Selection Dilemmas And Scheduling Ineptitude

So then. After a few weeks of inactivity, and a series of farcically wet ODIs which captured precisely nobody’s imagination, we’ve finally got some meaningful cricket to look forward to. There’s just one problem: it’s still monsoon season in Sri Lanka and I sense this pre-series buildup will be a complete waste of time. I’ve just looked up the Galle weather forecast and ‘heavy thunderstorms’ are forecast for all five days of the test. Typical.

Obviously ECB apologists will argue that they’ve done Sri Lanka a favour by turning up at all. I’ve read so much nonsense about how the hectic schedule simply didn’t allow England to tour at any other time of year. This, of course, is utter nonsense because it frames discussion in a false context.

The only reason why there’s no room to tour Sri Lanka at a sensible time of year is because we can’t be arsed to find room to tour Sri Lanka at a sensible time of year. Australia and India series (plus money-spinning white ball events) are written into the calendar in indelible ink, and everything else has to fit in around these lucrative games. That’s why this is the only window available.

Unfortunately touring Sri Lanka simply isn’t a priority. And the powers that be don’t particularly care that series against poorer boards are important to the long-term health of the game. All they can think about is the next pay cheque.

One day, when India, Australia, and England supporters are sick of the sight of each other (and these series become less lucrative as a result), they’ll start to think about playing the other ‘smaller’ nations a bit more. Unfortunately it might be too late judging by the perilous state of some nations’ finances. And saying “we told you so” will be absolutely no consolation because test cricket will be dying on its arse and only utterly banal domestic T20 tournaments will be left. Oh well.

Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest let’s discuss the actual test series ahead. Let’s assume, just for a second, that the rain will stay away from Galle and a result is possible. I imagine this assumption is rather fanciful but please bear with me.

It’s interesting to ponder the XI England might pick irrespective of whether the weather ruins it all. After all, England have a few fresh faces to consider. And there’s even talk of picking the best pure wicket-keeper available for the first time in approximately a decade. That’s right folks, apparently there’s a realistic chance that Ben Foakes might play.

Being a purist I’ll be delighted if the Surrey keeper makes an appearance. Foakes is the best gloveman in the country (with the possible exception of Ben Cox) and he’s a clear upgrade over Jos Buttler who is serviceable at best. In fact, Foakes is also an up-grade over Jonny Bairstow who has rarely let England down behind the stumps. Although he’ll probably drop every half-chance that comes his way now that everyone’s given him the big build-up.

There’s also still a lot of chat about Stuart Broad. Some say Broad will make way for a third spinner; others like Mark Butcher have argued that Broad should make way for Olly Stone regardless of the final balance. Personally I’m still torn over this one, especially if the pitch retains a bit of moisture because of all the rain. It’s a tough one to call.

Finally, England must decide who is going to bat 3. Even though he’s played poorly thus far, I still think Joe Denly should be given a chance – although I’m slightly nervous that age hasn’t particularly solved his problem with nerves. Some players (Mark Ramprakash and Vikram Solanki are excellent examples) are supremely talented but just can’t crack it at international level because they’re too intense and anxious. This was Denly’s problem when he first played for England too. I’ve read plenty of articles since Denly was recalled that age has mellowed him greatly. However, his nervy innings thus far on tour suggest otherwise.

I really hope Denly comes through this test of character as I still believe he could be a very fine player. However, I have to admit that I was worried somewhat by a recent interview in which he attributed his fine domestic form to giving up on his international aspirations. Obviously it’s easy to relax when you think your time has gone and the spotlight has moved onto someone else. Now he’s back under the microscope it’s an entirely different mindset.

If Denly plays – and apparently it’s a big ‘if’ now – I just hope he can score a few early boundaries and settle down quickly before the doubts begin to descend. This is where England’s psychologist should really earn his coin.

In an ideal world Denly plays well and cements the No.3 spot for the Ashes as I don’t see many alternatives. I doubt Moeen is good enough to bat that high against Australia’s pacemen, and I’m a signed up member of the Root must bat at 4 club. The skipper averages 53 with 2 tons at first drop and 59 with 5 tons at second drop.

