So I hope it's not too early for this sort of thread, but it's something I've been thinking of an awful lot in the last few days. There seem to be as many variables and injury/other problems as there were at the start of last season, but I can't help but feel that the WC will impact selection. I think we all know, regardless of how much difference you place on the formats, that it shouldn't really impact it at all..
What does need to be assessed is the Ashes disaster. There's no doubt we were beaten by a special side, nonetheless there were too many players short of form, match practice and such like. This isn't good enough in any Test series, and quite simply, we need to pick players who are fit, and in form.
The first issue is whether Trescothick will return. The smart money is obviously on him not featuring in an England side anytime soon, particularly not at the beginning of the season. I hope we do see him play for England again, but at the same time mistakes were made with Trescothick in the last twelve months, and they desperately shouldn't be made again. This for me means that the openers pick themselves.
Strauss - He's had a shocking winter, mixing stupid shots, bad luck and some poor form. It's a shame as it came on the back of a cracking series against Pakistan, where his captainc was very good, and his batting led from the front, with some useful tons, notably in the second dig at Headingley when everyone around him was getting out. People have speculated as to all sorts of reasons why he may have lost form - a simple explanation could possibly be that it happens. However, there could be a worry from some that he isn't as good as we thought, and was found out by the Aussies. Not sure I agree with that, and I'd back him to come up with the goods against the Windies/India this coming summer.
Cook - Like Strauss, Cook didn't have a great Ashes, but he did score a ton, which was an important breakthrough for him. He's only 22 and still has a long way to go, but he's averaging mid-40s and looks a special one. obviously he has weaknesses that have been addressed in many posts, articles and reports, but I believe these can be worked on. Many people back Cook to be the best since Boycott for England, I reckon there's possible captaincy material there as well, and he's an automatic pick now IMO. If Tresco was to return, then Cook would have to be accomodated at 3, with the middle order players battling it out.
The middle order is a more difficult one to pick. Hopefully Vaughan can come through the World Cup unscathed (after all, he may only play three games ) and will captain the side this summer. He may or may not score runs, but his captaincy speaks for itself and he is invalubale to the team. It has been a long time out for Vaughan, it would be great to see him scoring runs again, some feel he never will hit great form again. Whether he does or not, I reckon he's a shoe-in for number 3.
Vaughan aside, a burning issue needs to be settled before the rest of the side can be picked. A bone of contention among many England fans, and Cricket fans in general, over the course of this disastrous winter, has been Flintoff batting at six. England’s best performances since the Ashes were against Pakistan at home (as well as the glorious victory in Mumbai, which we’ll discount here, as the team selection there doesn’t fit my argument). Now I’m not for a minute suggesting we should drop Flintoff. His bowling is, undoubtedly, essential to the side, I believe he would get in any side on the strength of his bowling. However, these victories were achieved with four bowlers, and there’s no reason to believe that this isn’t the best way to go against India and West Indies.
Flintoff at seven, rather than six, would be an exciting prospect. There’s no doubting that Flintoff is not as good a batsman as Adam Gilchrist, but the thought of Flintoff coming in at seven and hitting the old ball to all parts is an exciting one for me. He also, generally, bats well with the tail. One of his finest performances with the blade came at Edgbaston in 2005, where he had a 51-run partnership with Simon Jones. Yes, this performance did come with him at six, but the point is he excelled when batting with the tail, something he would presumably do a lot of if he came in at seven.
His recent performances at six , on the other hand, have been somewhat of a liability. You can’t help but feel that moving him to seven would free him up, take further responsibility away (look at his CB series performances: very good with Vaughan at the helm, not so good with himself in charge), and ensure a strong batting line-up. Who would a tiring bowler rather bowl to? England’s latest choice for the gloves, or Andrew Flintoff?
Fletcher has even said they would have batted him at seven and played just three other bowlers, IF there were no doubts about his fitness. If there are doubts about his fitness, he shouldn’t play, it’s not Rocket Science. Therefore, I’m actually semi-confident that he will actually play at seven next summer.
Having decided that Flintoff will/should bat at seven, this frees up a space in the middle order. In theory, this makes selection pretty simple (working on the premise that Trescothick misses out). Pietersen, Collingwood and Bell. Consistency of selection is definitely a good thing, you do, though, worry that England may now be taking it a little bit too far by not dropping players who don’t perform. However, those three have done less than most to deserve being dropped. If Trescothick were to play, I’d pick Collingwood to miss out, but I reckon the selectors would opt to drop Bell.
