New broom needed to (reverse) sweep clean

You might think, after my tirade against England’s under-performing batsmen on the third afternoon of the last Test, that I would be basking in the resignation of captain Michael Vaughan, and lauding our powers-that-be for having the foresight to signal a serious change in outlook.

Of course, I won’t be. Not only has Vaughan been one of my favourite batsmen of the last ten years – if only he could play more of those back-foot drives of the type he essayed in his brief cameo in the second innings without finding an edge or missing a straight one inbetween, we would not be in this position – he has been incredibly unlucky with injury, which must surely have had some bearing on his inability to run up big scores on a regular basis.

Vaughan’s form was a concern but I do not think that he was the big problem: something was wrong in the set-up as a whole, perhaps mainly a stubborn belief that talent – that of Ian Bell, that of Andrew Strauss, that of Paul Collingwood – will out in the end. This, though, is not always so, as the international experiences of Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash testify.

No one would pretend that Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, is a joy to watch, but he is gritty, astonishingly determined and seems to have a bat as wide as a railway sleeper; you just do not see him feathering the kind of airy edges that Strauss, Bell and even KP do from time to time. Maybe it is time to put some of our aesthetic desires aside.  

I read today in one national journalist’s blog that Vaughan had lost the dressing-room, that, among other things, some of his field changes were causing players to wander about shrugging their shoulders. Well, I’m not sure I buy that. How could he have lost the dressing-room when the parallel complaint was that the nucleus of players had formed a clique of comfort into which it was becoming more and more difficult to break?

In his own words, it seems, he had simply run out of steam. And good on him for admitting it. Maybe he learnt his lesson from his tenure as one-day captain, a seat from which he had almost to be crow-barred.

You might also think that I would be shouting from the rooftops after naming KP as my preferred captain for the Oval Test. (Those in the know are saying that he will be the new ‘unity’ skipper across the five-day and one-day arena)  Well, not so, either. I took the easy option after looking at the alternatives – the only realistic one was Strauss and he wouldn’t make my team anyway for the time being.

I still have great reservations about Pietersen, a feeling that is shared, perhaps surprisingly, by a goodly number of England supporters if the contributions to a myriad of blogs today is to be believed. No one is really taken in by Pietersen’s protestations to be a team man; if anyone was in any doubt, his shot on Friday afternoon would have disabused them of that.

But now is his chance to show us that he can sublimate his selfish inclinations into the demands of the team. Naming him captain for one Test and the one-day contests that follow should give us some idea whether he is the one for the future.

To name Strauss in that team would be a cruelty since he has gone on record to say how much he valued the leadership of the country and to be overlooked as he was when Flintoff got the job for the 2006-7 Ashes might do him terminal harm.

Best if he is allowed to go back to county cricket and notch up some runs, with the proviso that if he shows sufficiently good form and Pietersen proves unable to galvanise his charges, he’ll be the next in line.

My fit of pique on Friday was, of course, written before Collingwood proved his mettle with a superb hundred, sadly, like his double-century effort in Adelaide, in a losing cause.

It would be easy to say that he has saved his Test career, deserves another chance and should be kept in the frame for the Oval. But, looked at another way, saving your career when you’re in the last chance saloon, could be seen as an act of desperation, not quality.

Strauss did the same in the third Test in New Zealand in the winter, and, while he scored another decisive hundred to guide England to victory against New Zealand at Old Trafford, he has not scored even so much as a fifty in five attempts against the greater challenge of South Africa.

Nothing that he or Collingwood could do against the same opponents in south London in a dead series will tell us anything new.

It is time to look at the alternatives, which takes me back to the team I named on Friday. I think it stands, although since no one has agreed with me that Stuart Broad can make a Test No 6 (you mark my words, his Test career will eventually be judged on his batting, as was that of Bob Woolmer, who started out mainly as a bowler) I suggest that Rob Key is given another chance or we stick, rather reluctantly, with Alastair Cook.

1 Carberry

2 Malan (or Key or Cook)

3 Shah

4 Pietersen

5 Bopara

6 Key (or Malan)

7 Flintoff

8 Foster

9 Sidebottom

10 Anderson

11 Panesar

Next in line: Steve Kirby



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6 responses to “New broom needed to (reverse) sweep clean

  1. The problem with English cricket is that they had always concentrated on the Ashes and let every other tournament go by. If not for the heydays under MV that culminated with the 2005 Ashes series, England have had very little success against quality teams. As you have pointed out, there is so shortage of class and skill, its just the mental toughness to stay in the crease and make it count that is lacking. It also looks like some of the players take their places for granted. England have enough time with them to test their new players, maybe in their winter tour to India and build a team that they think can be a strong one for the Ashes.

  2. John McNamara

    1 Cook
    2 Key
    3 Pietersen
    4 Shah
    5 Collingwood
    6 Prior
    7 Flintoff
    8 S Jones
    9 Hoggard
    10 Anderson
    11 Panesar

    Not sure it makes much difference which players we pick at the moment as long as Moores remains, for want of a better word, coach and there is a lack of long-term planning among the selectors.
    Strange that one player who seems to be above criticism is Sidebottom, who has taken 57 wickets against New Zealand and West Indies and very few against the stronger sides. The cynic in me thinks that as his selection and success have been used as an example of how Duncan Fletcher was wrong to overlook county cricket, any criticism might be an admission that Fletcher was in fact right. And god forbid we should return to those dark days of seven series victories in the spin. Speaking of spin – Monty will be lucky to hold on to his place at this rate as well

  3. Tom

    Batting wise Denly would be a good pick – blood him alongside Cook for a game.

    Wicketkeeper debate still isn’t settled, Ambrose only averaging 18.6 this series. Read has an average of 36 and has taken 37 catches and 2 stumpings.

    Bowling wise Sidebottom needs a rest, hasn’t looked in good form all series and Anderson is as eratic as ever. Jones is back to Fitness and looks in good form, Harmison/K Ali are also in good form for their Counties. The attack needs impetus if we are to at least salvage a win from the series.

  4. Interesting contributions chaps. I think John’s XI has more chance of being selected than mine – they are more realistic choices. Think it probably would be a good move to get Simon Jones back in the mix and poor old Hoggy was very unlucky to be dropped in the first place.

    Both are probably right about Sidebottom: he is looking stale and how much that has to do with the injury that kept him out of the second Test is anyone’s guess.

    Haven’t seen much of Denly, but what I have seen hasn’t done much for me. We might even have a look at Samit Patel for the middle order – he’s having an excellent season for Notts, and he can bowl a few slow left-armers (watch out Monty).

    I think one of the biggest mysteries though is why so many England players are performing so greatly below their potential: Monty is another one for whom wickets have been scarce, although, had Graeme Smith been given out when he clearly gloved him, who knows what the outcome of the Test might have been.

    I can’t help thinking that when KP is confirmed as captain later today, it will pose more questions than answers. One writer raised the spectre of the captaincy chaos of 1988 and I think that we really are in almost as big a mess as then.

  5. John McNamara

    I was going for a more conversative selection – obviously I underestimated the England selectors’s conservatism. Presumably they don’t watch the Test matches because they are still picking the useless Ambrose. Good shout on Patel – even if it is just for the one-day squad

  6. Tom

    True Denly hasn’t done as well this season as he did in the last one but he opens in all forms of the game for Kent and seems to be learning from Rob Key quite well.

    Shame that Shah hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves and players like Kabir Ali, D Sales and others seem to do well in county every year but don’t get a call up.

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