The other option being discussed is Ben Stokes at 3. Whilst I like Stokes as a batsman, and believe he has a pretty good technique, I also rate him as a bowler and think he should bowl more overs than someone like Jacques Kallis. It’s pretty hard to bat at 3 if you’ve bowled your fair share of overs (especially in the Sri Lankan heat). What’s more, and we have to be honest about this, Stokes might be an entertaining player but he’s clearly not in Kallis’s class as a test batter.

Moving on to domestic matters there have been a couple of interesting recent developments re: Harrison’s Harebrained Hundred. Although the ECB were initially keen to own and control the franchises (which is what Cricket Australia do with the Big Bash) there’s now talk of selling the franchises to private investors at some point. I imagine this is partly because the set up costs are spiralling, and flogging some franchises might balance the books and help cover some of the marketing costs moving forward.

The private investment model is what they do in India with the IPL. This really helped to publicise the tournament because the franchises were bought by very wealthy individuals and Bollywood companies who then had a direct interest in making the tournament a success.

Although I’m sure the ECB would love a cash injection, selling the franchises does have some disadvantages. For starters they’d lose some control and wouldn’t be able to make decisions unilaterally. Something tells me the ECB bigwigs wouldn’t like this very much. What’s more, private investors might unleash powerful forces with unforeseen consequences.

For example, the IPL is now a gambler’s paradise. There are some incredibly popular IPL betting apps to download, and whilst the fans love the razzmatazz (and all that surrounding jazz) I’m not so sure the ECB fuddy duddies would be entirely comfortable. Having said that, if the cash keeps rolling in and the deep pockets and expertise of third parties makes their nonsensical project a success then they might happily turn a blind eye. The problem, of course, is that the new competition might bomb completely and no private investors will be interested. This would serve them right but the consequences for English domestic cricket might be dire.

Finally, it has been confirmed that the sacrificial lamb murdered to make room for The Hundred will be England’s domestic 50 over competition. In order to make way for the madness what is now known as The Royal London Cup will be played in mid-July to mid-August at the same time as the Hundred.

This move basically signals the end of meaningful 50 over cricket in England. Our domestic competition will basically receive zero publicity (as it will be completely overshadowed by the franchise tournament), and the quality will be poor. The counties will be shorn of their best players (who will be busy representing the London Lunatics or the Nottingham Nincompoops) and no overseas players will be allowed either. This is because the ECB wants all overseas stars to be available for the Hundred.

What simultaneously fascinates and appalls me so much about this development is the fact that England have dedicated the last few years to creating a world beating 50 over side. The ECB’s goal has been to win the 2019 World Cup at all costs – even if this means handicapping the test team. And yet, they’re immediately happy to turn their backs on the format as soon as the World Cup is over. It’s utterly bizarre. For the last few years the England ODI side has meant everything. Yet from the year 2020 it will mean nothing.

The good news, however, is that things could’ve been worse: at least it’s the domestic 50 over competition being shafted rather than the championship. What’s more, the increasingly popular T20 Blast will still exist in its current form with a finals day at Edgbaston – although it will doubtless lose some of its lustre.

Overall I guess we should be thankful for small mercies. But I can’t help feeling angry at the whole situation. The English domestic schedule was already ridiculously overcrowded before The Hundred came along. And now the ECB have shoehorned yet another tournament into the calendar things are looking more tightly packed than Linford Christie’s lunchbox.

English cricket needs another tournament like a hole in the head. And it certainly doesn’t need another tournament like The Hundred – a ludicrous proposal that cricket fans don’t want and non-cricket fans have absolutely no interest in.

