England thought they were home free today without fuss. They announced their squad for the Test tour of the West Indies, their national selector declined to talk about it for fear of putting his foot in it and their old bête noire was thousands of miles away being charming but not saying much on the radio.
It was all as calm as could be in the perpetually choppy waters of the English game. Then, along came the dear old captain, Alastair Cook, to rock the boat some more. On a day when six Yorkshiremen were selected for the touring party, plus five others from the northern stronghold of the game, a day that might have shown the game in a faintly less murky, if hardly glowing light than of late, it was business as usual.
Cook was balanced but scathing in his analysis of his sacking as captain of the one-day team last December after their unsuccessful trip to Sri Lanka. But he left no one in any doubt what he thought of the selectors and the present state of the game. It was exactly what a captain of England, albeit one with barely a recent run to his name, should be saying.
“I’m always going to have a slightly biased view on that,” he said. “I understand the pressure I was under. I wasn’t scoring the runs I should, or could, have been scoring, so I understand that my position was in jeopardy. I said at the end of Sri Lanka that if there was a change, I couldn’t complain because I hadn’t scored the runs.
“But I think you saw in Australia the dangers of making such a big decision so close to the tournament. I don’t know what’s gone on on that tour, and I can only speak from watching a little bit from afar, but it did look like the lads were shell-shocked from the first two games. That’s when you need real leadership to help steer you through that. Whether I would have made a difference, I don’t know.
“The selectors made that decision because they thought it was the best for English cricket. Hindsight has probably proved them wrong, but now it’s very easy to say that.”
In his interview with the Cricket Badger website, after arriving in Abu Dhabi to lead MCC in a pre-season match against Yorkshire, as champion county, Cook called for change in the game. If the powers that be do not listen to their captain, then all is lost.
Asked if the Test side’s momentum had been shattered by the dreadful World Cup displays, Cook said: “It was in a good place. I wouldn’t say all of it has been, but a hell of a lot of it has been.
“You’ve got to be very careful saying we’re lagging totally behind, considering we’ve had some amazing success over five or six years,” he added. “The last 15 to 18 months has been tough, but before that we’ve had success.
“Let’s not totally say we need to strip everything down and change. I think we’d be very naive to think that our system on the domestic and international side is working to its full potential.”
Back at the England and Wales Cricket Board in London, they would have been choking on their anodyne official statements. James Whitaker, the national selector, declined press interviews. Presumably, he wished not to field questions about Kevin Pietersen. Cook did that for them. He said it was “very unlikely” that Pietersen would play for England again.
There was much to talk about. Three uncapped players – Adam Lyth and Adil Rashid, of Yorkshire, and Mark Wood, of Durham – are going to the West Indies. The party contains four others from the broad acres, two each from Durham and Lancashire and one from Nottinghamshire.
Much as this reflects the balance of power in the country, the recall of Jonathan Trott was the most striking element of the selectors’ deliberations.
After he withdrew from the Ashes tour last winter with a chronic stress-related condition, it was feared that Trott’s international days were done. But slowly, uncertainly he has rebuilt his game. The international arena is much different and it is to be hoped, for Trott’s sake, that the selectors have satisfied themselves about the durability of his recovery.
It is assumed that Trott has been chosen as a possible opening partner for Cook, with his old place at No 3 having been assumed in style by Gary Ballance. However, there is a temporary place at six in the absence of Moeen Ali, whose side strain, sustained during England’s ill-fated World Cup expedition, means he will not be joining the party until later, if at all. Chris Woakes, who has a foot injury, will not be fit until the home series against New Zealand in May.
It eased the selectors’ task slightly and smoothed the way for the return of the exciting Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes. There is no place for Steven Finn, whose international career is again worryingly on hold.
England squad for tour of West Indies
A N Cook; Essex; capt 30/109
I J L Trott; Warks 33/49
A Lyth; Yorks 27/0
G S Ballance; Yorks 25/8
I R Bell; Warks 32/105
J E Root; Yorks 24/22
J C Buttler; Lancs 24/3
J M Bairstow; Yorks 25/14
B A Stokes; Durham 23/6
A U Rashid; Yorks 27/0
J C Tredwell; Kent 33/1
L E Plunkett; Yorks 29/13
S C J Broad; Notts 28/74
C J Jordan; Sussex 26/5
J M Anderson; Lancs 32/99
M A Wood; Durham 25/0
6-7 Apr Warm-up (St Kitts)
8-9 Apr Warm-up (St Kitts)
13-17 Apr First Test (Antigua)
21-25 Apr Second Test (Grenada)
1-5 May Third Test (Barbados)