In the recent New Year’s Honours list, there were some notable people awarded. Examples include Karren Brady for services to Paul Peschisolido and Pete Tong for services to modern rhyming slang. Another honoured was Geoff Miller, for services to cricket. He had been England’s National Selector since January 2008 and announced his departure ahead of the latest Ashes. Now Miller is, according to the media, well-loved by his peers – many of whom are the said media – and highly-respected within the game. But the timing of the award, shortly ahead of the fifth Test, was amusing, and by the time Boyd Rankin picked up his first (and please please please his last) Test wicket, we thought it appropriate to consider what has happened on the selection front in the last six years. It is also relevant because Miller is being replaced by James Whitaker, previously one of his underlings.
In Miller’s tenure there have been 22 debutants. We mentioned just some of these in this piece discussing One Cap Wonders, a piece in which we stated that Michael Carberry had a “slight chance of adding to his Test scores of 30 and 34.” So we were sort of right. But in addition to long-forgotten players such as Samit Patel (last seen shaking a flat cap at passers-by outside the Spar near Nottingham station), in the last five months, five players have played just once. Now even as blinkered correspondents as us can admit that the trio debuting in Sydney have a valid excuse, insofar as there’s not been another game for them to play. Meh. Of more importance was the swift capture of Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan from the pleasant river of county cricket in August and the even swifter throwing of them back into the dirty flood waters of county cricket a week later. For it is the performance and treatment of younger players that have raised our eyebrows for several years now.
By means of a quick back-of-the-gin-bottle-label scribbling, we think only two of those 22 debutants can be said to have been a complete success, namely Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann. The rest of England’s core – the players that until this winter were undroppable, all debuted before 2008. Many of them played in the 51allout game. Most were heroes. Often shit heroes (would you rather be a shit hero or a heroic shit?), but heroes nonetheless.
Players have come in to the side irregularly in that time. There were no debuts given between June 2010 (Ajmal Shahzad) and March 2012 (Samit Patel). Some did okay for a while, for example Tim Bresnan. Others may come again (James Taylor, hopefully). But aside from the admittedly inspired selections of Swann and Trott – both of which were more than four years ago – and now the four-cap legend Ben Stokes – what else has been achieved by Miller’s mob? Perhaps Steven Finn will eventually find form down the back of the sofa. True, England’s rise to success had been built on foundations of solidarity, consistency and trust. Since 2009 and the arrival of Andy Flower, senior players have generally been retained through bouts of poor form, with usually only injury and rest periods (and sending text messages) interrupting this. The trust was rewarded with the wins over India and Australia and the short reign as No. 1 ranked team and holders of the mace. But the worrying trend under Miller was bizarre treatment of younger – or less experienced – players. Both Swann and Trott were well-established county players by the time of their selection, being at the age of 29 and 28 respectively. As was Nick Compton, who did a reasonable job in India, scored two hundreds in New Zealand, but was soon jettisoned, much to many people’s annoyance. Of the youngsters, Joe Root has been the most successful, with two centuries and four fifties in his 15 Tests to date. And an average in the mid-30s. There is little doubt that Root will return to the side and have a lengthy and successful career, but it’s hardly been the roaring start to a Test career that Andrew Strauss (five hundreds, five fifties) or Alastair Cook (five hundreds, four fifties) had.
Take the example of Adil Rashid. It is obvious that only in exceptional circumstances will all players selected within a touring squad feature in the Test matches. Recently England had – until the Ashes – tended to avoid the spectacularly awful tours, so it is unsurprising that Luke Wright and Mark Davies, both of whom were selected for the South Africa tour in 2009/10 never made it (Wright has obviously made it in other forms of the game though, the sexy hard-hitting rascal). Neither did Rashid. Rashid had gone to India in 2008 for “experience”, and featured in both the 2009 squad to tour the West Indies and the aforementioned squad for South Africa. But South Africa is hardly a spinners’ paradise and Rashid was clearly below Swann and James Tredwell in the queue. A few months later England toured Bangladesh and opted to take just the two off-spinners. Yes the tour was much shorter, and yes Rashid had not done well in the 10 limited overs matches in which he played, but the decision to have him trekking around South Africa but not take him to the spin-friendly subcontinent was strange.
Team England are meant to be organised and are meant to be the pinnacle of a hierarchy with other squads and the counties below them. There should be a line of players coming through from the Lions and Performance Squads as well as from county cricket. But this hasn’t quite functioned properly. Players sometimes debut for England, but then once dropped don’t get picked for the reserves (this has happened to both Taylor and Woakes in recent years). The Academy was set up in 2001/02 and renamed the National Cricket Performance Centre in 2007 – and graduates include James Anderson, Ian Bell, Steve Harmison, Cook and Strauss. Interestingly, the Performance Director David Parsons has been in place since December 2007 – a similar time as Miller had his job. It’s perhaps harsh to say that the reservoir of young players coming through has dried up, but equally, the supply coming from Loughborough into the Test team has been disappointing.
Those 22 players can probably be bracketed thus – with a degree of interchanging for the likes of Eoin Morgan, Finn and Stokes:
That’s nine players (including Finn) who are lurking somewhere between the Lions team and the full squad. Nine players all of whom are promising. Nine players with potential, even if we suspect that Bairstow might have reached the end of his Test career – he really needs a full season or more playing regular cricket for Yorkshire – preferably as wicket-keeper as well as batsman. But the remainder should be pushing to continue or rekindle their international career.
Behind these guys are a further group – many of whom will visit Sri Lanka with the Lions in February. Whilst the likes of Bell, Cook, Pietersen (or not), Prior, and Anderson need to rediscover form and temperament, it is essential for the England management to handle the new generation properly. From what we can tell, this didn’t really happen under Miller. This was offset by the fact that those senior pros were doing pretty damn well. Recent problems seem to have been compounded by poor coaching and buggered brains. And by picking both Rankin and Chris Tremlett. If England are to reach the World Test Championships in 2017, qualification for which is to be in the top four ranked sides in the world (notwithstanding that it is not guaranteed to take place and the ICC are, you know, shit at this sort of thing), more than a few of these peripheral players need to step up. James Whitaker has a lot to do if he wants to receive a nice shiny OBE.