England have just named their squad for the first test against Pakistan. Gary Ballance has replaced Nick Compton and Toby Roland-Jones has been called up as Anderson is injured. I expect the lumbering Jake Ball to replace Jimmy in the final XI but you never know.
Ballance’s recall is something of a surprise, as he only averages 34 this season with a single ton. I’m not surprised about Roland-Jones however, because he plays for Middlesex (wink, wink).
I sense that people are worried about Ballance’s recall. I am too. Apparently he hasn’t changed his technique at all since Australia sent him packing last summer – which seems more than a little naïve (not to mention stubborn). However, it’s something of a relief that he won’t be batting at 3. Or is it?
Unfortunately the plan is to move Root up to 3 (even though he doesn’t want to bat there) because apparently that’s where the best player is supposed to bat. Excuse me for laughing out load. This particular theory is complete and utter b*ll**ks.
History tells us that the best player sometimes bats 3 but not always. Did Steve Waugh bat 3? Does Steve Smith bat 3? Does Younus Khan? Basically batsmen should bat in the position that suits them best. Joe Root is a world-class number 4 or 5 but a pretty average opener. Moving him to 3 therefore makes about as much sense as playing Rooney in midfield.
However, one thing I believe the selectors have got right – even though there’s much gnashing of teeth about this on social media – is the omission of Jos Butter (who was widely tipped for a recall).
Now we all know that Jos is a brilliant limited overs cricketer. He’s up there with KP as the best improviser and showman we’ve ever had. I’m a massive, massive fan. I also like the way Jos comes across in interviews. He seems likeable, modest, and I wish him all the best.
However, I’ve been completely underwhelmed by Jos’ test career. He doesn’t move his feet well, he plays with too much bottom hand, and he looked mentally fragile against both Australia last summer and Pakistan in the UAE. I also think he might have a potential weakness against the short ball.
The only time Jos has really impressed me in his 24 test innings was against New Zealand at Headingley last year, when he made a battling 73 in a losing cause. His other four test half-centuries have come against feeble Indian and West Indian attacks. Gary Balance scored centuries for fun against these guys.
Buttler’s last 12 test innings, against Australia and Pakistan (proper test attacks) reads as follows: 27, 7, 13, 11, 9, 12, 1, 42, 23, 4, 0, 7. That 7 was in the UAE in October last year. That’s the last time he actually played a first class game! Therefore it makes no sense to recall him against the same opposition that exposed him so ruthlessly the last time he put on whites.
The truth is, no matter how much we all love Jos, he didn’t really deserve a recall. There are far more deserving candidates in county cricket who have put in the hard yards this summer. In fact, some of these guys are much more deserving of a call up than Ballance too.
James Hildreth, who is possibly the best batsmen of modern times never to play for England, has scored 721 runs at an average of 72 this year. Scott Borthwick has scored 585 at 59 and Dawid Malan 468 at 52. There’s also some bloke called Ian Bell, who’s made 438 runs at 49.
I guess what many observers are doing, of course, is assuming that runs against a poor Sri Lankan team in ODIs will translate to test cricket against a far better attack. Pakistan are no mugs. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz are world-class operators who eat technically frail batsmen for breakfast. I expect Alastair Cook might struggle against them, let alone a guy who hasn’t played first class cricket for eight months!
What’s more, we should recognise that Jos has always somewhat struggled in red ball cricket: he actually only averages 32 in first class cricket with just four hundreds. Of the other 18 regular keepers in the country, only John Simpson (31), Phil Mustard (30), Andy Hodd (28), Ben Cox (28), Mark Wallace (29), David Murphy (29) and Tom Poynton (19) average less than Jos. What’s more, Chris Read and James Foster, two excellent keepers who have been ignored by England because their batting supposedly isn’t good enough, both average 37.
Although I realise that Jos is supremely talented, and he might one day make it as a test player, I don’t think the time was right to recall him – unless he was being picked primarily as a keeper (which is a different argument). England fly to India this winter for what could be a very tricky tour. Jos has never looked the best player of spin, so I think it’s best he focuses on improving his technique for now.