England’s selectors have demonstrated both their foresight and their ruthlessness. It was evidence that the policy of continuity to which they adhere with the fervour of cult followers must also be accompanied by a readiness to change.
Not that there was exactly blood on the carpet when the various squads for the tour of New Zealand were announced. The list of 15 names in the Test party contained for the first time that of the 23-year-old Warwickshire all-rounder, Chris Woakes. He replaces Tim Bresnan, whose chronic elbow injury means he will miss the entire tour.
The revised squad for the one-day series was surprising for the omission of Craig Kieswetter who had been included when it was originally declared late last year. He was dropped because of poor batting form which has lasted a year and replaced by Joe Root, whose quality and ease on the big stage has impressed one and all.
The wicketkeeping duties will be performed either by Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler. James Harris, the Welshman who has moved from Glamorgan to Middlesex in the close season, was added to the ODI squad, along with Woakes, after his persuasive form during the Performance Programme tour in India late last year.
Root’s elevation meant a change in the captaincy of the England Lions team which is to play five one-day matches against Australia A next month. James Taylor will take over.
In perhaps the most surprising amendment to the Lions team, Rikki Clarke, the Warwickshire all-rounder, has been given an opportunity to re-establish his international credentials at the age of 31. Clarke played his only two Test matches for England ten years ago.
It was a quietly sweeping selectorial announcement and the first to made in the Himalayas where Geoff Miller flew with England yesterday for the fifth one-day match in Dharamsala.
Miller was understandably effusive in his praise for Root, who has been the great discovery of the winter.
“I think it’s plainly obvious what he’s done,” said Miller. “We just felt it was necessary because of what he’s shown us in the short time he has been with us. He’s easy with the international arena.”
If Woakes was a bold call for the Test squad there should be no doubting his quality either. He has a straightforward effectiveness with both bat and ball and is another who has never been cowed by the demands of international cricket.
Although his bowling lacks pace it is canny and accurate and his batting is advancing quickly. He is sound replacement for Bresnan and may come into proper consideration in New Zealand as the third seamer batting at eight, especially if Stuart Broad’s form does not return.
Miller said of Bresnan’s omission: “As a Yorkshireman he felt he could bowl through this but we’ve got a massive summer coming up and this is the opportunity to make sure he’s 100 per cent as opposed to 90 per cent.
Miller was frank about Kieswetter’s poor run which left the selectors with little option. He has struggled to find any sort of effectiveness since moving to number six in the order. The selectors resisted the temptation to replace with him with Matt Prior, the outstanding wicketkeeper batsman of the generation in Test cricket.
As for Clarke, there may yet be, it seems, an improbable chance of further Test honours. Miller said there had been problems with his temperament in the past but these had been eradicated under Ashley Giles’ guidance at Warwickshire.
“There are further futures and there’s the immediate future,” said Miller. “As a 31 year old he’s got a lot of experience and it could be that the immediate future could be knocking on the door for him.” It is a stretch, however, to envisage Clarke as an Ashes hero this summer. Not so with Root.