For two weeks now I have been slowly compiling and editing my first article for this blog. Whilst my style is not as naturally verbose as Msr. W.R. Pearson, I have felt it my duty to maintain the high standard of literary ingenuity that he attained. It may therefore come as a shock for me to say that this morning (18/09/10), one day before my blog is posted, I have scrapped my original work and started afresh. The previous has been saved for a barren period of interest, perhaps sometime in February, but a far more pressing issue needs my attention. This issue is the England one-day team selection (50 overs not T20). Apologies to non-cricket fans who were eagerly awaiting some sort of witty reminiscences from my afternoons as an inmate in Selhurst Park but bear with me – it's worthwhile.
It is easy to criticize a side that has just lost, as England did Friday, but the result wasn't what bothered me. The selections all summer have worried me. There is an ethos within the whole England set-up that demands “multi-faceted” cricketers of peak physical and mental fitness. Anyone found wanting in any of the areas must alter themselves in that respect before returning to the fold. This irks me on two levels.
Firstly, by insisting on all of the above, the England selectors miss out on some of the best talent available. Adaptability and all-round steadiness is valued higher than great talent. This mentality not only limits England's abilities as a team and, it is detrimental to the sport as a spectacle. Yardy, Wright and Bresnan all featured Friday whilst players such as Key, Patel, Pietersen, Shahzad, Sidebottom, Cook, Panesar and Bell were left on the sidelines.
On Thursday I was fortunate enough to see one of the best compiled and least selfish innings one could ever care to see, in Nottinghamshire's successful bid to win the county championship. Samit Patel scored 96 from 91 balls, at a time when his team desperately needed to get the run rate up to stand a chance of getting enough bonus points. He got out trying to hit boundaries, rather than scraping his way to 100. During the commentary, Paul Allot said “The rules of engagement from England are that you have to attain a certain level of fitness before we consider you for selection and that's that. If Samit Patel isn't prepared to buy into that work ethic or fitness ethic then he just doesn't get selected.” Patel is fit to bat and bowl his spin. He is also remarkably quick in the field for a member of the well-lunched gentry. He is eminently more talented and exciting to watch than Michael Yardy (to make a direct comparison) but does not get selected because he is perceived to be unfit. A distinction needs to be drawn between being fit to do your job, and looking fit.
This brings me neatly onto point number two. The England staff use this ethos as a positive and unquestionable force for good. Really it shows negativity. I still feel that your batsmen should bat and your bowlers should bowl. Anything else is a bonus. “Bits and Pieces” players such as the three aforementioned gentlemen are selected for the worst scenarios. England claim to “bat deep” and have “options in the bowling department.” Really this just means that the front-line bowlers aren't being backed to take enough wickets and the top order batsmen aren't being backed to score enough runs. I would rather see England have faith in the ability of the players at their disposal. Pick the five best batsmen, the best keeper-batsman, the best all rounder, and the four best bowlers. Once selected work on their weaknesses but they will win more games and play more exciting cricket.
Now you may point to England's recent good record in all forms of one-day cricket to disarm me. But I am here to predict, to foresee. We will struggle at next year’s World Cup because our ODI selection has been affected by the inherent negativity of T20 cricket. The bits and pieces style is perfect and England’s ability to squeeze runs out of the game in all areas of T20 is truly admirable. In 50 over cricket, the winning record is shallow. Since winning in South Africa last year, we lost our first ever game against Bangladesh, won three games against a rusty jet-lagged Aus before getting trounced when they found their feet, and lost against a hugely weakened Pakistan side after only scraping the second game. The negativity that has slipped in is denying the quality players needed to win the world cup the chance to gain valuable experience. To challenge the best teams consistently and dominate world cricket, the same trust must be put in England’s greatest talents as was put into the Australian team of the 90s and West Indian team of the 80s.
England haven’t lost a 50 over one day series for well over a year. You might say I’m being pessimistic. Don’t be fooled. Come back to me in 12 months time and we will discuss things then, and anyway, as Will so wonderfully reminded us, sport creates debate – debate away.