The pundits have been racing to their lap-tops since the news broke of Kevin Pietersen’s exclusion from the rest of the Ashes, throwing out so many names about a possible replacement that we would need a whole series of rings to contain them.
But we know that the only man who will be stepping into KP’s enormous shoes come next Thursday, unless Geoff Miller has another of the kinds of brainstorm that brought Darren Pattinson to the fore last summer, is Ian Bell. Extraordinarily gifted batsmen; or classic flat-track bully? Still hard to say and Reverse Sweep wishes him well, simply because whichever he is, he’s the most attractive batsman to watch – I’m almost tempted to say on either side, but Michael Clarke might like to take that argument up with me.
Yet it is fun to speculate and even put contingency plans in place in case the England Lions captain were to come down with an ingrowing toenail in the intervening period. And so, to the alternative names proposed in other realms of Joe Denly, Mark Ramprakash, Eoin Morgan, Stephen Moore – aw, he’s already got a hundred against the Aussies so let’s squeeze him in despite an average this year in the middle 20s – Owais Shah and absurdly and hopefully, Marcus Trescothick, let me add my own favourites – all risky, but, as someone once said, life – and the Ashes – is about risk.
First of my contenders is Jonathan Trott: actually I think he got a mention on Line and Length, and has had a taste of England action in the one-dayers in 2007. He’s aggressive and pleasant to watch, one of those players who you know within a few balls has got something about him and a clean striker of the ball. What’s more, he was brought up in South Africa, so would be almost a straight swap for KP – and that very fact could be guaranteed to get up the noses of the Aussies.
Second up is Michael Carberry: the Hampshire left-hander has been in prolific form of late, has the willingness to battle when the going isn’t that good and is perhaps the best outfielder you would see even if you watched a game of cricket every day from now until global warming sends us into the final big bang. His determination is borne out by his desire to make a professional career of cricket in the first place, having had to journey round the counties before finding the Rose Bowl a suitable venue for his talents. Think Ian Ward, but probably better – and he played for England.
And third, although not necessarily last, is James Hildreth, the earliest triple centurion of an English season, superb through the off side and, cricinfo informs me, rated as an “extraordinary talent” by Justin Langer, who has known a few good batsmen in his time (he’s just overtaken one too). He has age on his side – he’s still only 24 – and leaving him too much longer might lead him to atrophy. And, as a former public schoolboy, he’ll provide literate company for Straussy in the dressing-room. The one downside is that this year most of his runs have come in the homely environs of Taunton and he hasn’t travelled too well.
So in the end I would lump for Trott, who might even find the jelly of his home ground to his liking.