Over the past five years we’ve been treated to a fair few dummies in the England selectors chair. Picking the England test selections appears trickier than being president. Previous incumbent James Whitaker lasted four years, picking such stalwart internationals as Sam Robson, Tom Westley and Adam Lyth; prior to that Geoff Miller saw sense with Boyd Rankin and Gary Balance. Glossing over the fact Miller also promoted Root, Bairstow, Stokes and Woakes (who needs facts anyway?), the task facing newly appointed chief selector Ed Smith is as vast as the shoes left by his erstwhile TMS colleague Blowers. This afternoon Smith will present his initial findings; at 3pm GMT, England’s squad to face Pakistan on May 24th will be announced. And I would stake my pocket money on James Vince sneaking in.
Vince the Menace
In an innings as timely as Nelson’s feverish flag messages at the Battle of Trafalgar, Vince made his slowest score in cricket, a 201* against a flagging Somerset attack. Stuck on the crease for 500 minutes, Vince played with a solidity which will have Smith groaning into his lunchtime whiskey with frustration. Vince the Menace now presents a quandary. Pick him and face the wrath of fans who have been let down by a man who averages 24.90 in thirteen tests? Or don’t pick him and perhaps miss out on a man in the form of his life… It’s why you get paid the big bucks Ed.
Oh you want my opinion? I’d certainly pick him. As a squad member. In five county matches he may average 53.50 but that’s because of one snail crawling innings. Plus, he’s had twenty two test innings to prove his worth; in my mind a player should be given twenty innings max. If he ain’t made a decent score, or settled into test match cricket, then he ain’t ready. Simples.
Picking him ends out an awful message to young hopefuls like Ollie Pope (427 runs @ 85.40 in 2018) or aging wannabe’s James Hildreth (384 @ 64), that the old guard will keep getting third, fourth and fifth chances. Vince is a pretty player but that simply isn’t enough to succeed at international level; you need a tough mind-set and determined attitude. He’s about as flaky as Meghan Markle’s dad is in attending her wedding.
The Crap Twins
Over the winter England lost five and drew two of their tests. If that same side is selected I’ll scream so loudly Smith will have no choice but to listen. We’ll be a laughing stock. Vince has to be mincemeat, so too does his crap twins bro Stoneman, who in seven 2018 innings averages 16.43, which is less than Peter Siddle the now departing Essex overseas player. Ally Cook will keep stirring his broth in the kitchen, chiefly because decent openers at this moment are like buses in the countryside; one comes every hour. That one in my mind is Middlesex’s Nick Gubbins to replace the eroding Stoneman.
Middlesex’s woeful form in 2017 was partly down to Gubbins having a stinker of a year. Over the previous campaign his 1,409 runs were instrumental in securing his county the title. At the start of 2018 it appears this knack of heavy run scoring is flowing once more. Like the eye stretching blue sky, currently Gubbins has a wonderful future ahead of him. It’ll be him, Rory Burns or Keaton Jennings, whose consecutive centuries will have piqued Smith’s interest that should open with Cook. I say should, but like the British weather, a torrential downpour and biting wind of Mark Stoneman might return.
A (Kim) Possible Idea
So that’s Cook and Gubbins, sorted but with Vince out who bats at 3? Here’s a (Kim) possible idea; Jonny Bairstow. Why not? The ginger ninja is in the form of his life and the only bright spark from England’s winter. Scoring back to back hundred in ODI’s (opening) and a gritty century versus New Zealand (down at 7) proved once more that Jonny can score runs anywhere. He even opened for Yorkshire in their follow on at Chelmsford and took the attack to Porter and Cook, whose confidence suddenly melted.
Number 3 has been the problem position for England ever since Trotty retired, with Tom Westley driving his way into trouble last summer. Bairstow is wasted down the order and his average at 7 is nearer 30 than 40. That’s because he needs to hurry things along batting with the tail. Placing him higher up the order means you get the best of both; superb attacking intent, with other top order batsmen supporting him. I know he may not have batted their previously and, yes 3 is perhaps the trickiest position but if anybody can bat there at the moment it is Jonny Bairstow. Of course Rooty could but being the skipper he gets dibs over where he bats, so no chance he’ll move from 4.
Top Cat (Behind the Stumps)
That’s a top order of Cook, Gubbins, Bairstow, Root, Malan and Stokes. At 7 and making his debut I’d bring in Surrey’s Ben Foakes who has been brilliant in the four county matches Surrey have played. You could do an article purely on the virtues of Foakes who combines dynamic batting with top cat like reflexes behind the stumps. Since the start of 2015, aside from Sam Northeast, Foakes has the highest batting average of batsmen yet to be selected, 48.38 and England do not have the quality in depth to ignore a player like him. In 2018 he has 319 runs @ 53.17 and whilst his conversion rate isn’t fantastic he scores at least 50 in half his innings. Besides who cares if he doesn’t get centuries, I think we’d take this consistent scoring as a massive bonus!
Not only can he bat, his glove work is exceptional. Alec Stewart and Kumar Sangakkara (not bad wickies themselves) highly rate Foakes. Thanks to the wonders of technology, with live streaming this season, cricket fans around the country have been able to gape in awe at some of his poaches; three magnificent takes against Hampshire, basically meaning you don’t need a slip alongside him. Foakes will ease the burden on Bairstow, allowing his batting to further flourish and besides it’ll mean we have a Doctor Seuss like rhyme of, Stokes, Foakes and Woakes, they’re all great blokes.
Scooby Doo (Pick Amar)
To my mind the bowlers pretty much pick themselves. Changing his action over the winter seems to have revitalised Broady and now Jimmy’s heeded my words and gone back to brunette, they are sure fire selections. Woakes just gets the nod ahead of Jake Ball, who has 27 wickets @ 18.33. Ball is certainly doing his cause no harm with the most victims in Division One thus far, however based on experience I’ll throw the ball to Woakes for this first test of the summer.
That only leave a spinning option and in a plot twist as devastating as Buttler’s attacking, Jack Leach has broken a finger. Just when he was looking to replace Mo, Leach suffered the damage during the warm up of Somerset’s clash against Hampshire. Playing a fifth seamer seems a trifle silly thereby the bearded beauty may be called back into the fold. After all, last summer Ali was phenomenal with 25 wickets and 250 runs against South Africa. English conditions are his triple chocolate cookie.
However the continued development of Amar Virdi at Surrey, will have Mo looking over his shoulder. At just 19 years of age Virdi has 17 wickets already, with a best of 6-105 and is the most prolific spinner across both divisions. He’s also played a part in one of my favourite stats. In 1994, Shiv Chanderpaul made his debut for West Indies; in 1998 Amar Virdi was born and in 2018 Virdi bowled Chanderpaul at Old Trafford! If Virdi is chosen, Moeen will be mutering the immortal phrase, ‘I’d have been selected if it wasn’t for you pesky kids.’
There you go then, my team for the test series against Pakistan based on eye witness accounts and weeks of fact finding. Or just half an hour of blagging. You decide. Tweet us @HowzatForALaugh with your team. Now I’ll stick on some kids TV and await the call from Smith begging me to be Assistant Chief Selector…