DISAPPOINTING though last Wednesday's defeat against Surrey in the NatWest Trophy was, I don't think we should be too cast down.

The Surrey team features 10 internationals while Worcestershire have just four. It was always going to be a tough game, with the toughest feature being how to play Saqlain Mushtaq.

Last year, Graeme Hick scored a hundred against Surrey at the Oval which, by his standards, was very slow. It gave him plenty of time to watch Saqlain at close quarters, but he professed himself unable to read the "away spinner" which makes Saqlain such a dangerous bowler.

While a wrist spinner such as Ian Salisbury can spin the ball both ways with relative ease, in the history of cricket it is unheard of, to the best of my knowledge, for an off-spinner to genuinely spin the ball away from the right-handed batsman. To be able to do so undetected is a marvellous and potent skill.

Traditional ideas of nurdling the off-spinner with the spin become meaningless, while going down the pitch becomes much more like playing Russian roulette with your wicket than a realistic option.

So Saqlain, like any good strike bowler, can be relied upon to come back and break a partnership or stifle a new one and the mere threat of his presence casts a shadow of fear over the innings.

Surrey's bowling is built around him and, surprise, surprise, gone are the days when the Oval was firm and true, denying the spinners much help. Nowadays, it is much more like the slow New Road surfaces. So the Surrey batsmen did not suffer, as once, in adjusting to New Road from the Oval.

Saqlain is not the only off-spinner, of course, to be reaping a harvest of wickets this summer. Muralitharan has been even more phenomenal. Is their success simple down to the fact that they are both world class spinners or is there more cause for concern in terms of our ability to both play and purvey spin?

Significant spinners of the ball are in short supply in this country. Climate, pitches, small grounds and limited over matches all conspire against them. Yet the only way to success as a spin bowler is to spin the ball hard.

In terms of batting, we are brought up to play bat and pad together, woodenly smothering the spin. Yet the Asian batsmen play bat in front of pad, lightly, wristily deflecting or driving the ball and appear relatively untroubled by the same bowlers who are wreaking such havoc in our county ranks. Something to be learnt I wonder?

Meanwhile, Worcestershire have had Kent to contend with. The Surrey result interrupted an excellent sequence and one which needs to be resumed quickly.

The poor start and particularly the dearth of batting points has left no room for complacency. Last week's wonderful win our Northants, brilliant though it was, did not lead to any change in position in the Championship. Another one should do though!

Monday, July 12