I don’t want to say “I told you so” but I told you so. England’s shortsighted decision to take just the one wicket-keeper to New Zealand backfired dramatically overnight when it emerged that stopper Jos Buttler had injured his back. This means that Ollie Pope, who was picked as an exciting young batsman, will be forced to keep in the second test at Hamilton unless Jos makes a Lazarus-style recovery.

Let’s be honest. This is one big cock up all round. The ECB decided to send just 14 men to New Zealand – possibly because they’re a bit hard up after The Hundred budget rocketed out of control – and now we’re likely to have a 21 year old part-timer, who’s the third choice keeper for his county, behind the stumps in a Test match.

I wonder what Pope’s Surrey teammate Ben Foakes makes of all this? I imagine he’ll be spitting feathers. Pope rarely keeps for Surrey and is behind both Foakes and young Jamie Smith in the pecking order at The Oval. Although Pope is more senior to Smith (due to his batting), it’s well worth pointing out that the last time Pope and Smith played together in a first class game that Foakes missed, Surrey gave the gloves to Smith.

It will be interesting to see how young Ollie responds to this, erm, ‘challenge’. He had enough on his plate trying to establish himself as a batsman – especially after two disappointing dismissals at Mount Maunganui.

Personally I think it’s very unfair to put him in this position. How will it effect his confidence if he drops a catch or generally looks untidy? Pope should be allowed to focus on his batting career rather than moving down the order to No.7 and taking the gloves. Some will say it was a mistake not to pick Jonny Bairstow as one of the batsmen with so few players in the touring party.

If I was England I’d be straight on the phone to Worcestershire’s Ben Cox who is playing cricket in Adelaide. Cox is the only gloveman in the country on Foakes’s level and could fly over to New Zealand quite quickly if circumstances allow. He’s a slightly better white ball batsman than a red ball batsman, but he can still contribute useful runs and wouldn’t have any issues with jet-lag.

In other somewhat worrying news, there are reports that England might drop Jack Leach and play a 5-man seam attack in the second test. This would be incredibly daft and I’d really begin to worry about Chris Silverwood’s sanity if it’s true. There’s nothing 5 seamers can do that 4 can’t. Meanwhile, you’re sacrificing the precious variety that a left-arm spinner brings.

What’s worse, we’re hearing that the seamer most likely to replace Leach is Chris Woakes, another orthodox fast-medium right arm seamer. I like Woakes as a cricketer but his record overseas is poor and I don’t think he’d add a different dimension to the attack. Surely, if England are determined to go down this foolish 5-seamer route, the paceman they should pick is Saqib Mahmood who offers something slightly different?

It’s important to point out that dropping Leach would also set an awful precedent. It’s simply not wise and potentially very damaging to drop a young spinner after one poor(ish) match. Yes Leach wasn’t at his best at Mount Maunganui, but the start of his England career has been highly promising: he’s taken 34 wickets at an average of 29. This means his current Test average is better than Graeme Swann’s.

Although some people are playing down the important of this Test because it’s not part of the World Test Championship, I beg to differ. It’s still a Test match. And if England lose at Hamilton then our new era would’ve started in the worst way possible – a 0-2 defeat.

Yes I’m all in favour of giving young players a go, and it would be nice to have a look at Mahmood and Parkinson for example, but England should still pick what they consider to be their strongest team.

An experimental XI with Pope behind the sticks, and Zak Crawley drafted in as emergency cover to bat in an unfamiliar position (I assume No.6 where he might be expected to raise the tempo somewhat depending on the game situation) is far from ideal.

James Morgan

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