Stephen Brenkley: Strauss starts the game of musical chairs
Who opens? Vaughan at four? Does Giles play? Or Collingwood? Questions galore for Lord's winners
Sunday 30 May 2004
Such an innocuous incident, such immense consequences. Not quite to be rated alongside what happened when the horse shed a shoe and the next thing you knew the whole kingdom was up the creek, but significant for English cricket none the less.
As a result, one batsman has retired, another has embarked on what might be an illustrious career, another has been deprived of one possibly forever and yet another may make a significant move in the batting order, if not for that long, then for the foreseeable future. More may become clear today when the squad is announced for the Second Test against New Zealand, and more still on Thursday when the game at Headingley starts.
There will be no Nasser Hussain, who with characteristic, pumped-up emotion called it a day after his heroic innings at Lord's that had secured an epic opening game of the series for England. There will be, obviously, Andrew Strauss, Man of the Match on his debut for scores of 112 and 83, the second of which was ended only by Hussain's crass call for a run.
There will probably, but may not, be Paul Collingwood, centrally contracted to general surprise but whose chance may now have come and gone, although he has had little chance to do anything wrong. Perhaps above all, there will be Michael Vaughan returning as captain, but maybe not in the opening position where he made his name and became, albeit briefly, the No 1 ranked batsman in the world.
Thus was the course of English cricket changed by an unsung 19-year-old spinner called Zac Taylor. Brought in specially to the England nets at Lord's, Taylor was bowling when Vaughan stretched to play a sweep and twisted his knee. It put Vaughan out of the Test.
Since an opener was wanted, the selectors ignored Collingwood, who was in the squad, and sent for Strauss, who was not. On seeing Strauss perform with such unfussy crispness, Hussain's mind, already cluttered with thoughts of retirement, was made up.
But it leaves the No 4 position vacant. Since Strauss is an opener, and is happiest playing there, it apparently provides an opportunity for Vaughan to move from opener. The grounds for doing this are that Vaughan is the side's best batsman and is therefore better off in the middle order, and has struggled with the combination of opening and being captain.
Statistics indeed show that Vaughan was averaging above 50 before assuming the captaincy and that figure has plummeted to 33 since. Statistics also show that in his first incarnation as an England player, he batted at four and had an average of 26. Make the figures fit any way you will.
The argument about having a side's best player at four is fairly spurious. Did not Vaughan start there when patently he was not the side's best player? Has not Hussain occupied the position for long enough when, gritty though he has been, it would have been difficult to make a case for him as the leading batsman?
Equally, an argument can be made for not having Marcus Trescothick and Strauss as the opening pair. Two left-handers together make it easier for the bowlers to adjust, notwithstanding the 190 the pair shared at Lord's on their first appearance. It might have become a fad to have a left-right combination, as opposed, say, to simply having your best opening batsmen, but it is based on a sound principle.
One way round the conundrum would be to move Trescothick. It was being openly discussed late last summer when Trescothick was continuing to get out to the new ball, usually caught napping outside the off stump and edging behind. But he responded to this by scoring a dominating double century at The Oval, which was as notable for its rigorous self-denial as its array of bludgeoning attacking strokes. However, Trescothick still tends to give a chance to new-ball bowlers that other opening batsmen do not.
In all this, poor Collingwood may be swept away. He is an admirable cricketer and has understandably impressed the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, who admires his dedication and willingness to learn. On his two appearances in the Test arena so far, Collingwood played with typical sturdiness.
But compare him, say, to Key, who is interviewed below. Not only does he not have that indefinable touch of class that Key has always exuded (call it time to play, if you will), but also he is not in the same form as Key.
Unless Fletcher is sure that he can help to turn Collingwood into a genuine Test middle-order player, it could be argued that he and the selectors would be wasting valuable time. On the other hand, maybe the devoted Durham lad deserves to be given a go.
It may come if the decision is taken to drop Ashley Giles, the side's specialist spinner. In the formative stages at Lord's, Giles was awful and expensive to the extent that he looked on his way out. He came back, as if he knew his international future was on the line. Giles may stay for now. It is not his fault that he remains England's best spinner. By and large he has made the most of what he has, but he knows that it is a reflection on the state of the art here that he remains No 1.
Still, this is nothing new. Rose-tinted spectacles tend to hark back to the era of John Emburey and Phil Edmonds as though it was a vintage age. Emburey took 147 wickets in 64 matches at 38.40, Edmonds 125 in 51 in 34.18. Not world-beating figures. Giles has 88 at 40.66. Worse but not that much worse.
The result of the result at Lord's is that England's side this summer may change more than anybody would have thought likely or possible.
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