Selection Dilemmas

So Ed Smith is England’s new National Selector. He got the job after impressing at interview. Apparently all three candidates (that’s Big Ed, Derek Pringle, and Mike Selvey) were asked to deliver a presentation called “Selection: Art Or Science?” I imagine Del and Selvs looked puzzled, and then threw up in a bucket when they realised that Andrew Strauss was serious. I imagine Smith, on the other hand, embraced the opportunity to talk gobbledygook and regurgitated one of his essays on baseball. And that was enough to secure the job. Well, that plus the fact that he and Straussy go way back.

The good thing is that nobody will particularly care why Big Ed got the got the job if he can find England a new opener (or possibly two) and a new No.3 batsman. The old panel consisting of Jim, Gus and Mick singularly failed to do this over a four year period – which is probably why they were given their marching orders.

So what kind of players will Smith be looking for? Apparently Big Ed has a statistics-driven philosophy, so it looks like an iMac will be picking the England team rather than a human being. Although this approach doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence – after all, they’ve used stats in cricket for years and it didn’t exactly do Peter Moores any favours – I guess Smith’s computer can’t do any worse than the old gang.

Fortunately for the sake of this blog, neither you nor I need an algorithm to spot the best up and coming talent. And, even more fortuitously, we’re not going to get abused on social media or lose our jobs if our tips don’t pan out. Therefore I’d like to use today’s post to ask you guys who you think can solve England’s batting woes. In other words, if you were picking the team for the first test, who would you include (and who would you leave out)? Most cricket betting sites think England will beat Pakistan next month. But unless we can solve our batting woes this might prove a tall order.

I won’t go into detail on James Vince because Mark already has an article lined up that discusses Hampshire’s captain. Personally I would move on (sorry Mark!) because he’s just too frustrating. However, there’s no natural No.3 waiting in the wings – unless you’re in the camp that wants Root to bat there. Therefore Strauss and Smith will have to do some serious head scratching.

The main candidates to bat three are as follows: Alastair Cook (one could call up Hameed to open with Stoneman), Dan Lawrence, Alex Davies, Liam Livingstone, Tom Westley, Sam Hain, Gary Ballance, Chris Nash, Joe Clarke, and Nick Gubbins. The problem, of course, is that only two of these players (Davies and Nash) actually bat 3 for their counties. One could argue that Gubbins batted 3 for the Lions in their ‘tests’ against Windies A, and Hain batted 3 with great success in the subsequent ODIs, but there’s no obviously candidate screaming “pick me”. Not that Big Ed’s iMac would hear him.

There are pros and cons to each candidate. The pros are that they’re all very talented. The negatives are as follows: Dan Lawrence is a bit green, ditto Alex Davies (who doesn’t quite average 40 for Lancs yet), Livingstone looks like a natural 4 or 5 to me, Westley has been found wanting in the past, Hain has mucked around with his technique a bit, Ballance is old news, Clarke is still very young, and Nash is very old and getting older.

The creative option might be to select Gubbins. Although he’s more of an opener at least he made a few runs for the Lions. Luckily for him, he’s from the right sort of family and went to the right school, so at least he ticks those boxes on Strauss and Smith’s spread-sheet. And yes, I am being facetious. I don’t think Gubbins is actually any better than the other candidates.

Talking of the openers, the main candidates are clearly Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed. Personally I prefer the latter, although there’s a case for including both if you don’t think Mark Stoneman has what it takes. And that’s quite a legitimate viewpoint.

The man who probably deserves a shot more than anyone else is Rory Burns. In fact, many Surrey fans think that Burns deserved an England call up more than Stoneman last summer. One can see why: he’s scored over 1000 runs in each of the last four summers. That’s very consistent.

Personally I like the look of Burns. He seems like a good old fashioned player. He leaves the ball pretty well, is prepared to knuckle down, and he drives the ball naturally too – which means he would be a contrast to Alastair Cook even if they’re both left handed. The problem, of course, is that his inclusion might hold Hameed back. Plus England would still have a huge hole at No.3.

Consequently, I’m inclined to think that the ‘move Cook down a slot’ mob might have a point. After all, it would be the only way to include both Hameed and Burns. The only casualty would be Stoneman, who probably hasn’t quite done enough to retain his place anyway.

What do you think? I have to say I’m not particularly enamoured with any of the options. Looks like Ed’s iMac has got its work cut out.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Betting Top 10



  • Nobody ever seems to remember Nick Browne at Essex. He’s got a ridiculously good average – around 44, which should get Ed’s laptop whirring. He has batted for long periods. Could open or go in at three.

    • I was going to include Browne in the article but ran out of time. He’s a decent player and has been quite consistent. I think he must have been very close to a call up when they moved on from Hales a while back.

