The past few months have not seen England selectors cover themselves in glory in any sport. While the headline-grabbing story has been the ignominious failure of Sam Burgess’s attempted conversion from Rugby League superstar to Rugby Union internationalist, the bizarre selection decisions of the England Cricket Board seem to have slipped under the radar.
With the ongoing struggle to find a suitable opening partner for captain and star batsman Alastair Cook, the ECB selectors made the extremely dubious decision to promote number eight all-rounder Moeen Ali to open – despite him never having previously opened in red ball cricket, while initially ignoring the pressing claims of diminutive batsman James Taylor, a man especially suited to the subcontinental conditions that the current Pakistan series has been played in.
In accordance with England’s selection policy of loyalty to the old guard, Ian Bell and Jos Buttler have both retained their places in the various England squads currently on tour despite an absolutely diabolical lack of form.
Meanwhile, promising players from the county game such as Taylor, Jason Roy and Alex Lees are still sitting at home wondering what they must do to earn a chance at international cricket.
Taylor received his chance and showed his worth with a string of dogged, determined performances, but the many other promising young players in the County Championship are still battling away for their counties while the established favourites of the ECB selectors continue to fail to justify their selection.
The promotion of Moeen to open smacks of desperation after a string of openers have been tried, failed to achieve instant results, and been dropped amongst a clamour for the promotion of the next big thing. Adam Lyth may not have set the world alight and, admittedly, looked out of his depth against Australia’s fearsome-pace bowling unit, but he is neither the first nor will he be the last to be exposed by the combined talents of the two Mitchells, Starc and Johnson. While keeping Lyth on as Cook’s partner may not have been the solution to the problem of England’s opening partnership, it would have been the more sensible choice when weighed against the promotion of Moeen from the spot in the batting order where he has looked so comfortable and been so productive in terms of run-scoring.
In essence, the problem with the ECB’s selection decisions has been an absolute failure to form a coherent strategy or to base selection decisions on long-term planning. The priority given to short-term results over the future of the England cricket side is contrary to the spirit which coach Trevor Bayliss has tried to instil in his side and as a result has left England looking forward to a series against the might of South Africa without a remotely proven or experienced opening batsman, a spinner/all-rounder who has been batting out of position in the order, and an utter lack of clarity about their preferred batting order.
If the ECB want to give Bayliss the playing resources he so clearly deserves then their selection policy must be clarified and refined. They must also abandon the seemingly unending loyalty being shown to the likes of Bell and look to the future, with the likes of Taylor and Roy given the chance to bring their form in ODI cricket to the Test arena. Finally, they must give players the chance to express themselves without fear of recrimination or being instantly dropped. If they can string these factors together then perhaps England’s cricket might actually achieve the lofty goals that Bayliss will inevitably have set for his team.
Image courtesy of Nic Redhead