The Ashes is every cricket blogger’s favourite time: so many opportunities to vent spleens across such a broad variety of subjects. The problem is that most topics have been scrutinised to exhaustion. This is particularly the problem in a series that was, in the end, much like a number of previous series, fitting very comfortably inbetween the 2013 and 2013/14 series, being a little more one-sided than the former and a little less than the latter.
The ECB being wankers, Cricket Australia being wankers, various coaching staff and hangers-on being wankers. These are topics that we’ve all covered before, ad nauseum. Even today’s topic – selectors being wankers – has been broached before. But poor selections contributed so conspicuously to England’s humiliation in this series that, like a good 80’s sci-fi programme, it deserves to be revisited. Again and again and again.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that Test selectors tend to be too conservative [Jhye Richardson says hi – Ed]. Being picked, and even more being dropped, from a Test team tends to be a massive event. Especially so for Australia, with the whole rigmarole surrounding the Baggy Green™. Peter Handscomb being dropped prompted a few accusations of treachery (mostly from Victorians, it must be admitted), despite him looking completely lost. And Australia will now persist with Cameron Bancroft in South Africa, simply because he is the incumbent, even though that already looks like a train wreck just waiting to happen.
But this phenomenon has never been more apparent than in England’s squad this series. At first glance, everyone agreed that it was a ridiculous squad. It was like they selected a squad for conditions they hoped to face, rather than those that they would actually confront. This became even more apparent when everyone realised that by picking a bunch of reserve left-handed batsmen they were going to make Nathan Lyon one very happy camper indeed.
England’s squad was picked (and subsequently expanded) on the basis of who was ‘next in line’, on performances in domestic cricket and with the England Lions [Was it? I thought it was whoever had shared Joe Root’s posts most often on LinkedIn – Ed]. Instead, it should have been picked on the basis of who would perform best in Australia. Mason Crane, Jake Ball, Gary Balance and Tom Curran were never going to overly concern Australia. Neither were an unfit Moeen Ali or an out of form Stuart Broad. Or an entire middle order that had no international experience down under. Although, admittedly, Dawid Malan ended up turning out alright, exactly as we predicted.
Instead, selections should have been based on who Australia would have least liked to have opposed. Instead of Crane, the obvious choice was Adil Rashid. As this year’s Big Bash has emphatically proven once again, Aussie batsmen are rubbish against good leg spin. And Rashid, who’s done pretty bloody well in previous Big Bash tournaments, fit the bill perfectly. But he wasn’t considered. Because he wasn’t next in line. Crane was.
Similarly, England’s batting options were a mess and, again with the exception somewhat of Malan, struggled to adapt. The obvious solution was to bring a batsman who was highly familiar with Australian pitches: Sam Robson. Robson was the obvious choice, and likely would have done quite well. Certainly no worse than Stoneman or Vince at any rate. But, again, he wasn’t considered because he wasn’t next in line.
Finally the selection of bowlers is an obvious argument. Pace was needed down under, and the selectors should have included at least one out and out quick, such as Plunkett, Wood or even some relatively unknown tearaway. It doesn’t really matter who, as long as they were fit and quick. Instead, none of them were considered because none of them were next in line. Jake Ball, Craig Overton and Tom Curran were. And didn’t that work out well?
Cricket is evolving rapidly, but selection teams seem to be dragging their feet the most. If touring teams are going to be universally given shit preparations, as seems to be all the rage these days, then the obvious answer is to select a squad that needs the least amount of acclimatising. With extensive ODI and Big Bash experience in Australia, Alex Hales would have been a vastly better reserve batsman than Ballance, but he wasn’t next yadda yadda yadda.
Selectors are probably petrified of accusations of ‘devaluing the cap’ by handing it out to an increasingly broad number of players. Consistency is praised as a quality in and of itself. But given England’s record overseas of late, consistency is idiotic. Instead, selectors should be far more flexible. And if it pisses off old hacks like Botham in the process, well, that’s just an added bonus.