  • Doesn’t help that virtually none of the candidates have scored any runs in the first couple of games – the first England-qualified batsman to score a hundred was a journeyman batting down at number eight. Things have improved somewhat as this round’s gone on, but it’s still noticeable and worrying that the Great White Hopes – Hameed, Clarke, Livingstone, Lawrence, Duckett – have all had horror starts. Burns is decent but considering he plays half of his games at The Oval, the best batting pitch in the country he’s only scored 11 hundreds – not good enough if you ask me, he gets out a lot . We’ve already got Mark Stoneman making decent but ultimately inconsequential scores up top, we don’t need another. As it is unless at least one of those starts scoring a bucketload I think we’d just be rearranging deck chairs for now. Watched Ollie Pope score a brilliant hundred on the livestream but it’s probably a bit early to be championing him yet. Even more frustrating for me is the lack of pacers playing – Stone and J. Overton injured (and word on the grapevine is that Overton’s new action hasn’t really clicked, and he’s well down on pace), Mahmood and Barber not picked, Archer and Wood at the IPL. It’s been yet more medium pace seamers dominating batsmen, and after the winter where England’s failings have been laid very bare it’s enormously frustrating to watch.

    • That’s meant to read *he gets out a lot between 40 and 70, not just he gets out a lot – if that was a crime all batsmen would be guilty!

  • I accept Cook has been a waste of space all winter, but losing his potential for run scoring would leave a large gap. I would like to see him have a go at 3 but I’m not confident that any of the other opening bats are likely to yield long term success at this point in their careers.

    We tried Jennings but it didn’t work out and if I recall correctly I think he’s another one who was not going to change his style of play. Hameed has fingers of glass and that would make him an easy injury prone target. We could deal with it if we had a reliable run scoring opener at the other end and a standby. Not impossible.

    As far as Burns is concerned most new players need a bit of time to settle in. Leaving Cook at number 1 might bring him stability but as you have pointed out that leaves us with two lefties.

    While I rate Nick Gubbins highly he has generally had a poor run of form recently and he’s off injured. There must be someone out there who is skilled enough to put in a stint at 3 but I’m stumped.

    I wouldn’t like to be in iMac’s shoes and I think we will find Pakistan a struggle.

    • Fear nt, we have someone who averaged 17 in test match cricket picking the team!

  • Personally I’d keep hold of Rocky and move Cook down to 3.

    I doubt they will though so Livingstone in at 3 for me.

  • ” I imagine Del and Selvs looked puzzled, and then threw up in a bucket when they realised that Andrew Strauss was serious”.

    Oh dear, expect a twitter barrage from the delightful Selvs for questioning his credentials and not knowing what he knows (but isn’t going to tell you). Jarrod Kimber’s just had one.

    “So what kind of players will Smith be looking for? Apparently Big Ed has a statistics-driven philosophy, so it looks like an iMac will be picking the England team rather than a human being”.

    I’m sad enough to have read most of Smith’s cricket writings (that aren’t behind a paywall) and despite his reputation, I can’t think of one about cricket analytics. His twaddle about baseball seems to have successfully obfuscated this….

  • I would love Burns to be selected as I think he’s forever been overlooked but I think it would be cruel to throw him completely in the deep end.

    The ECB have never even picked him for the Lions so to ask him to open against a Test team without any international experience is a bit off.

    Even worse, this is his year as Surrey Captain so would screw us over as well. Now I write this, it’s precisely what I expect will happen!

  • Whoever is selected the team needs to keep a balance of youth and experience moving forward. To drop Cook to me makes no sense at present, as there’s no obvious alternative. We need someone capable of batting all day and he certainly still has the mental strength to do this, whether he opens or drops to 3. Considering the team was in meltdown most of the winter Stoneham seems to have done pretty well. I would not make too many changes at present with Root, Malan, Stokes and Bairstow looking a pretty solid middle order in this country. It just needs an opener, preferably right handed. Hamid or Burns seem favourites.
    On the bowling front Anderson, Broad and Woakes still look as good as anyone. Giving Olly Stone a go is certainly a realistic option with Wood still looking ineffective. I have a horrible feeling Moin is still in the picture, but we need to find a proper spinner, whether he can bat or not.

    • Quite optimistic on the spin front looking forward in fairness, I think Mo will have to force his way back in as a batsman (and he certainly has the ability to do so). Thought Leach shaped up well on an unhelpful wicket on debut – he was able to keep it tight in the first innings and threatened in the second, which was what Swann used to be able to do. I was watching Virdi bowl for Surrey today as well and he looks a fantastic prospect, as do Bess at Somerset, Qadri at Derbyshire and the Parkinson twins – Matt at Lancashire and Callum at Leicestershire – all look to have Test potential, and there’s obviously Crane to come back from injury too. More confident about the future of the bowling than the batting at the moment as there’s a good amount of decent quicks about too, it’s just a matter of getting them fit and then getting them game time. The young batsmen really need to start stepping up though, it’s been a dispiriting start to the season in that regard.

