The hopes and dreams, the strengths and weaknesses of English cricket have been displayed in a simple but significant squad announcement. On the one hand it showed welcome audacity, on the other a typical moderation.
Fourteen players will embark for Spain next week to put the finishing touches to the preparations for the Ashes campaign. They include the Derbyshire left-arm fast bowler Mark Footitt but not the Yorkshire leg-spinner, Adil Rashid. It showed in the one a faith not yet earned, or some sort of last-minute hope, and in the other a reluctance to thrust him before the might of Australia, aware of the possibly disastrous consequences.
Footitt is 29 and bowls extremely fast. This is his 11th season of professional cricket and so far he has played 64 Championship matches. His fitful progress has been studded with injury and disappointing form. He started with his home club Nottinghamshire before joining Derbyshire in 2010.
England have been influenced both by his pace and trajectory, and undoubtedly the arm he bowls with. Australia contain in their ranks the two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, and it is widely presumed that they will have an influential effect on the outcome of the series.
There is no tradition of left-arm pace in England and if there is an element of desperation to this, it is understandable. Footitt has been a long time coming but when he first came on to the scene there were high expectations: his raw speed and the hand it was coming from ensured that.
It seems unlikely that he will play at the start of the series early next month but his selection invites that belief. If it has been a long apprenticeship, he appears now to have learned his craft, although he took 0 for 90 in Derbyshire’s Championship match against Essex this week with the England captain Alastair Cook in the opposition.
Last season he took 84 first-class wickets at a little more than 19 runs each and was comfortably the country’s leading wicket-taker. This season he has 32 more at slightly more than 20. This is properly sustained form but a caveat has to be that he is performing in the Second Division.
The man he most has to impress is England’s new coach, Trevor Bayliss, who arrives in England from his home in Australia next Thursday. No sooner will he land than he must set out for the vital training camp in Spain and come to know, indeed understand, his team a mere 11 days before the Test series begins.
Footitt is one of seven fast bowlers in the party. There is only one spinner, which is a reflection on the paucity of slow bowling in England and on how England are intending to try to regain the Ashes.
Moeen Ali’s off-spin is being trusted to do the trick in the slow-bowling department and it seems that Rashid’s encouraging form in the ODIs against New Zealand has been insufficient to propel him into the Test team yet awhile.
Moeen’s form will have to improve, since the sound he will hear, even in Spain, may be that of Australian batsmen licking their lips. He is undoubtedly a fast learner but he is not yet skilful enough to provide England with the opportunity for controlling the run rate. Rashid would not do that either, but he might have helped in sending back the tail. These are early days in the phoney war but England have declared their intentions.
Ashes training camp: Squad details
England gather in Spain on 27 June, with new coach Trevor Bayliss taking charge for the first time.
England A N Cook (Essex), M M Ali (Worcs), J M Anderson (Lancs), G S Ballance (Yorks), I R Bell (Warks), S C J Broad (Notts), J C Buttler (Lancs), S T Finn (Middx), M H A Footitt (Derby), A Lyth, L E Plunkett, J E Root (all Yorks), B A Stokes, M A Wood (both Durham)