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Middlesex and England spin legend John Emburey has urged cricket’s authorities to take a lenient approach towards playing surfaces if they want a meaningful red-ball tournament later this summer.

Although the ECB are yet to finalise their revised domestic schedule, a shortened County Championship comprising three regional groups has been mooted, with an early August start date.

Emburey, who is fifth on the Seaxes’ all-time list of leading wicket-takers, predicts county spinners will find it particularly difficult to bowl on pitches that have lain unused since last summer, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“A lot will depend on the preparation of wickets and what a particular county’s strengths are, but I think it’s going to be hard work for the spinners,” observed the 67-year-old, who claimed 1,250 scalps during his 23-year Middlesex career.

“What concerns me is that wickets won’t be dry – they’ll be playing on fresher pitches and there won’t have been any wear and tear. There could be a lot of grass and moisture as well.

“If Middlesex are able to play at Lord’s, that wouldn’t matter so much – they’ve played on fresh pitches for the last 15-20 years and there’s not been much help for spinners for some time!

“Three conferences of six have been talked about, so I think you may get result pitches as teams are trying to finish first in the table. There could be a bit more fiddling around with the preparation of pitches to try and get results.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the ECB perceive as being a good pitch and they may have to accept that. Certainly I don’t think there should be any penalties for pitches being too dry.”

When cricket resumes, the use of saliva to shine the ball will be outlawed – less of an issue for spinners than for faster bowlers more reliant on swing.

However, social distancing regulations could pose them different problems if, for example, the number of close fielders were to be restricted.

“You wonder how close a short leg can be to the batsman,” said Emburey. “He might be six feet away – by the time you lean forward that’s probably down to five and half feet. And will wicketkeepers be standing up to the stumps?

“When I played, I felt that if I didn’t have anyone around the bat, and someone just wanted to play a forward defensive every time, how was I going to get him out?

“He’s never going to slog over the top, whereas he might do if I’m putting pressure on him. Will you be allowed those fielders to put pressure on the batsman? It’ll be interesting to see how it’s all managed.

“I don’t think the saliva ban will affect the spinner too much – they’re really cleaning the ball for the seamers, not themselves, and they can still use sweat to keep it as fresh as possible.”

As an advocate for slow bowling, Emburey – who also spent seven years as Middlesex coach – hopes the county will utilise their senior spinner Nathan Sowter if the red-ball programme goes ahead.

Leg-spinner Sowter has established himself as a top limited-overs bowler on the domestic scene since his debut five years ago, but so far has only eight Championship appearances to his name.

“He’s got good changes of pace, he does spin the ball and he’s a canny bowler,” Emburey added. “In Championship cricket maybe you’ve got to bowl a bit fuller, give it more flight to entice the batsman.

“You can vary it but ideally you need pace, bounce and dry pitches. Anyone can develop into a red-ball spinner – he needs to play the longer version of the game to improve and become more consistent.

Written by Ben Kosky.

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