Angus Fraser: Outstanding Bopara and Swann reward selectors' bravery
Saturday 09 May 2009
England's selectors rarely receive plaudits but they should be congratulated for the team they picked for the first Test against the West Indies.
It would have been easy for the group to return to the centrally contracted quartet of Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell, Stephen Harmison and Monty Panesar, decisions that would have helped the same group justify the awarding of these lucrative deals. But they chose to be bold and go for inexperience, and it paid off. Picking Ravi Bopara, Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann ahead of their more celebrated contemporaries was shrewd for several reasons. By omitting Vaughan, Bell, Harmison and Panesar, the two Andys – Strauss and Flower – have given the team a much-needed kick up the backside. For too long a central contract seemed to guarantee selection. That is no longer the case.
The presence of Bopara, Onions, Bresnan and Swann has also given the England team a more vibrant, energetic and youthful appearance. The enthusiasm and excitement of these players have rubbed off on the team's more seasoned campaigners.
The first Test, as the rows of empty seats at Lord's have shown, has not grabbed the public's attention. The weather, as it normally is at this time of the year, has been cold and unwelcoming, and there is a good chance that the Test may have felt like just another game to those players who have competed in bigger and better series in a more cricket-friendly climate.
For the four greenhorns, however, it has been a big match, a game in which they would have been desperately keen to impress. The Test has offered Strauss, the England captain; Flower, the team director; and the selectors the chance to see what Bresnan and Onions are like, how they handle the big occasion, and whether they are the sort of characters they want in their dressing room.
The brevity of the match meant that Bresnan had limited opportunity to shine on the field, but he must be persevered with. Andrew Flintoff's days as a Test player are numbered and a new all-rounder needs to be found. Bresnan will never be Flintoff but if England are to play five bowlers against Australia, a couple of them must be able to bat.
Fortune has gone Onions' way in this Test and match figures of 7 for 102 slightly flatter him. Sterner challenges lie ahead for the fast bowler and it is only after long hard days on pristine pitches against more determined and skilful batsmen that a true assessment of his quality can be judged. Still,he has potential, a five-wicket haul on debut is a wonderful feat, a performance that should fill him with confidence for some time.
The real England stars, however, were Bopara and Swann. The pair are bright, enthusiastic and mischievous. Both give the impression that there is no place in the world they would rather be than on a cricket field. It is an approach that shines through in their cricket and they are a joy to watch. Each impressed on England's tour of the West Indies and only injury will prevent them lining up against Australia in Cardiff on 8 July. The win at Lord's does not suddenly mean that all England's winter problems are solved and that they are now favourites to win the Ashes. The West Indies have been poor this week, a shadow of the determined team that regained the Wisden Trophy in the Caribbean two months ago.
Even so, Flower and Strauss will be delighted with what they have seen. In the West Indies, the pair took note of the problems that existed in the England dressing room and they would have had a major influence on the team that took to the field at Lord's. Flower and Strauss have shown that they are not afraid of making tough decisions and their judgement should continue to be supported by the selectors.
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