On the eve of the Old Trafford test match, England are expected to announce a change in positions to their top order but with the same players who have struggled this summer. Ed Smith must feel like a croupier as he shuffles the pack yet again, in order to accommodate those he has selected recently. But are England papering over the cracks? Is the reshuffle the right way to go? Is the selection totally wrong? After all we were only a bit of Ben Stokes magic away from the Aussies retaining the Ashes. We were only a Nathan Lyon misfield from having more inquests than Quincy.
In the Eighties and Nineties, despite the common view that county cricket in England didn’t produce decent players, batsmen were dropped more often than a bent, journeyman boxer. Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick both never fulfilled their potential on the international stage due to this staccato selection policy. Later sides, such as the 2005 Ashes winners, have shown the merits of consistency of selection.
However, have we gone too far the other way now? Are the selectors being too loyal to perennially failing players?
Ed Smith and James Taylor are the men in charge. Their continual choice of Jason Roy in the red ball game, has been an eye opener for some. During this series, Roy has nicked more than Stevie Wonder having a close shave. Warming up for the Headingley Test, Roy practiced by slapping balls into the stands, despite the very best openers having soft hands to minimalise the carry to the slip cordon, the Surrey man practiced going even harder at the ball. To his credit, Roy works hard and is a good team man by all accounts but this doesn’t make an international cricketer. We need more of the hard edge of Roy Keane than a keen Roy in Manchester.
To justify Ed Smith’s faith in Roy, he has now moved him out of the firing line to four. Denly, having scored a gutsy 50 at Headingley, is the fall guy for this faith in the Surrey man. It seems easier to stay in this England team than to get out of it. I'm not sure Denly is the best four in the country though either, despite his battling half century in Leeds. He has played and missed regularly and although showed courage, I'm not sure he is Test class. Both Roy and Denly are up against a very good opening attack in Hazlewood and Cummins and I expect Starc to take advantage of an abrasive surface and get the ball to reverse swing. They won't see much reversing though if we are 20-3 again.
|Roy...down to four|
If I had a choice, I would go with Sam Robson to open. The Middlesex man knows where his off stump is and is an old-fashioned opener – an accumulator who will play the ball late. To those who say he is only scoring Division Two runs, so was Marnus Labuschagne. Robson when he gets in, tends to go big and won’t score a dashing eighty but as recently shown with a 140 at Glamorgan, becoming the sixth Middlesex man to carry his bat, is as difficult to prise from the crease as a barnacle from a rock. As Geoffrey Boycott says, “Seventies don’t win Test matches, big hundreds do”. Despite the clamour for Zak Crawley or Dom Sibley, to throw a youngster into a Test series at 1-1 could be a big call. I'm all for giving these guys a chance but just think it could set them back if they fail, England lose and the country goes mad. Which it will.
The openers have to protect the middle order and just stick around. Flashing shots isn't the answer and durability is the key to success. This in turn will allow Joe Root to flourish, maybe even Buttler too - another who has struggled this summer.
At number four, I would also bring in James Hildreth. You don’t score nearly 50 first class hundreds without having something about you. The Somerset man is hugely unlucky not to have had a crack at the international stage already. Despite Hildreth’s age, he is still fit and still knows how to bat. I'm not sure if it is the Somerset apples in the cider but they know about longevity of a career down there with their batsmen - just ask Marcus Trescothick.
It's not just England who are struggling either. The Aussies have issues with Steve Smith saving their baggy green arses in the first two games. Paine is probably in his last series as skipper. Their policy of only four bowlers looks flawed as England are targeting Nathan Lyon too. The spinner has leaked over a hundred at Lord's and Headingley and part of his role is to allow their quicks to rest. If he is getting tap, this isn't possible. I'm expecting Lyon to be more effective at Manchester, especially if Starc creates rough for him. If he struggles, there will be inquests Down Under. It will also be interesting to see how reacts to the mental pressure of fumbling the match, as he did at Leeds.
Their top order is also under pressure with Warner short of runs since playing Mr Nice Guy on his return from cricket.
If either team lose in Manchester and the batting fails again, there has to be serious questions asked of the policy of keeping a continually failing line up. For England, we have to win one of the next two and not let Australia win. This is a home Ashes series and the most important contest to all England cricket fans.
I pray to god, that we've got it right and aren't papering over the cracks.
With Ed and Steve being Smiths in Manchester let's pray by the weekend that it is Steve, who Heaven Knows He's Miserable Now.