No doubt a number of MCC members, if not all of them, will be voting conservative in the upcoming general election. It would be interesting to know how many are genuine Cameroons (that’s fans of David Cameron, not ageless footballer Roger Miller), or whether the English cricketing establishment is simply attracted to the word ‘conservative’ by instinct. After all, if conservatism means ‘risk averse’, ‘unnecessarily cautious’, and ‘unadventurous’, then the England team is scrupulously, unashamedly and intransigently conservative. Take this last test match against Bangladesh for example. England duly wrapped up victory by 181 runs this morning, but boy they made hard work of it. The extraordinarily conservative decision to play just four bowlers meant that poor Broad, Bresnan, Finn and Swann were dead on their feet by the end. Had we picked an extra spinner, the victory would have been a lot easier … if not necessarily in terms of margin, then certainly in terms of fatigue. I wonder what the bowlers thought of the selection policy when they saw the thermometers rising in Chittagong?
However, even if Cook and Flower come to their senses and pick a second slow bowler for the second test, they will be picking the wrong one. James Tredwell is an honest county pro, but his first class average is uninspiring to say the least. In his county career to date, he has taken 223 wickets in 88 matches at an average of 37 (with seven five-wicket hauls). Adil Rashid meanwhile has taken 171 wickets in just 53 matches at an average of 34 (and has already taken five wickets in an innings ten times). Furthermore, Rashid also has a far superior batting average (which stands at 37 compared to Tredwell’s 23). So why have England plumed for the poorer statistical option? It can only be good old English conservatism. The logic is thus: Tredwell at 28 years old is a safe option, whereas Rashid, at 22 years of age, is an unacceptable risk.
This reasoning is, of course, as sadly flawed as it is typically English. No other country in the world would have settled for a reliable journeyman when they have the perfect opportunity to blood a potential star of the future against weak opposition. What makes it all the more frustrating is that Tredwell is an off-spinner – and England already have two of those in the side! The only way the selection makes sense is if you look at things through a peculiarly conservatism prism.
Whilst I admit that the promotion of Steven Finn undermines my argument somewhat – as it shows that Flower and Co are occasionally prepared to back youth – I would like ask the following: why was Finn left out of the original tour party? If you compare his record to that of Liam Plunkett, who by all accounts has not improved a lot since his last test appearance, you will find that they are remarkably similar. Yet the selectors once again chose the older cricketer, who they perceived to be more mature. It was only when Finn showed his class in the warm-up matches, by out-bowling his rivals, that the folly of the original selection became apparent. In most other countries, the younger man would have automatically got the nod – because younger cricketers have more time to develop. If Shane Warne had been born English, I wonder how long it would have taken him to oust an erstwhile pro like John Emburey from the England side? At the start of his career Warne was a young, flash leggie with a penchant for rebellion; whereas Emburey was always seen as a reliable team man … ‘and off spinners bowl less long hops you know’. It would have been an intriguing scenario.
So what makes English cricket strategists, or perhaps English people generally, so infuriatingly conservative? After all, it is not just our cricket selectors that run a mile when they sense an opportunity to experiment. Our national rugby team is currently paralysed by an obdurate narrow-minded management team that refuses to trust young zestful talent; the players that light up the Premiership each week are confined to the England Saxons team, whilst Martin Johnson’s starting XV of ageing has-beens and never-wases produce one turgid robotic performance after another. It seems as though Englishmen with decisions to make automatically default to the unimaginative, the banal and the conservative. Even Tony Blair effectively had to turn into a conservative before he was electable – would the country have trusted a young upstart promoting an apparently new (albeit ultimately disingenuous) brand of politics if he hadn’t done so? Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the England one-day team plays in blue.