So then. Let’s sharpen those knives. It’s what I’m hear for. And presumably it’s what you’re here for too. It’s disembowel Ed Smith time again. Let’s skewer those funky left-field selections, and dismantle the methodology behind them.
But there’s just one problem this time. As a longtime blogger I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this test squad. In fact, I quite like it. The talking horse has come up trumps in my book. The squad isn’t perfect – there’s no way Jennings deserves to be retained – but all the other decisions look sound. As indeed does the thinking behind them.
When I heard Big Ed’s interview with TMS a week or so ago I have to say I feared the worst. The emphasis on ‘all-round packages’ at the expense of specialists was alarming. However, this squad has basically ignored all that. We’ve got the best pure opener in county cricket, the best pure spinner, the fastest pure bowler available, a wildcard veteran who can actually bat a bit.
Perhaps that TMS interview was BS. Perhaps it was just an attempt to try and cleverly post-rationalise decisions that had gone wrong? This squad is a complete departure from the ‘get your best XI all-round cricketers’ on the paddock philosophy.
I don’t think anyone can argue with the selection of Rory Burns. He’s been outstanding for Surrey for many years and he clearly deserves his chance. Ed Smith didn’t try to second guess anyone (including himself!) on this one and just made the obvious call. Bravo!
And then we come to Olly Stone. Yes he’ll need to be managed carefully. But England have so many all-rounders that they can afford to carry the odd luxury who might only bowl short spells. Just look at Adil Rashid this summer. England’s attack desperately needs pace so Stone fits the bill perfectly.
The decision to choose Jack Leach as the third spinner in the squad was also a no brainer. Just when we thought Smith was Leach-averse – I half expected him to recall someone like Liam Dawson for his batting – Mr Ed comes to his senses and picks the bowler everyone wanted. It’s remarkably simple this selection lark … if one lets it be.
And finally we should talk about Joe Denly. I bet a few people are mystified by this selection. Why go back to someone who was a failure when they played white ball cricket almost a decade ago? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Smith is dead right when he says that Denly has a ‘touch of class’. He always has.
Whilst I sympathise profusely with the James Hildreth brigade, Denly really isn’t a bad left-field punt. The cupboard isn’t exactly stuffed with exciting options, and whilst as a Worcestershire man I would have liked Joe Clarke to get an opportunity, I have to confess he probably hasn’t done quite enough in the second half of the season. Perhaps because his head has been turned by the vultures from Trent Bridge (I’m sure there’s a joke about robbin’ the poor to give to the rich in there somewhere).
Joe Denly, meanwhile, is one of the biggest unfulfilled talents in the English game. I was a huge fan of his back in 2009, when he was challenging for an Ashes place, and I thought he was the best young batsman in the country. I remember him scoring a half-century for The Lions against Australia at New Road and he looked a class apart. The way he pulled Brett Lee, and looked like he had all the time in the world to play the shot, was something special. I really have no idea why his career didn’t kick on. Perhaps it was being miscast as an ODI player?
Although I’ve probably put the mockers on the poor bloke now, and yes there’s obviously a risk this selection will backfire like so many other left-field choices in the past, at least I can see the logic behind this one. And who knows it might just work. Denly wouldn’t be the first player to suddenly mature as a cricketer in his thirties.
The only other somewhat contentious selection was the decision to take Pope. Again I don’t have a problem with this. With Moeen Ali a serious contender to bat 3 (at least in Sri Lankan conditions), and Denly also capable of batting up the order, Pope won’t be thrust into an unfamiliar role. He might just come good if he bats in the right place.