Wednesday, 12 September 2012

England's India selection headaches

Guest blogger, Tom Huelin, reports on the problems England selectors face leading up to the tour to India...

Oh what it is to be an England selector! For 18 months or so, Andrew Strauss, Geoff Miller and Andy Flower could do no wrong as England won the Ashes down under for the first time in 24 years, a first limited overs title in the shape of the ICC World T20 trophy in 2010, and moved to the top of the ICC test match rankings with a crushing 4-0 home series victory against India in 2011.

Flower & Strauss - Had it easy

But it’s tough at the top and 2012 has been a much more difficult proposition. Test series defeats to Pakistan in the UAE and at home to South Africa along with a tied series in Sri Lanka have seen England relinquish top spot to the Proteas amid retirements, provocative texts, parody Twitter accounts and some pretty ordinary cricket at times it has to be said.

England may have struggled of late but there is no time to dwell on these disappointments, with a busy end to 2012 in store.

England depart on Saturday 15th September to defend their World T20 title before embarking on perhaps their toughest assignment of the year to date, a tour of India encompassing 4 tests, 2 T20's and a five match ODI series to be played between 15th November and late January.

And the selectors have some big decisions to make when they name their squad for the tour. Who replaces Andrew Strauss at the top of the order? Do they kiss and make up with KP and recall him for the India series? Who do they play in the middle order? Do they bowl two spinners? Do they have enough copies of The Middle Stump’s new book to go round the whole squad?

Dan and Liam have kindly asked me to explore these very pertinent questions, so here goes:

One Spinner or Two?

Graeme Swann missed England's second test with South Africa this summer because England favoured a four-man seam attack. Swann’s form has dipped in the past 12 months or so but in dropping their premier spinner, England sent a signal out to their opposition that they were struggling for ideas against Amla and co. The fact Kevin Pietersen went on to claim career best bowling figures on a turning Headingly wicket underlined the fact that Swann should have been retained.

On his day, Swann is one of the best off-spinners in the world, and he will surely regain his form if he is afforded time to do so. He is also vital for the balance of the side. He can take on 30 overs a day in the energy sapping heat of the sub-continent, which will be essential when England are faced with days in the field.

But will England employ their tried and trusted formula of 3 seamers and Swann, or plump for an additional spinner at the expense of a sixth batsman? Samit Patel made his test debut against Sri Lanka last winter and would be an option in India. James Tredwell is another spinner that England like and I would expect both to pip Monty for a place on the plane

The Ravi conundrum

Ravi’s form this summer has been as strange as the weather. Awesome with the bat against Australia, desperate with the bat against South Africa to the extent he was Dale Steyn’s bunny by the end of it, whilst his bowling seemed to keep him in the side.

Bopara is in danger of going down in the annals of time alongside Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash as talented county cricketers that failed to cut the mustard for England. Cook will want his old Essex pal to succeed at the top level but time is running out for Bopara. If he travels to India, it could be in the last chance saloon

Who will open?

England have three real options in replacing Andrew Strauss at the top of the order: 1) Promote Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott  2) invest in youth, in which case Yorkshire’s Joe Root would be a great shout, or 3) Go for an experienced county opener such as Hampshire’s Michael Carberry.

Joe Root looking 12 years old
Option 2 is perhaps the most exciting, risky, and therefore unlikely to happen. But, following a hugely impressive season that was capped recently by being named the LV= Championship Breakthrough Player award for 2012, Root, 21, who scored a magnificent 222 against my beloved Hampshire earlier this season by the way, is a real talent that will surely be an England star in the future. So why wait, I hear you ask? True, but I’m just not convinced I can see England taking that much of a gamble at this stage.