      • And Sunny Singh at Warwickshire, who as good a judge as Jeetan Patel rates very highly. Singh’s problem will be similar to that of several others – getting matches, especially as Jeetan Patel is captain, an automatic pick, and Edgbaston normally only justifies one front line spinner. As a SLA he must be measured against Parkinson of Leicestershire, and he is the better prospect based on what I have heard and seen.

  • Well I want Cook to spend time shepherding his flock rather than any opening partners. Other guys partnering him have been put under pressure because of his failures. Let’s address this in a couple of weeks when some of the hopefuls may have had a chance to prove themselves in rather more friendly conditions.

    • There couldn’t be many worse times to ponder the relative merits of opening bats than before May has even started..

    • Here, here. If Ed is stats driven then Cook is (rightfully) cooked. Let two new ones have a go without having to know that the one at the other end is wholly untouchable. Ps – is TINA now TINOA?! ;)

  • I am puzzled at the inclusion of Sam Hain in the list of options. Whilst he did ok with the Lions white ball team, he has been unable to buy a run in the red ball game for a couple of years (until the current game). There are a lot of watchers at Edgbaston who think he has messed up his technique dreadfully pursuing white ball success and that Matt Lamb, who is the same age, now looks the better bat (he has a very solid traditional batting technique). I like Hain and thought he was one of the great hopes until he stopped grafting for runs – but he is not one to consider until he proves he has got his form back. And I say this as a Warwicks supporter.

  • Mmm. Really can’t tell yet, but To be frank neither Hameed or Jennings have done anything in the last year to warrant a recall. There is no obvious replacement for Cook, Vince or indeed Stoneman and Ed Smith won’t find one with his tec psycho babble or his 15 county “scouts” because basically their isn’t any one yet making a case. Burns is probably the best of the bunch at the moment. I hope they ditch Moen for at least half the season ( who on earth paid money for him in the IPL?) and put him back to Worcester. I’dbe radical and ditch Malan for Livingstone and get rid of Broad, Overton, Wood and get some new bowlers in, there are more of them than potential batsmen at the moment.

    • Lots of bowlers yes, though bowlers with pace?

      Not really.

      Stone is pretty nippy though it seems those taking wickets are closer to the MF than even FM.

      • Stone was timed at 92mph in the T20 finals day, when he was still not fully match fit, so I would expect him to top out at 95/96. But whether he can transition to tests is another matter. From what I have seen of him he does not do much with the ball and I am not sure pure pace will cut it at the top. Hope I am wrong.

  • Ed who ? We just need a set of experienced people who spend all their time actually going to county championship games and watching players

  • Surely the problem with using a stats based approach to selecting the England test team is that the relevant available stats (County Championship performances) are utterly meaningless. If you look (for example) at the seam bowling, in April/May (the most recent available championship stats), the successful bowlers are the 80mph trundlers who can swing the ball. That doesn’t work at test level in high summer (assuming we have one of those). And how the hell are you going to be able to select a spinner?

    • Ah, but you’re assuming that the kind of stats he’ll be relying on are the ones that you or I would take into consideration (batting and bowling averages, strike rates etc.) Who knows what metrics he’ll actually employ? The “right kind of family” scale? The “popularity in the dressing room” discriminator? If he really was going to base the selection of the team strictly on individuals’ recent cricketing performance (including the Antipodean tour that finished just a few weeks ago) then let’s just say there are one or two big names who would’ve already played their final Test matches. We know that’s not going to prove to be the case though, don’t we?

    • I hate the appointment of Smith, but I think you are underestimating the value of stats. Apparently he is drilling down much further. The interesting figure that made me wonder was a quote in an article (can’t remember where) that Keith Barker has a bowling average of 24 against batsmen who average over 40. It is that lower level of detail which will be of interest. Mind you, I am not sure a left arm 80mph swing bowler will succeed – but many have said similar about Philander over the years.

      • The slightly quicker Ben Coad might also be a serious test prospect in a year’s time.

        • Wondering why there hasn’t bee more fuss about Ben Coad. His numbers are phenomenal, and the argument of a small sample size is starting to evaporate…

  • I imagine that Ed’s iMac will put Hildreth right at the top. I think he’s 33 but is he worth a look?

  • James Anderson not playing the current round of CC games because he’s had injections in shoulder and ankle injuries. One to keep an eye on….

    Also, Ed Smith had reputedly written his plan for English cricket but it seems to have disappeared. Did the references need checking?

  • “With input by Kevin Shine…. “:

    Yet another nail in the coffin of independent journalism. Shine’s “input” of course ensures that any possibility these injuries will be traced back to anything to do with the ECB or Loughborough is extinguished. Shine’s presence might have a slight justification if he offered any genuine insight but his comments are nothing by vacuous inanities.

    What next? The batting coach offering “input” on batting collapses?

    Whether Dobell’s acquiescence in this has anything to do with other “noises off” in his relationship with the ECB can only be wondered at. All one can say is that it’s a long way from some of his previous writings/sayings on Loughborough generally or on their management of England bowler’s fitness specifically.


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