England have dropped Ben Foakes, a decision that is easy to understand but much harder to like. If I were Foakes, I’d be emitting a serious amount of righteous heat just now. I still think Ed Smith and his selection team are comfortably in credit after their first year, but they have had a bit of a shocker on this tour.
When you try to revolutionise selection, as England have in the last nine months, a few mistakes and contradictions are unavoidable. There is also not much they can do about the fact that, on any given day, England’s tail can start at No1. Yet even allowing for this, and the understandable reasoning behind each individual decision, the cumulative effect is a rare old mess.
England are in danger of resembling the football team under Sven-Goran Eriksson, when players were sometimes picked on status and reputation rather than form and merit. Since his debut, Foakes, the convenient patsy, has scored more runs and has a higher average than anyone else in the squad. And that’s without taking into account his immaculate wicketkeeping.
England have plenty of thinking to do before the Ashes about their selection policy, never mind individual players. While their tinkering against India and Sri Lanka felt sophisticated, even futuristic, on this tour it has looked desperate – more reaction than rotation. In the space of three weeks, they have gone from the 2020s to the 1980s.
Hello. The England Test team are like one of those viral brain teasers. You know, #TheDress, that sort of thing. Everyone who looks at this side sees something different. Are they an enormously talented group with the potential to be the world’s best once they find a top three? An entertainingly ramshackle collective who have breached Pakistan’s copyright of the word ‘mercurial’? A shower of good-time Charlies who can’t be bothered to do the hard yards? Or all the above before 9pm tonight?
At the moment I see them as the team that never quite grew up. The middle-order spine – Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali – are all aged between 27 and 31, yet we still talk about their potential. Perhaps they have realised their potential; perhaps this, give or take, is as good as they will ever be.
You could argue that England’s attacking ability, which is only one part of the story, has seduced us (and, perhaps, them) into thinking they are better than they actually are. Although they have all played excellent defensive innings in their Test careers, it does not come naturally and never will. Maybe it’s up to us to change – to accept that this group of players will always oscillate wildly.
It’s unlikely to get much better for England’s batsmen in the next
five days. The pitch in Gros Islet is one of the fastest in the Caribbean, so there could be an impromptu festival of chin music in St Lucia this weekend. Though they are without the suspended Jason Holder, West Indies look offensively good value at 9/4.
two and a half
Even if England are plugged 3-0, I wouldn’t be too harsh on them. They are mostly the best players England have and they are mostly doing their best. Lest we forget, they had won eight of their last nine Tests before this tour.
They have now won eight of their last 19 Tests. Even when it comes to statistics, there are different ways of looking at this England side. So while I sympathise with their predicament, I should probably reserve the right to perceive a shower of useless buggers by 9pm tonight.