Those who have listened to TMS over the years (and read the Economist) might have a solid insight into the mind of Ed Smith. I’ll tell you what I gleaned. I saw someone who was articulate, intelligent, but somewhat enamoured with what I can only describe as ‘thinking differently’.
Clever people like to think differently. It makes them feel cleverer than everyone else – in a completely innocent and very human way of course. Consequently, although I initially enjoyed listening to Ed, I ultimately began to see him as a contrarian. He was someone who liked to think outside the box. And he was someone who very much liked to present himself as someone who thought outside the box too.
This wasn’t a problem when he was on the radio of course. It made for some great discussion. It livened up the debate and challenged the listener to look at certain aspects of the game through a different lens. Unfortunately, however, good selectors tend to keep things simple and not overthink.
By picking Adil Rashid for the first test against India, Ed Smith has tried to be clever but ended up doing something very stupid. He’s been impressed by Adil’s white ball form, convinced himself that he’s watching the real deal, and forgotten all the obvious things that someone in his position should never, ever, forget.
Smith has basically forgotten who Adil Rashid is. He’s the leg-spinner who turned his back on red ball cricket a few months ago. He’s the leg-spinner who has reportedly fallen out with his county. And he’s the Adil Rashid who declined to play in the Roses championship game this week, even though most England players were available for the last round of matches.
Crucially, he’s also the Adil Rashid who had been identified by the previous management as being somewhat complex and mentally frail. So how on earth is he going to deal with the extra pressure after being picked in such controversial circumstances? I bet Smith didn’t think of that.
But good old Ed doesn’t do orthodox. He doesn’t like to contemplate the bleedin’ obvious. He prefers to do funky. He prefers to do clever. And he prefers to do the contrarian thing. Not picking Rashid would have been oh so predictable. And who wants to do things that don’t raise a single eyebrow?
Unfortunately, however, doing the sensible thing – indeed doing the right thing – doesn’t actually require a great intellect. In fact, great intellect can sometimes be an obstacle to common sense. And that, I fear, is exactly what’s happened here.
And so, Adil Rashid, the man some claim may be joining Worcestershire next season on a white-ball only contract, has found himself back in the test squad. Even though he hasn’t played a championship match for donkey’s years. Meanwhile, one of the darlings of the Pakistan series, Dom Bess, has been harshly jettisoned, and the best slow bowler in the country, Jack Leach (who was the man in possession until he got injured in May) has been cruelly ignored.
I wonder if, even for a second, Smith contemplated the damage he was doing to the county championship when he recalled Rashid. It’s an insult to be honest and many people across the shires will be livid. It’s like recalling Jos Buttler but worse. At least Buttler still plays championship cricket for Lancs when available. And, so we hear, he’d never abandoned hope of a test recall.
What’s more, Jos Buttler is supremely talented. His potential was perhaps worth taking a punt on – even if many, including myself, disagreed with the decision to pick him at the time. Unfortunately, Adil Rashid is not supremely talented. He’s a decent leggie, a good leggie even, but that is all. And his ceiling is nowhere near as high as Buttler’s. He takes his first class wickets at an average of 35. Leach takes his at an average of 27. And the Somerset man is three years younger.
No doubt many will defend this selection. They’ll argue that Ed Smith is being clever by ignoring all the background noise and simply picking the best XI available. The problem is that I don’t think he’s doing that. Rashid does a good job in ODIs because he can concede 5 or 6 runs per over and it doesn’t cause a problem. And he can have plenty of men back on the fence to cut off the boundaries when he bowls a long hop every couple of overs. Unfortunately, spinners in test cricket have to provide control. Which is why Moeen Ali was originally dropped …
Talking of Moeen, he too has been recalled. Why? Because apparently he’s got his mojo back after bowling well in the ODIs. Once again Smith is making a mistake. Moeen has always, always, been a good white ball bowler. He keeps his cool and does his job when the pyrotechnics are going off around him. What he is not, and probably never will be, is a test class spinner. And his ODI form is usually irrelevant when it comes to his test performances.
Time and again Mo has performed well at home but let England down badly abroad. And it wasn’t just in the winter’s Ashes either. He has performed badly every single time England have gone away. That’s why I thought it was sensible for England to move on from Moeen. I wanted us to find a spinner who could take wickets overseas. After all, this is absolutely crucial if we want to climb the world rankings and enjoy success in places like the subcontinent. Instead, clever Ed is obviously only thinking about winning the next game – a surprisingly banal strategy for him.
And so, after moving on from Rashid and Mo after England last played in India, England have come full circle. The same two guys who weren’t good enough before are suddenly deemed good enough now. And the quest to find a top class spinner who can finally replace Graeme Swann has been postponed. It simply doesn’t make any sense unless you look at the world through Smith’s eyes.
One player named in the squad, however, who does deserve his spot is Essex’s Jamie Porter. I know he isn’t quick. And yes there’s every chance he’ll look toothless if the pitches are flat and Pujara gets his head down. However, Porter has taken 250 first class wickets at a excellent average of 24. He deserves the chance to show whether his accuracy and skill can compensate for his lack of firepower.
The inclusion of Sam Curran, on other hand, is as bemusing as the selection of Rashid. Chris Woakes must feel sick as a parrot. Why is it that Moeen Ali’s poor record overseas doesn’t count but Chris Woakes’s does? If England wanted a seam bowler to win the next game then surely the Warwickshire man was it. Plus some might argue that Woakes’s batting is better than some of the so called specialist batsmen England have picked over the years.
I guess, when it comes to English cricket, there’s no rhyme, no reason, and just the one long-term trend: the steady undermining of the championship. Oh, and I forgot to mention the corrosive presence of egos bigger than the Lord’s grandstand.