Carberry has appeared for England before, opening with Cook on the tour of Bangladesh in 2010 when Strauss was rested. He made modest scores of 30 and 34 in the two innings before a life threatening blood clot on his lung resulted in him slipping out of England reckoning. His time sadly may have been and gone with England, although his experience and undoubted batting ability could still be a huge asset to the side

That said, the ECB love continuity and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Ian Bell open up with Cook in Ahmedabad in November. Bell has formed a successful partnership with Cook at the top of the One Day order and so would seem to be an obvious choice.

Middle Order

Of course Bell’s promotion up the order would leave England a little shy in the middle order. Given that Pietersen has not been awarded a new central contract, it’s unlikely that he will be named in the squad, which would leave two big holes for England to have to fill. James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow both did well in the South Africa series and will surely be on the plane on Saturday, as will Eoin Morgan, who was handed a central contract last week.

Morgan- In the side?
But with no one tying up the number six vacancy that has been up for grabs since Paul Collingwood retired last year, positions 4,5 and 6 are all still available, so we could see Taylor, Morgan and Bairstow all lining up in the same side,

That would be a huge risk, and we all know that the ECB don’t like taking too many risks. A simple solution you might think would be to name the aforementioned Pietersen in the squad, and we all know his presence would make a huge difference to England’s chances in India, but are the ECB brave enough to back down to the enigmatic batsman?

All things considered though, my squad for the tour of India would be:

A.Cook, J. Anderson, J.Bairstow, I. Bell, T.Bresnan, S. Broad, M. Carberry, S. Finn, E. Morgan, G. Onions, S. Patel, M. Prior, J. Root, G. Swann, J. Taylor, J. Tredwell, J, Trott


  1. Top article Tom and certainly they have food for thought over the next few days. I would even throw the name of Chopra in there.

  2. Monty instead of Tredwell and Woakes for Patel. Top work once more, Tom.

  3. Compton just has to be picked. Outstanding performances by players in Division 1 of the Championship have to be rewarded. He has made a ridiculous amount of runs and is a genuine top order player. Would be more than comfortable opening. Also Kerrigan deserves to go on tour as the third spinner behind Swann and Monty. He has be outstanding for the last two seasons and is a proven wicket taker on turning tracks.

    In terms of all rounders Woakes should be the player to fill the seam bowling all rounder role at 7. He first class stats are outstanding whilst Bresnan and Broad are both badly out of form. My team would be Cook, Compton, Trott, Bell Bairstow, Prior, Woakes, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar.

  4. Can you honestly see Broad getting the axe? As much as I would love to see it, it won't happen.

  5. I can't see broad getting the chop. He's part of the ECB establishment now as much as that hurts me to say, just can't see him being dropped.

    Woakes is a seriously good shout, he's certainly capable of replacing Bresnan long term. I just think bressie lad will get this series at least to rediscover his form. Finn will start ahead of Bres tho, he's been England's best bowler this summer.

    As for the Comp dog, great shout too. He almost clocked up a grand of runs by the end of may this season, thats only been done five times ever I think I'm right in saying, and he only missed out because of bad weather! Incredible. I just think with carbs he's been in an England test side before and has a solar pedigree as Compton, so for me just gets the nod, both excellent players at the top of the order.

    Finally Monty?? Love him, he's bowling well of late and all, I just think his fielding is too abject. In India, wicket taking opportunities will be few and far between and you need someone that is at least partially competent in the field! Think England gave up on him last winter to br honest!

  6. Unfortunately no. The South African's biggest in joke of the tour was that Broad seemed to be undroppable no matter how badly he played. His bowling has rapidly declined and when was the last time he did anything with the bat? I believe that Woakes would do a much better job as the third seamer and he is also a genuine first class batsman, unlike Bresnan or Broad who are glorified tail enders.

    In terms of the wider squad I would pick Onions and Meaker as the other seamers. On flat Indian pitches pace through the air and attacking the stumps are most the most important attributes and those two fit the bill.

  7. I always wondered how Broad became part of the ECB establishment? His dad was a bad boy and he has always flattered to deceive as player and he has a poor on field attitude to boot.

