Kick the can down the road. That’s the theme of the year. And now it looks like everyone’s least favourite philosophy has infiltrated Ed Smith towers too.
The omission of Jofra Archer from England’s preliminary World Cup squad of 15, alongside his inclusion in the larger 17 man squad to take on Pakistan, merely delays the decision as to whether England’s ‘great new hope’ will be fast tracked into the XI.
Is this approach the right one? I think it probably is. Archer has only played 14 professional 50-over games in his entire career, so it seems entirely reasonable to ‘have a look’ at him against Pakistan before making a final decision.
It could be the right decision for the wrong reasons, however, if Ed Smith and the selectors are taking a cautious approach because they’re worried about harming team spirit.
A number of players have questioned whether it would be right to select Archer (at the last minute) above other cricketers who have played an important role in the build up to the tournament. First it was David Willey, then Mark Wood, and yesterday Chris Woakes had his say.
Although Woakes’s comments were actually misquoted or misrepresented by certain sections of the media – when he suggested that selecting Archer would be “morally” wrong you could tell he used the word uncertainly and was clearly searching for a better one – it still raised the issue of squad harmony.
I hope Ed Smith has seen this for what it is: a big fat and extremely red herring. Whilst squad harmony is important I don’t see how a whole group of players could feel so disenchanted about the omission of one teammate that they’d let it undermine everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve since 2015.
What’s more, this is professional sport for heaven sake. Players come and go all the time. They get injured; they lose form; older players lose ‘it’; younger players improve and take their place. There’s bound to be some churn. And it’s the same whatever the sport.
Imagine, for example, if Sir Alex Ferguson had decided against buying Eric Cantona in 1992 because he was worried that Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Dennis Irwin and Co might feel bad if Brian McClair was relegated to the bench. It would’ve been ridiculous.
Basically if someone better comes along, and it means someone else is replaced on the eve of a World Cup, then that’s life. The player left out and his mates in the squad can suck it up. Personally (if I was a player), I’d feel a lot more peeved if Ed Smith left out a player who might help us win the tournament for misplaced political reasons. But that’s just me.
By kicking the can down the road, however, the selectors are probably hoping that an injury to one of the bowlers (and let’s face it, the likes of Wood and Plunkett do tend to get injured a lot) will make the all-important decision for them. This would enable them to select Archer without offending anyone.
In some ways this is a fudge. It’s hard to argue that either Plunkett, Willey, or indeed Tom Curran are better cricketers at this point than Jofra Archer. What’s more, Archer provides something the team clearly lacks and needs: genuine pace.
However, playing the waiting game is probably sensible at this point. It also quite smart psychologically. When the likes of Graeme Hick and Kevin Pietersen became England qualified we couldn’t wait to rush them into the team. It’s because we were desperate and the world basically knew it.
By making Jofra wait, the selectors are sending out a signal to other teams that England don’t necessarily need one of the world’s most exciting talents. And that speaks volumes about our strength in depth and the confidence within the existing squad. I imagine they’ve taken note down under, for example.
Overall, however, I think it’s inconceivable that Archer won’t make England’s final squad for the World Cup. All one has to do is look at the preliminary squad of 15 to know that his eventual inclusion makes too much sense:
England have so many world class white ball batsmen who average close to (or over) the 40 benchmark: Root (51), Bairstow (46), Buttler (41), Roy (39), Morgan himself (39). Alex Hales has an excellent ODI record (38 with a strike rate of 97) and he can’t make the side!
But then look at the averages of our seam bowlers: Wood (45), Willey (35), Plunkett (31), Curran (32), Woakes (32). None of these are world class and their records over a large number of games proves it.
Leaving out Jofra Archer, who averages 23 with the ball in first class cricket, just 22 in T20 cricket, and who also wields the willow more effectively than many of England’s other bowlers, would therefore be ridiculous.
England’s selectors have often bungled selections and strategies for World Cups. It’s one of the big reasons we’ve generally been so poor in them. I suspect, however, that not even England are daft enough to leave out of the most exciting talents in the white ball universe – especially one who fills an obvious need.
Please don’t overthink this one, Ed.