Cricket News by Neil Robinson 17/09/03
The announcement of England’s winter touring squads is always preceeded by an autumnal ritual of speculation and usually manages to offer a surprise or two. But the biggest eyebrow-raiser in the Test and One-Day squads for this year’s tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, running from October to December, was not a surprise inclusion but a surprise omission.
Veteran pace bowler Darren Gough retired from Test Cricket earlier in the summer, but had still hoped, and was widely expected, to continue as an integral member of England’s One-Day party. Not surprisingly for such a passionate cricketer, Gough was said to be “extremely disappointed” by his absence from the squad named by the selectors this week. Chairman of Selectors David Graveney offered the thought that Gough remained part of their plans and that the squad as a whole reflected a desire to “explore options” in the long build up to the 2007 World Cup. But time is not on Gough’s side and if he is also overlooked for the West Indies tour next spring, the curtain may finally have fallen on a long and distinguished career.
The 15-man Test squad is most notable for the inclusion of two uncapped batting all-rounders, Durham’s Paul Collingwood and Surrey’s Rikki Clarke, and only three front-line seamers. Only two spinners were chosen, Ashley Giles and Gareth Batty, but the selectors strangely retained the option of calling up one of three other spinners named on stand-by, should they deem it necessary, effectively placing their two first choices on probation. The stand-by options are Robert Croft, Jason Brown and Ian Blackwell, who also makes a return to the one-day squad.
Following Graham Thorpe’s triumphant return at The Oval, he joins fellow veteran Nasser Hussain in the Test squad, leaving no room for Ed Smith or Anthony McGrath. The prevailing argument this week has been that, with England forced to field such a young and inexperienced bowling attack, it is essential to select the strongest possible batting line up, so as to give them as many runs as possible to bowl at. There is plenty of merit in this view, but if the selectors are to go through the winter without blooding a younger batsman, it is to be hoped that they at least have in mind some sort of plan for developing the batting line-up in future. If not, they may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to find replacements for both Hussain and Thorpe on the very brink of the next Ashes series, a situation likely to ensure another defeat.
Smith and McGrath can count themselves unfortunate. While neither did enough to nail down a slot in the middle order this summer, nor did either show himself to be incapable of prospering at Test level and England’s selectors have in recent years been rather more patient than this with young batsmen. McGrath at least has the consolation of retaining his spot in the One-Day squad, but Smith will have to find some other way of occupying his time this winter and hope that he can produce another series of big scores for Kent next year to force his way back into the reckoning. He is doubly unfortunate to miss this trip as he is a quite excellent player of spin who likes to use his feet and hit straight down the ground, the product of a winter spent in India at his own expense.
The three seam bowlers who make the trip are James Anderson, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison. If it was Harmison’s outstanding performance at The Oval which sealed his place, then England must be grateful for it for his extra pace and bounce will offer essential variety on flat, subcontinental wickets. Hoggard has now recovered from the knee injury which disrupted his season, and took 7-49 on his return for Yorkshire last week. In the likely conditions, these two may well start as England’s first choice new-ball pair, with Anderson left on the sidelines to continue work on his action. Of the other seam bowlers to turn out for England this summer, both Richard Johnson and James Kirtley make the One-Day squad, but Kabir Ali and Martin Bicknell miss out completely. Bicknell did well on his surprise return after 10 years, but at 34 he could not be considered a long term option. His style of bowling may also have struggled to prosper on the subcontinent. Bowling at around 120kph, not so much slower than Shaun Pollock or Glenn McGrath, he has a less impressive wrist action than these two greats and can tend to float the ball up there rather than hitting the deck with real bite. His command of swing, such an asset in English conditions where the ball continues to move through the air sometimes up to 50 overs old, may well have failed him on the subcontinent where the ball tends to go straight through after 10 overs or so.
As expected the job of replacing Alec Stewart behind the stumps goes to Chris Read, who will probably bat at 7, one place behind Flintoff. His deputy is Kent’s Geraint Jones, who pipped James Foster to the post thanks to his superior batting. So well regarded is Jones with the bat, that his Kent colleague Muttiah Muralitharan has lately taken to refusing to bowl at him in the nets in expectation of facing him at Test level in the winter. Something of a late developer at 27, it has been an impressive first full season at Kent for Jones, who was born in Papua New Guinea of Welsh parents and raised mostly in Queensland.
Other than those already stated, the major change in the One-Day squad from that which aooeared this summer is the replacement of Warwickshire’s Jim Troughton by Middlesex’s left-handed opener Andrew Strauss. Strauss is a gutsy performer, a talented all-round ball player who is building himself a reputation as a crafty captain at County level. He deserves his chance. But I am disappointed that no place could be found for Northamptonshire’s David Sales.
Sales has been one of the most prolific One-Day batsmen in England for the last couple of years and is one of the most naturally gifted batsmen in England. He made an undefeated double hundred on debut at 18, then in 1999 became the youngest Englishman ever to score a triple hundred. Rewarded for that with an A-tour (while England took the likes of Chris Adams and Darren Maddy to South Africa) he performed so well that Wisden recorded “it seemed he would be unlucky not to play Test Cricket.” The summer of 2000 began with a score of 276 just one week before England went into the First Test v Zimbabwe with Ramprakash, Hick and Knight. At the start of another A-tour the following winter, he damaged knee ligaments so badly that he missed the entire 2001 season and since his return to fitness he seems to have been entirely forgotten about by the England management. Not even an Academy place has been forthcoming.
Sales has always been dogged by accusations about his weight (not that this has held back Trescothick, Key or McGrath) and that he doesn’t score many when he’s not making double hundreds. You could accuse Graeme Smith of that too, of course. But he is still just 25, and recently passed 200 for the fifth time in his first-class career, sandwiched between scores of 120 and 76. Although there are plenty of promising young batsmen around, it is hard to believe that England are so flush with batting talent right now that they can afford to overlook a player of his quality.
As well as the Test and One-Day squads, the final list of 14 youngsters for the Academy was announced. This showed only three changes from the provisional list of 15 announced earlier in the summer. Essex batsman Will Jefferson, Durham keeper Phil Mustard and Derbyshire seamer Tom Lungley all miss out, Surrey opener Scott Newman and recovering speedster Simon Jones come in. Jones, who has played a couple of times for Glamorgan seconds in recent weeks, will be hoping to advance his rehabilitation swiftly enough to come into contention for the tour of the Caribbean in the spring. As well as the 15 full-time students, the academy will also welcome a number of part-timers, who will come in for brief periods to do specific work with Academy Director Rod Marsh. They include Jim Troughton, James Foster, Kabir Ali, Richard Dawson, Steve Kirby and Paul Franks.
Test Sqaud to tour Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
One-Day Squad for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
Academy Squad 2003-04