Selectors take safety-first option

Angus Fraser
Friday 17 January 2014 04:48
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It is safe to say, the England squad selected for the first Test against India at Lord's is not the most inspiring in living memory.

The selectors, given the opportunity because of an injury list as long as the bowling arm of the former West Indies fast bowler Curtly Ambrose to excite and throw a little caution to the wind by introducing some youth into the side, have preferred instead to give the impression of blinkered mules on Skegness Beach than the forward-thinking visionaries the majority would like to see.

Winning is important, there is no doubt about that, and on occasions we can overlook today by spending too many hours worrying about the future, but we do need to look towards the future because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.

Of the 13 named, 10 can travel to Lord's on Monday or Tuesday, depending when their county games finish, expecting to play on Thursday. Mark Butcher will open the innings with Michael Vaughan because of Marcus Trescothick's broken thumb. The England captain Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe will move one place up to three and four respectively, leaving room for John Crawley to slip in at five.

With Alec Stewart at six, Andrew Flintoff at seven and England bound to play the left-arm spin of Ashley Giles along with Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard, this leaves three players competing for the one spot made available through the withdrawal of Alex Tudor.

The three that will be reading into every nudge, nod and wink from Hussain, and his coach, Duncan Fletcher, as the pair inspect the pitch and conduct the net sessions are the Derbyshire captain, Dominic Cork, Yorkshire's Craig White and the young Glamorgan tearaway Simon Jones.

Who plays, we are led to believe, depends on the state of the pitch and the overhead conditions. If the pitch is green and the weather overcast and muggy, Cork would be the likeliest choice, if dry and hard, with the sun baking hot, then it is a toss-up between White and Jones.

The loss of Trescothick at the top of the order, however, will have nearly as big an influence as the other two. The absence of England's in-form opener leaves a huge hole to fill, and in an effort to cover this loss of runs, White's greater ability with the bat as well as his ability to reverse swing the old ball, is likely to be where Hussain leans, when he hands over his team sheet to the Indian captain at 10.30 on Thursday morning.

It seems strange how quickly the shy, quietly spoken White slipped out of the England set-up after a successful tour of India before Christmas. During that three-match series he scored a magnificent first Test hundred in Ahmedabad and even though he did not take many wickets, or look particularly threatening with the ball, he did play his part as a back-up bowler, keeping it tight while the likes of Hoggard and Flintoff had a rest. Bowling with a whippy action, the all-rounder also played his part in the tactics of bowling wide of off stump which Hussain employed against several of the Indian batsmen on that tour.

Injury, which is an occupational hazard, and being too honest for his own good led to this most popular of players fall from favour. How much he regrets telling the selectors he could no longer bowl at the same pace as before, only he knows, but this admission has led to a dramatic change in his role within the Yorkshire side.

Previously White batted at No 6 and was an attacking option with the ball, bowling at 85-90mph. Now, having lost some of his cutting edge with the ball – he currently bowls at around 80mph in one-day cricket with the wicketkeeper standing up – he has maintained his value to the side through opening the batting.

How effective the Yorkshireman will be with the ball on the good batting pitch at Lord's, against an Indian batting line-up as intimidating as any in the world, is debatable, but it appears that England's selection is part of a game plan, which is to play safe and wait for more favourable conditions and fit-again bowlers later in the series. Perhaps that is far enough in the future for some.

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