For as long as anyone can remember, England’s one day selection policy has been a shambles. There is little continuity, fewer plans, and every four years they ‘start afresh’ building towards the next World Cup. In part, this is because England take the shorter form of the game far less seriously than they should, but it is also down to the fact they often become infatuated with players who are clearly below the standard required. The Test team is by no means immune to crazy selections, but over the past decade they have at least improved in that area. By contrast, the one day team has been the place for appalling cricketers to experience the international game.
In the Test arena, the number of astonishing selections in recent years would probably number two or three, whereas the ODI side manage that on an almost weekly basis. The highlight of which being a hilarious run which saw them hand debuts to Mal Loye, Dimitri Mascharenhas, Luke Wright, Phil Mustard, Tim Ambrose and the subject of today’s lecture; Samit Patel, all in an 18 month period.
Patel is an odd case. During his weight related absence from the side, almost every England defeat provoked former players and commentators to wonder what might have been had he not been embarrassingly overweight. This was particularly the case during this year’s World Cup, as a mythical world was created in which Samit Patel had a body to die for.
It’s not difficult to see why the idea of a batting all-rounder good enough to spin his way through ten overs is appealing, but the problem is that Patel is not even close to being the answer. The fact that even now, after years of being told to get in shape, he is still hopelessly unfit should be reason enough for him never to pull on an England shirt again. How he managed to come through the bleep test alive, never mind do well enough to convince the management he was ready for international cricket again, will forever be one of life’s great mysteries.
If England are willing to overlook the fitness issue – something which is very strange in itself, given the emphasis they place on agility in the field – they surely cannot allow the fact that he is so blatantly out of his depth to pass them by for long. For a man supposedly good enough to bat in the top six for his country, a List A average of 31 is laughable. The only way to see that in a positive light is to compare it to his international average, which, at the heady heights of 19, currently lags behind such legends of the game as Liam Plunkett (21), Vince Wells (20), and the aforementioned Luke Wright (22). The idea floated in some quarters that he could take Eoin Morgan’s place in the Test team this winter can only be an elaborate wind up – England may be good, but even they would struggle going to the sub-continent effectively a player short, even if they picked someone big enough to masquerade as two.
So, he can’t bat and he can’t field, is Big Samit’s bowling his saving grace? Well, he’s managed thirteen wickets in as many games for England so far, but five of those were in one game (Boucher, both Morkels, Botha and Ntini, the cream of South African batting talent) and he has taken just three in five matches in India, not exactly a show-stopping return for a spinner. Much like Michael Yardy, he could be a useful option in certain conditions, or in Twenty20 where left-arm filth has become an essential ingredient for success, but as a long-term fifth bowler he is not up to the task.
It’s clear that having a spinning all-rounder would be a very useful option for England to have, particularly for when they tour Asia this winter, but picking a man because he happens to bowl spin and is able to hold a bat is probably not the best way to go about filling that spot. The persistance with Patel despite his performances makes the selectors’ treatment of the infinitely more talented Adil Rashid appear even stranger than it did at the time. Rashid is younger, a better spinner and has the potential to bat at seven in the one day side. By contrast, Patel’s domestic record is by no means impressive and internationally he has been nothing but a failure. Dropping him initially was the right thing to do, but allowing his weight to be the issue was a mistake. The whole charade surrounding his fitness meant the question of whether he actually had the ability to play for England was never raised. If it wasn’t clear before, it most certainly is now, he isn’t.