Selectors fail their first big test with peculiar pick of Pattinson
Miller and Co try to be too clever but wrong message is sent out to English academies as Aussies laugh their socks off
At some point the selectors had to start selecting. They knew, because they had been told, that they could not go on interminably picking the same old XI, match after match.
Perhaps it was this that eventually persuaded them to make a statement so bold that it went beyond a determination to demonstrate that they had minds of their own into the realms of allowing observers to surmise that they might have lost all the marbles in them.
Only if Geoff Miller, the chairman of selectors, and his panel had summoned some recluse from a solitary eyrie on the Yorkshire moors where he had spent years honing his action so one day he could come to England's rescue at the 11th hour (Wilson of the Wizard, say) could they have sprung a greater surprise.
Instead they went for Darren Pattinson, from Melbourne via Grimsby. Pattinson had spent years from the age of 19 slogging round in weekend grade cricketfor a club called Dandenong in Victoria, Australia. In the week, he was a roof tiler.
It is a story almost as romantic as Wilson of the Wizard. But whatever Pattinson achieves in the Test at Headingley, his presence represents a dramatic failure of their first examination by the men who picked him. Miller's meaningless official title is national selector, bestowed after the half-baked response of the England and Wales Cricket Board to the Schofield Review set up after the last Ashes débâcle. In view of his first big call, perhaps he should be the international selector.
Dressed up as an inspired piece of scouting because of Pattinson's splendid form, it is bravado. The inference is that Miller, James Whitaker, Ashley Giles and Peter Moores, far from doing nothing, would do anything.
Pattinson has some credentials, albeit hardly compelling. His smoothly muscular action supplies away-swing at 85mph. He is 30 in a few days, but though that may seem to be getting on, 170 of England's 640 Test players have been older on debut.
The circumstances of his Englishness are not ideal. He was born in Grimsby and becomes the first Grimsburnian to play Test cricket. He emigrated to Australia with his parents when he was six. Three of the England side at Headingley (Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Tim Ambrose) were not born in England, a fourth (Monty Panesar) has roots in another country, where there was a heck of a hullabaloo when he visited his grandparents on tour. Superficially, Pattinson's claim is solid. In years to come Lord Pattinson of Grimsby might have bacchanalian chinwags with his near- namesake and fellow Australian, cultural ambassador Sir Les Patterson, to talk about their times in the old country Down Under.
But in picking him the selectors thought only of the moment. They thought it would be jolly clever, when injury intervened to keep out Ryan Sidebottom, to pick Pattinson at Headingley, a traditional horses-for-courses venue. Who can forget the sensational selection of Neil Mallender – as it happens, the fourth umpire in this match – at Headingley 16 years ago, when he took 8 for 122 in the match? Or the nomination of Sidebottom himself last season, which turned out to be much more inspired and enduring than anybody first thought? But then there was also Mike Smith (0 for 89 in 1997).
Sometimes, and most of the time, however, selection has to project beyond the moment. In England, academies have been set up all over the place to scout English cricketers of the future. Indeed, the former chairman of selectors David Graveney's new job is to keep an eye on them and their emerging likely lads.
There is also the matter of how this selection would be perceived abroad, not least in Australia, where Pattinson has played all his cricket until this season and shown nary a wish to come back to his homeland. They will be laughing their socks off. Australians born in England have been picked for the country of their birth before, most recentlyand notably Craig White. Plentyof downright foreigners have been picked. It is a cosmopolitan world. But Pattinson has played 11 first-class matches, five of them for Victoria.
It is right and proper that the England team should reflect the society in which they play. If there is a place for Pietersen, born in Natal, South Africa, why not for Pattinson? But perhaps the closest parallel in the side at Leeds is Strauss. He was born in South Africa, which he left for England at six (as Pattinson did England for Australia) and spent much of England's last tour to South Africa patiently pointing out how this made him English.
Nor are Pattinson's figures compelling. Of his 29 wickets at 21 in six matches, 17 were at Trent Bridge, where it swings. But it is true only the selectors have seen him much. It has transpired that he played one match for Yorkshire Seconds in 2005.
Back in 1927, Ian Peebles was selected after 10 first-class matches – with two for the Gentlemen and seven for MCC – but as even Miller might agree, that was a different age. The selectors might have considered what effect the selection would have on the dressing room. Most of the players had not met Pattinson.
He is a peculiar choice, and that has little to do with his bowling. The big question to emerge from this is who selects the selectors. Hugh Morris, the managing director of England Cricket, can supply the answer.
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