Selectors bowled over for choice but they must be bold
This needs to become Miller's team and if promotion for Onions and Co means the end for others then so be it
Sooner or later, selectors have to select. This means taking bold or unkind decisions for the good of the team that they are picking and ultimately for their own good. It need not entail sweeping changes (indeed something has usually gone badly wrong if it does, witness plenty of episodes), but a tweak here, a turn there.
In announcing the squad for the first two Test matches of the summer against New Zealand, the newly installed four-man England selection panel rocked no boats. They named the team who won last time out against the Kiwis in Napier, plus Matthew Hoggard. Revolutionary it was not. Nor, it could be said, evolutionary.
This was probably to be expected, if not quite a stone-cold certainty. The new chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller, rejoicing under the official title of national selector, which gives off the air of something mildly sinister, learned his trade at the feet of the former chairman, David Graveney, of whom he speaks with great affection.
Graveney's mantra was continuity, something that should always be remembered when his tenure is discussed. It is one thing for selectors to talk of continuity, quite another for them to exercise it. Graveney designated his men and, largely, ploughed a steady furrow thereafter.
Under Miller this policy will probably continue. But he knows he cannot drive thousands upon thousands of miles around the country looking at county cricketand end up doing nothing.
It may never be known (given Miller's apparent determination to take discretion and the art of saying nowt to new levels, which is fine as long as he does it his way all the time) whether he secretly wanted to stamp his own imprint on the side early. Back in 1994, for instance, Ray Illingworth, quite obviously intent on showing who was boss, immediately picked the debutants Craig White and Steve Rhodes, and changed the balance of the side from a four-man bowling attack to five. In 1969, Alec Bedser, faced with the dilemma of picking a new captain because Colin Cowdrey was injured, went for the veteran but untried Illingworth, which 18 months later led to the Ashes being regained.
But the first national selector is biding his time. If there was nothing contentious in this squad, it was still possible to wonder where his thoughts were heading with regard to the bowlers. Their one nod towards boldness was jettisoned when Andrew Flintoff was injured two days before the squad was announced. It seems that Flintoff would have played as part of a four-man attack.
His absence allowed the recallof Matthew Hoggard, at least to the 12. Despite the kind words and the desire to be loyal to a player who helped win back the Ashes, there is circumstantial evidence to hint Hoggard's international days are drawing quietly to a close – which might have been hastened by the broken thumb he sadly sustained playing for Yorkshire on Friday, struck by a Stephen Harmison delivery. In pretty quick succession, Duncan Fletcher, the former coach, commented on Hoggard's diminishing pace (never great) and Michael Vaughan, the captain, while acknowledging his early-season form, was hardly effusive. Hoggard was outbowled in the England Lions match against New Zealand by both Chris Tremlett and Graham Onions. There is a mood that other bowlers have overtaken Hoggard. Tremlett is too prone to injury – another back spasm dawned last week – but in three Tests against India last summer his menacing bounce gave him the look and feel of an international bowler.
Onions, learning all the time, took eight wickets to help Durham beat Yorkshire, a much better return Harmison's. Onions has developed real zip. These are good problems to have. But selectors must resolve them, not stand by hoping they might sort themselves out.
Perhaps on this occasion they got lucky. If Flintoff had played – which would indeed have been bold – the probability is that James Anderson would have been omitted from the XI. In the event, Anderson played, and the one who showed up at Lord's was the one who bowled straight and with enough late swing to bother good players. He and the engaging Ryan Sidebottom, a deserved recipient of the England player of the year award, look good together.
It was fascinating to hear Anderson dissect his form this week. For 20 candid minutes it was almost a long dark night of the soul. Here was a young man who knew that he bowled like a god one match and a dog the next and was desperately trying to address the inconsistency.
Tellingly, he let slip that his bowling action was back to where it was when he started out as a fiery young thing from Lanca-shire with the world at his feet (from Burnley thirds to the World Cup in a year, as Nasser Hussain famously put it). So the eyes are pointing to the pitch at the point of delivery, as if he were a man looking for a lost tenner.
Anderson had spent two or three years amending this to avoid long-term injury but he got injured anyway. If he can trade three or four good years for an injury somewhere down the line he might consider it good business. He offered a brief insight into a bowler's mind, how small margins can tear you apart. But he knew, he insisted, what he was capable of. The selectors might think that he deserves a run in the side.
There are some skilful bowlers around now – upliftingly, the master of reverse swing, Simon Jones, although still in the embryonic stage of career rebuilding, twice took five wickets in an innings last week – and Miller and his men may be on the right side of being spoiled for choice. Sooner or later, there has to be Miller's team.
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