No wonder the ECB have just appointed Ian Lovett as chairman to improve the board’s image. The ECB are a complete laughing stock. And they’re about as popular as a beer-fart on the tube at rush hour.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with


  • Might as well make the 50 over comp back to 40 overs, they make this stuff up as they go along. The Hundred though, this is even worse idea than the Stanford 20 for 20, hacking up the calendar desperately trying to fit everything around it purely so they can sell it off to private investors. What a mess they’re making of it all

    • It’s an interesting option as one of the reasons a 40 over format for Sunday afternoon matches was adopted for the John Player league in the 60’s was it seemed to offer the best opportunity for consistent entertainment. The match will be over in about 5 hours, leaving plenty of time to do other things with your day. I was brought up with this, it becoming as regular part of family life as going down St Andrews on a Saturday afternoon. You would meet the same people there consistently and it became something of a social event. The 50 over format often seems to have a lull in proceedings midway through innings, when the game seems to drift, as well as lasting a full day, so leaving little time for anything else. For youngsters this is important.
      I am all for making white ball as different as you can from red ball, without disrupting the rules too much. The Hundred is clearly a bridge too far though and I have yet to hear any coherent advocacy for it.

  • Now that James Foster (the best ‘pure’ keeper, over the last 15years) has retired, I think Foakes is the best. I would like to see him keep, and Butler play as a batsman. I’d also play Bairstow (if he was fit) as a batsman only. If as seems likely the pitches are spin friendly, you need the best keeper, standing up, those sharp nicks or stumpings are vital. Without Cook’s experience, Burns, Jennings, Pope/Denly/Moeen, Root, does seem light?
    As far as the 100 ball rubbish goes, myself & fellow Essex members will be watching the 50 over Royal London competition.
    Assuming there’s still 4 home games, we would rather watch Essex, minus say 3-4 regulars, replaced by up and coming young players, hoping to break into the 1st XI. Then any meaningless, made up, dumbed down nonsense.

  • In terms of being debut ready Ben Foakes is a clear cut above a lot of recent picks his glove work has always at its best been spectacular and over the last two full time seasons behind the sticks at Surrey he has added consistency and he also averages more with the bat than a lot of the specialist picks.

    I’m not sure how you fit him, Bairstow and Buttler in the same team, in England they could always do without the second spinner but that leaves Foakes at eight a bit high and Bairstow at bit high at five, I certainly hope they don’t try and put him at three because he won’t score many there.

    Buttler has down played his keeping this week so many he see his future batting higher than 7, personally I think England will burn him out if they try and ask him to keep in three formats anyway. There was a stat a while ago suggesting Bairstow had played the most days of Int Cricket in the last 12 months or something so as he heads towards thirty the many need protecting from ending up like Matt Prior

  • I fervently hope that Graves and Harrison go down the franchise route as a business model. This is the best chance we have of the Hundred failing before it gets off the ground . My reasoning for this is that I cannot see private investors wanting to risk their money in a competition that established cricket fans have no interest in , and that is hence reliant for success on the attendance of the mythical “new audience”.
    It would be better for the future of cricket if it stalls on the runway before take off than if it fails in flight with the financial losses that would inevitably place in jeopardy the ability of the ECB to continue to subsidise counties and our beloved County Championship.
    Regarding the 50 over comp I do not know any Middlesex members that will be watching the Hundred. They will be out in force supporting their county whilst the Harebrained Hundred is running simultaneously

  • I assume Foakes will play as the England camp have been noticeable in their backing off from previous support for giving Buttler the gloves (thank goodness!). For me the uncertainty is about the seam line up. I would go Anderson Stokes, Woakes. It is time Woakes is given the chance to bowl abroad without a battered old ball (the only other time was Adelaide where he did well). By all means criticise him if he fails with the new ball (after a run) but it will be mismanagement of him on a huge scale if he is never given the chance.

    On the wider topic of ECB plans and spokesmen; I had hoped that Trump Syndrome would be contained to the land of the free (and feeble-minded) but it seems that the symptoms have appeared at Lords – the ability to fart out of both ends at once.

  • If Ben Foakes makes a success of keeping wicket, that could leave England with a problem over what to do once Jonny Bairstow is fit again. If he was their first-choice keeper until his injury, then it could cause upset if he never gets to keep again.

