Let’s just think about this for a second. On the one hand there’s Paul Collingwood – a senior pro with captaincy experience that commands the respect of his team mates (and who is, incidentally, already captain of the T20 side). On the other there’s Alastair Cook, a man with little to no captaincy experience, who doesn’t seem like a natural leader, and who was fighting for his place in the team just three weeks ago. So who is the better candidate to replace Strauss as captain for the upcoming tour to Bangladesh? According to Geoff Miller, James Whitaker, Ashley Giles and (presumably) Andy Flower, the answer is the latter. Make sense to you? Didn’t think so.
Their second error is the misplaced conviction that Strauss needs a rest. I’m sorry, but Strauss should be going to Bangladesh. He isn’t injured like James Anderson so why does he need a break? He doesn’t even play T20s, so he’ll get time off during the T20 world cup in March/April any way. Furthermore, what makes England think they’re good enough to rest arguably their best batsman? We should beat the Bangladeshis away from home, but it’s a dangerous game to play. England had better hope that ‘Cookie’ as his team mates rather annoyingly call him, doesn’t ‘crumble’ under the pressure.
There is no doubt that Cook impressed in South Africa. He wasn’t prolific by any means, but his technique looked so much more assured under the guidance of his mentor, Graham Gooch. What concerns me is that we’re putting the progress he’s made at risk. He should be concentrating on his batting, not tactics and press conferences. Just because he’s from Essex, speaks with a pleasant accent and knows how to apply a razor every morning, doesn’t make him an ideal captain. In the T20 game against South Africa in December, his only previous captaincy experience at senior level, he looked far from composed. In fact, senior players intervened on his behalf on several occasions. Colly and KP were frequently seen waving their arms around and moving the field, whilst Cook stood by like a little boy lost. As a result, England looked rudderless in the field, and we lost comprehensively. I have nothing against Alastair Cook – indeed he may well prove to be a good captain in the future – but who do the current players look up to most, Collingwood or Cook?
The rest of the squad picked for the test series was predictable; but three selections in particular warrant attention. The first is the promotion of Ajmal Shahzad. Some England fans may not have heard of him, but he will not let anybody down. He bustles in with aggression, bowls at a lively pace, has a decent action, and is accurate enough. He could well be a find for England. On the occasions I saw him play for Yorkshire in 2009, he looked ready to make the step up to international cricket. He won’t pull up trees, but he will contribute in a similar way to Graham Onions.
The second and third selections are far more questionable. James Tredwell is a very solid cricketer, and he’s surely the natural reserve for Graham Swann. However, Miller has said that England are likely to play two spinners in Bangladesh, in which case what we don’t need is two off-spinners! Flower and Strauss don’t rate Rashid. Ok, we get it. But surely Monty should be going as variation? Miller was quoted as saying that Panesar’s form has improved, but Tredwell did well carrying the drinks in South Africa and ‘deserves to go’. In which case, Mr Miller, didn’t Onions deserve to play in the fourth test? As usual, the logic is not always consistent.
The final selection we should mention is the predictable call up of Carberry, who we must assume will play in the absence of Strauss. Carberry is the best fielder in the country, but this has not stopped him from being surplus to requirements at both Kent and Surrey during his career. He has found a home at Hampshire, where reports suggest he has improved beyond recognition, but his elevation above Joe Denly, who is younger and more talented, is somewhat controversial. One suspects that the selectors have become rather suspicious of youth due to the perceived problems with Adil Rashid, who they consider to be a slow learner (funny that, as he was learning pretty quickly at Yorkshire). The success of Jonathan Trott in last year’s Ashes decider seems to have convinced the selectors that more mature English cricketers (in their late 20s) stand more chance of success in the test arena than wet-behind-the-ears types. They well may be right. However, one hopes that this assumption, which surely cannot be applied universally, does not cloud their judgement indefinitely. After all, the man they’ve just made captain made his debut at the tender age of 21. They’d do well to remember that.