England’s absence of world-class spin bowling has seen them turn to 39-year-old Gareth Batty as one of their spinners for their winter tours to Bangladesh and India. Batty played in the first of the two Bangladesh Test matches and performed well enough to make you think he will feature again in India, but it wasn’t the miracle return to Test cricket after a 11-year hiatus that some may have hoped for.
Batty played seven Tests between 2003 and 2005, four of them in Asia, and by the time he was left out ahead of the Ashes in the summer of 2005 he had 11 wickets at an average 66. Ashley Giles returned for that most memorable series and Batty never played again. Until this winter when he was included in the England side for the Test match in Chittagong.
He has played ODI cricket more recently, with the last of his three appearances coming on the West Indies tour of 2009, the same tour that saw Graeme Swann cement his place as England’s first choice spinner in Test cricket. There were no more chances after that for Batty, although he is a better bowler now than he was then.
While he has not had a huge impact on international cricket, but he does have a small place in its history. It was off Gareth Batty's bowling that Brian Lara took the single that took him to 400 not out in the Test at St John’s, Antigua in 2004.
It wasn't an easy start to professional cricket for Batty. He made his debut for his native Yorkshire in 1997, but played just one first-class match for them before lack of opportunities saw him move to Surrey where he was in the fringes of their first-class squad, but a more regular starter in their limited-overs teams.
Unsatisfied with his lot at Surrey he made the move to Worcestershire where he was a first team regular in all formats. His breakthrough season was 2002 where he took 56 wickets. He was selected for the England A team tour that winter and did well enough to be called up as a injury replacement at the end of England’s tour of Australia, making his ODI debut in Sydney in December 2002.
Batty continued to find taking wickets in international cricket a tough ask, and across his 10 ODI matches for England stretched over nearly eight years, he claimed just five wickets.
In 2003 he claimed 60 first-class wickets for Worcestershire, the second and last time he got over 50 wickets in a first-class season. While Batty was succeeding in county cricket it always seemed that the step up to the highest level beyond him.
In 2009 Batty moved back to Surrey and he has been an integral part of their squad ever since. He has been captain over three separate stints since. The first was in 2012 when Rory Hamilton-Brown stepped down from the captaincy of the London club after the death of teammate, Tom Maynard.
He took control of the team again in 2014 when Graeme Smith, Surrey’s overseas player and captain, had to retire from professional cricket when it became clear that the ankle injury that had been plaguing him for years would never recover well enough for him to continue playing. Come 2015 Batty was given the job permanently.
But Batty was a reluctant leader rather than someone who wanted the job. He is much more Sergeant-Major than Commissioned Officer. Not that he hasn’t been successful. He helped Surrey avoided relegation from the first-division of the County Championship of 2012 and then was in charge when they were promoted in 2015. This season he has claimed 41 first-class wickets at an average of 32, enough for England to think his vast experience of almost 20 years of professional cricket was what was needed in the Test team this winter.
When Batty was given the new ball in Chittagong after his 11-years away from the international game he admitted he was nervous.
"I was pretty nervous," Batty told Sky Sports. "It's what you dream about. Even for the old fellas like me, but it was pretty nerve-racking.”
It took a while for Batty to find his rhythm, but once he had adjusted his pace, matching that of Moeen Ali, he started to get a bit more success. He claimed one wicket in the first innings and three in the second, but there was little evidence that Batty was anything other than stopgap.
While Batty is a hugely experienced cricketer and a fine bowler, and his hyper-competitive nature means he will always be in the game, it would be surprising if he played for England again after this winter. He won’t get a game on English pitches and next winter England will be touring Australia where Moeen will be picked as their spin bowling option. The next time England are due to play in Asia conditions will be late 2018, when they are due to visit Sri Lanka. By then Batty will be well into his 40s and may not be playing professionally.
Batty’s selection, while pragmatic and justified, is a pretty accurate reflection of where England are with spin bowling options.
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