Zaheer Khan and Wasim Akram to name a few, not to mention a 17-year-old Mohammad Amir who burst onto the scene and looked set for great things, before he ‘overstepped the mark’ and got himself a five year ban. All of these men are excellent bowlers in their own right but made every team they played for that little bit better because of the variety they brought with them.
Now I’m not suggesting that Sam Curran is anywhere close to the bowler that Wasim Akram was, and indeed I don’t think he ever will be. But like all good left-arm seamers (and seamers in general), he constantly asks questions of the batsman, and I think that’s one of the most powerful qualities a Test bowler can possess. I was always taught ‘a good leave is the best shot you can play in cricket’, and it’s something I definitely agree with when talking about Test cricket. Take the Ashes for example – the two batsmen who left the ball better than anyone else were Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and it’s no surprise that they finished as top and 4th-highest run-scorers respectively, despite neither being involved in all five Tests.
Now ask yourself, how often do you see a batsman leave it when Sam Curran is bowling, compared to when Broad, Archer etc. are bowling? Not very much. The reason for this is the way in which Curran heavily targets the stumps. Being only 5’ 9”, he has a skiddy action and doesn’t generate a great deal of bounce off the pitch, making it difficult for batsmen to leave him on length. As well as this, his natural action is to swing it back into the right-hander, making it very difficult for them to leave on line as well.
I’m a big fan of this type of bowling as you’re constantly in the game. The number one thing you’re asked to do as a bowler is “make him play” and Sam Curran does this consistently. This is often some people’s criticism of Curran as he occasionally is expensive when he doesn’t get it right. But as often as he gets it wrong, he gets it right. To date, having played 12 Test matches, he’s taken 24 wickets at an average of 30.3 with an economy of 3.32. In comparison, Chris Woakes has played 31 matches, taken 88 wickets at an average of 31.3 and has an economy of 3.1). These are not bad figures by any stretch, especially for a young man who only just turned 21 this summer.
I’m not going to mention too much about his batting as he is primarily in the side as a bowler, but it’s worth remembering that the lad can bat. Twelve matches into his Test career and he already has 3 Test fifties to his name, averaging 30, all while batting at number 8. This includes a gutsy 78 against India, the top socre in the second innings at Edgbaston in 2018, which rescued England from embarrassment and ultimately won England the match. With Moeen Ali out of the Test side and Ben Stokes’ knee problems, having Curran in the side helps plug that all-rounder-shaped hole.
More than anything though, I like Curran because of how he makes me feel when I watch him play. His energy is infectious and when he has the ball in his hand you always feel like something is about to happen. He’s a young lad who has bundles of talent and he’s only going to get better with playing more regular Test cricket. Once Jimmy Anderson is back there is going to be serious competition among the seamers for a place in the Test side, and I, for one, hope to see Sam Curran cement a place in it.
Mike Gough – 22, specialist no. 11, sledging from deep square leg, hooping it round corners at 60mph