Nonetheless, another bone of contention through the winter was the England batting order. With Vaughan back in the side at 3, the middle order needs to be decided upon, and settled (not changed halfway through a dead rubber).
Pietersen should now come in at 4, and continue to do so for the bulk of his career, unless anyone can provide a good reason as to why he shouldn’t. Too often during the Ashes he was stuck with the tail, and forced to hit out, and most of the time, get out. He deserved more than the one ton he got from the series. KP at four just makes sense.
Deciding who should play at five and six is then a little like splitting hairs, you wonder if it matters all that much. Bell had great success at six last summer, and Collingwood, a supposed batting all-rounder, is probably best off at five. It’s hard to decide what to do with Bell really, he’s opened, and batted everywhere down to six, except five. His best performances for England came at six, and as such, almost by default, he can bat there. This is the part I’m least confident about really, and wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve got it completely wrong.
The gloves have been a hot potato in recent months, and the England selectors seem to be reverting to Read by default lately. Nixon has come in for the ODIs and probably the World Cup, but would be extremely unlikely to play Test Cricket for England in his career, one feels. Pothas is a name that gets bandied around an awful lot, I haven’t seen a whole lot of him to comment, but if he is eligible and the selectors are interested, why wasn’t he picked for the CB series? Whilst selection should differ for the two formats, we all know the England selectors don’t always work like that, and if they had a new Test keeper in mind for 2007, they’d have picked him for this series (unless that’s what they’re actually doing with Nixon – but let’s keep doubting this whilst hoping not). Stephen Davies is another name mentioned, but let’s not pick a player on potential please. Let’s give hima year of County Cricket, and some A’ tours, then pick him in 2008 if he does “the biz.”
Geraint Jones is unlikely to play for England again, and after discounting all other viable options, I can’t help but feel that Read will retain the gloves. He’ll be batting at eight, if all goes to plan, and he’s certainly a capable #8. His glovework is possibly overrated, but then again, it’s as good as that of any other Test keeper. As such, I’m comfortable with him in my side.
And then it’s the bowling attack. Best in the world in late 05 according to many. Bunch of absolute clowns in late 06, according to most. The first question, for me, is do you pick Steve Harmison? He improved steadily during the Ashes, but only to the point of dragging his series average down to the 60s and turning in a couple of 5/10 sort of performances. Then again, the viable alternative: James Anderson, who had a similarly disastrous Ashes. Mind you, Anderson did turn up for the 5th test, and put in a half-decent showing. This was another case of playing someone who blatantly was not match-fit. Anderson was looking better and better in the CB series (though he generally is a better one-day bowler than Test bowler) until injury struck again, and I do believe fitness was the issue. I’d pick Anderson, not Harmison, for the first test of the summer. Harmison will give you a matchwinning performance now and again for sure, but I’d rather a bowler who was consistent.
Speaking of consistency, Hoggard is an automatic pick, and though rarely spectacular, is one of the world’s most consistent pace bowlers. Not much more to say on that really, nothing much more needs saying.
The fourth bowling spot goes to arguably the most popular cricketer in England at the moment, Monty Panesar. He didn’t have a great Ashes, but he was reasonably solid. He still has improvements to make but is the best spin bowling option for England. It has turned out to be a fallacy that he’s the worst batsman of all-time, and his fielding is coming on. He’s not the next Shane Warne, but he is good enough, at least for now.
Please note that Plunkett and Mahmood have not been considered.*
All in all, after quite a lot of time thinking about it, not much gets changed. I don’t believe we have become a bad team overnight, and as such, drastic changes are not necessary. Nonetheless, now that we’ve lost the Ashes we can stop acting like everything that won us the Ashes is law, and start playing to our strengths. Fletcher is a big believer in team balance, nothing will give us more balance than Flintoff at 7, with Bell and Collingwood, and I suppose Pietersen, bowling the fill-in overs. We can stay at number two in the world, which has to be our initial aim, as number one is years away. But if we play to our strengths, I still believe we can beat anyone at home. The team I believe we will, or perhaps a mixture of will and should, pick, can cause the West Indies, and India, great difficulty this summer.
My Team for England’s 1st Home Test of 2007
*EDIT - I'm also working on the assumption of Jones missing the start of the season. Even if he gets fit, he could do with 2-3 months of soild county cricket first.