With his roly-poly physique and fondness for Bounty bars, Samit Patel is not the archetypal international sportsman. Ever since he first broke into the England one-day side he’s been the butt of many a joke at our infamous gin and chicken parties, but the times they are a changin’. In a rare moment of clarity, even we can see his developing worth in the shorter form of the game, and with his selection for the Sri Lanka Tests this month we have been forced to consider a question that has shaken the country to its very foundations. And no, that had nothing to do with Samit falling out of bed.
Should Big Sam be given a chance in the Test team?
If you asked us that even six months ago we’d have collapsed in fits of drunken giggles. Now the prospect doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous. Thanks to some more obvious stand-out performances in the Emirates over the winter, Patel’s efforts went somewhat under the radar. His bowling is neither graceful nor exciting, but in tandem with Graeme Swann it’s proved effective and he has taken wickets at important times. With the bat he is starting to carve out a little niche for himself as England’s finisher – in 12 games since the start of September last year his ODI average is over 50, compared to a career average of just 30, with four not outs.
His domestic stats in the longer form of the game are considerably better than Eoin Morgan’s (5,550 runs @ 41.11 compared to 3,592 @ 35.92), the man whose place he would be wedging himself into, while the added bowling string to his bow would seem to make him a serious candidate. In a series where England will, once again, be confronted by a phalanx of spinners, he is more at home in that environment than any of of the other leading contenders; his average in India (30.62) is better than at home (24), while he scored 34 runs without being dismissed in two innings in the UAE this winter.
aitness is obviously still an issue, and one about which Andy Flower has issued yet another warning this week. Having told Patel to lose weight on so many occasions over the past few years it’s slightly surprising that he’s been given this chance, but it’s perhaps because England are suffering from a worrying lack of batting resources at the moment and few of the younger generation have really kicked on as yet. In terms of actual ability, the problem is that his record isn’t particularly impressive in general. Are the last few months nothing more than a good run of form? Averaging 30 in one day internationals is hardly evidence of him banging down the selectors’ door; something that door is probably quite relieved by. His bowling record is little more than decent; just 23 wickets and an economy rate of over five and a half isn’t going to have too many batsmen quaking in their boots.
Even domestically his numbers are virtually the same as Ravi Bopara’s (7,452 runs @ 41.63) and the latter even has a better strike rate with the ball (66.4 compared to 74.3). Of course, the fact that Patel offers a spin option works in his favour, but Bopara has experience at the highest level. He’s even played Test cricket in Sri Lanka before, but the less said about that the better.
The 51allout crew are well and truly divided on who should fill Morgan’s spot in a fortnight; on the one hand, few people want to go back to Bopara again, but few really want to get up early only to see Big Sam slowly melt away in the Sri Lankan heat. There is a third option; they could go in with five genuine bowlers, but if history has taught us anything it’s
not to trust men with silly moustaches that England probably aren’t going to do that. Headingly 2009 left a deep scar indeed.
In the absence of any sort of consensus, we’d like to open the question to the floor. Bopara, Patel, or five bowlers? YOU DECIDE! Either on Twitter (@51AllOut), by email (email@example.com) or, if you’re unadventurous, the comments section below (just type some words and press submit).