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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Barnsley's teenage spin sensation
By Oliver Brett

Azeem Rafiq
Yorkshire's teenage 'doosra' exponent (SWpix)
It's difficult to think of anything more ludicrous in sport than earmarking a 16-year-old as a future international star.

But, if nothing else, the rise of Barnsley off-spinner Azeem Rafiq is another encouraging marker for the future of spin bowling in England.

And what is likely to get many people excited is that Rafiq bowls a mean 'doosra'.

While a leg-spinner has a googly, the doosra is the off-spinner's version of a ball that spins the other way.

It has brought Muttiah Muralitharan countless victims, and a good doosra bowler would provide England with the sort of "mystery bowler" England have sought for years.

Rafiq, a former England under-15 captain, bowled at Michael Vaughan and co in the nets at the Headingley Test - and was said to have caused them problems.

"It's probably an exaggeration to say he caused them difficulties," warned David Parsons, England's spin-bowling coach.

"But he bowled well. He's a decent bowler for a 16-year-old and is generally quite an orthodox bowler.

"But like a lot of off-spinners nowadays he's looking to develop a ball that goes the other way."

He's not the first English bowler to have tried.

Alex Loudon, who played a one-day international last summer, whiled away long summer evenings at his school, Eton, practising the delivery.

Azeem Rafiq
Azeem stepping up to receive a Sport England award in 2006

Rafiq will benefit from targeted coaching from both his county Yorkshire - he is currently on their academy - while getting back-up from Parsons and the national academy set-up in Loughborough.

But how important is the doosra?

Parsons told BBC Sport: "With any young bowler you want them to develop a stock delivery and Azeem has a very good off-break which will be his bread-and-butter.

"But having the option of having a ball that spins the other way, from an action as similar as possible as his normal action, will be an advantage."

There has been talk that coaches should not over-encourage the doosra because it can lead to illegalities in the action.

Currently a 15-degree straightening of the arm is permitted for spinners, and Parsons says those 15 degrees give some leeway to work with.

"You have to be conscious [of the legality issue].

"I had a long chat with [former Pakistan spinner] Saqlain Mushtaq and he says it's a skill you need to develop over a long period of time.

"There's a lot of time needed developing the delivery and training your body to bowl it.

Adil Rashid
Adil Rashid - already a Championship regular for Yorkshire

"You have to be aware you only have 15 degrees to play with, but on the other hand you can use those 15 degrees if it enables you to do something someone else cannot do."

Yorkshire, of course, already have one hugely talented teenage spinner on their books.

Adil Rashid, 19, broke through last summer with some significant performances in the County Championship and subsequently toured Bangladesh with England A.

Of his prospects, Parsons urges a patient approach: "I would urge caution - he needs to be looked after.

"But there's no doubt he's an exciting prospect and a genuine all-rounder - not one of these bowlers seeking to improve his batting."

Parsons, who is also acting national academy director while a full-time successor for Peter Moores is found, is rightly thrilled with Monty Panesar's continued success.

But he insists he and other coaches have plenty of work still to do.

"What we need is four of five Monty Panesars all competing for the same spot, and three to four spinners at every county all competing after the same spot. In that way standards will be raised."

There is no time-frame in place - Parsons believes most spinners cannot learn a full spectrum of "tactical subtleties" until their late 20s.

But if the future is this rosy for England spin-bowling, then those problem tours of Sri Lanka and India will no longer be such a daunting prospect.

England focus on young spinners
01 Sep 06 |  England
England's hidden gem Rashid
11 Mar 07 |  England


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