    In terms of Carberry I cannot see how you can pick a player who has only scored 405 runs at 27s this season with no centuries, in Division 2! Compton has scored 1150 at 95s with 4 centuries in Division 1. Not even a contest.

    Woakes has the potential to be a World class all rounder. Genuine top order batsman and a very good seamer bowler. Bresnan is just a jobbing pro who was lucky to be playing in a very good team at just the right time. I don't think his bowling will be very effective in India either.

    The Panesar debate is interesting. If he was a fast bowler would be attract the same level of criticism? I think not. He also comprehensively out bowled Swann last winter and on the raging turners that the Indians are going to prepare we need two spinners who can bowl England to victory. The five wicket hauls are more important than the odd lapse in the field. Also if Patel turns up for the Tests his pies will be laughed out of India. If he could hold down a top 6 spot he could be an option but he cannot as his bowling is no where near good enough.

    The England needs to stop being a closed shop and selection policies need to be much more flexible.

  8. I think that Compton has done something to the England Heirachy. In my humble opinion he is the best batsman in the country bar none.

    I like the idea of a right hand/left hand opening combination. Captain Jack Sparrow and Compo opening. Trott at 3.

    I do not like the idea of Bell at 4... It will leave the middle and lower order at risk, especially when Matt Prior goes gung ho from ball one.

    Jonny Bairsstow to come in at 4, Bell 5.

    Prior, even though he is far too attacking in my opinion can bat at 6.

    Woakes at 7. No doubting that.

    Swann, Broad, Anderson, Finn.

    If you play the extra spinner... Panesar at 11 at the expense of Broad. This means Jimmy at 9?!!!! Much more likely would be Monty for Finn as ludicrous as that would be.

    Just be thankful that India are shit.

  9. I hope they go with young Root to open up with Cook.

    Ian Bell needs to prove he can make runs without the protection of Pieterson ahead of him.

  10. A very interesting debate which goes to show that either England have good strength in depth with numerous possibilities to fill the places OR they are struggling to know what the best team/squad is at the moment and how it should look (i.e 7 bats or 5 bowlers or 2 spinners etc).

    The one issue that nobody seems to have commented on is the fact that they always take a reserve Keeper on a test match tour. I know that Bairstow could keep but I'm not sure that he is up to it at this moment although I wouldn't be surprised to see him take over from Prior in 2/3 years time.

    This means that either S Davies or C Kieswetter will be in the squad for India so one of the various options will miss out, who though is anyones guess!!

  11. If Root is the long term opener, then why not blood him in India (where opening is, in test terms, relatively easy), rather than England or Australia? It allows Trott and Bell to play where they are comfortable.

    I think England have to play 2 spinners, and Patel is the "all round" (OK) option, Kerrigan or Borthwick the more attacking one. If the bowling attack is to be 2 seamers and 2 spinners, then I think Bopara's bowling might be useful.


  12. Why not pick Joe Root? The most obvious reason is that he is not ready. He has scored 964 runs at 41s in Division 2, hardly exceptional. Nick Compton on the other hand has scored 1494 runs at 99s in Division 1. If there is credibility to the selection process Compton has to be picked for the Test team. Root might be a good prospect but he needs another season in County Cricket facing Division 1 bowling. Compton 'knows his game' whilst Root would be learning on the job if he was selected and India away is no place for an apprenticeship.

    In terms of the spinners I would go for Swann, Panesar and Kerrigan. Tredwell might be a good one day spinner but is Championship form has been very average this season with only 19 wickets at 39s in Division 2. Kerrigan on the other hand has taken 50 wickets at 33s. He is also a proven performer on turning tracks.

    Do I think that any of this will happen? Probably not. The England team seems to be increasingly viewed as some sort of closed shop where objectivity in selection seems to have gone completely out of the window. That was bearable when the team was winning but completely unacceptable now that they have started to lose.