    But if Ben Foakes keeps better than either of the two regular wicketkeeper-batters, then it would also be weird to drop him. England may well have been better by preferring Ben Foakes in the first place, but given they didn’t, bringing him in as injury cover seems like it can only lead to awkwardness in the future.

    Also: what was that microscope doing in the spotlight anyway? Some kind of theatre performance in a science lab?

    • Good point. Jonny is very protective about his keeping role. He also averages more as an all-rounder than a pure batsman. It seems to relax him a bit.

      • Its easy to see why he is protective, say Foakes did so well that he became no1 Keeper then Jonny has to compete with the golden boys of English Cricket Root, Stokes and Buttler for a place in the side. He is never going to win that popularity contest, they made Buttler VC before he even scored the hundred.

        That or bat in the top three which he doesn’t have the skill set for in Red ball cricket,

        • He’ll also notice that England only pick all-rounders these days. If you’re a specialist you’re generally screwed ;-)

  • I almost felt sorry for Buttler when he was keeping to our spinners…….. he’s just not up to the task! I’ve not see Foakes keep but he will definitely be a vast improvement on Buttler who looked like a club 2nd eleven player!
    The ECB are allowing their and ICC’s greed to ruin our wonderful game. I’d love to see a serious revolt by our County Clubs to put them in their place!

    • I am feeling insulted. As a club 2ndXI player who keeps wicket when others are unavailable, even at the advanced age of 63 I resent my keeping being compared to Buttler’s. :)

      • I once kept wicket for my second X1 as no one else wanted it. Being young and a decent soccer goalkeeper I was considered the most appropriate alternative. I became something of a record breaker that day, letting through over 20 byes, dropping 4 catches and missing a couple of stumping before a split lip and cut eye forced retirement to hospital. I guess even Butler couldn’t improve on that.

    • The problem is that they’ve bought off many of the counties – look no further than Gloucstershire !

  • Given it’s going to rain and this side is poor (let alone the SL side), I just can’t get up for this series. It’s just not offering anything unless you want to see players not suited to roles do well and then get lauded and then exposed again and we will be back to square one

  • With the present trend to pack out cricket with 12 month itineraries maybe we should be picking teams to play teams, so different players are used depending on the opposition and conditions. This would give more players the chance to rest up a bit and recharge batteries after full on domestic seasons. It would also give players a greater incentive to specialise if their chance of selection, even if only circumstantial, was improved. Also, depending on who’s touring during our summers, players would be available for their counties more often. There would be few players used for all test matches, indeed with the present set up I could only foresee Root being an ever present.
    On the issue of 50 over cricket being a sacrificial lamb, at a time when we have devoted so much time and effort to produce the world’s best, I can only reiterate what a shambles the game becomes when the marketing men take over decision making. Like accountants, they should only ever be used in a consultancy role in running any business, and this comes from a man with an accountancy background.

  • James, you’re completely right to point out how the ECB, CA and BCCI are scheduling more and more series against one another, and how this is pushing the other nations to the sidelines. The completely unnecessary ODI series against Australia in the summer was a case in point. However, you somewhat undermine your own argument by once again reverting to how particular selections might fare against Australia rather than sticking to the series in front of us. If England fans are obsessed with Australia and the Ashes to the detriment of all other cricket, we can hardly blame our own board for scheduling lots of games against them!

    • The only justification for increasing the ODI itinerary for me is if you play them all at non test playing grounds, so you spread international cricket around the country. It’s a bit like the England footie team playing their friendlies away from Wembley, so giving more people an opportunity to see their heroes.

  • This confirms what has been obvious for some time, namely that the 100 has nothing to do with cricket : its raison d’être is as a format which the ECB can own, and, they hope, monetise, something they couldn’t do with a T20 competition. Your point about betting on the IPL is interesting. Presumably the ECB hopes that things will follow a similar route here confirming their role as preservers of some of cricket’s finest traditions – such as match fixing !

  • As I see it, the only good thing about this series, unlike some other struggles, is that it really be will over by Christmas.


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