Uh-Oh, Keaton’s Back.

Today only one line of questioning is pertinent. Do you like horses? And if you like horses do you fancy them on particular courses? If your answer is ‘yes’ then you’re probably a fan of Keaton Jennings’s recall and consider Ed Smith a kindred spirit. If, like me, you don’t bet on horses and wouldn’t even look at a horse kebab in a Parisian deli, then you probably think his recall is as barmy as blending marmite into strawberry yoghurt.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the argument that Keaton Jennings did well the last time England toured Sri Lanka. But I also understand that he’s never going to a pukka international batsman. If Michael Keaton is Batman, then Keaton Jennings is Can’t Bat Man. His technique against pace bowling is as porous as blancmange. So why are England going backwards when they could blood someone who might turn into a legitimate option around the world?

Now we all know that Big Ed likes to be funky. He was a contrarian as a pundit and an essayist and he’s continued in this vein as a selector. At first he wanted the team to play total cricket – which meant packing the team with dodgy all-rounders – which sounded fresh and revolutionary but ended up being an unintelligent failure. Since then he’s gone back to basics, picked specialists for specialist roles, and the team looks like it’s turned a corner as a result.

The lesson here is simple: keep it simple. I just worry that this Jennings recall might indicate a worrying return to contrarian fetishism. Is Ed doing it because, amongst other things, he fancies being the revolutionary thinker who extended the concept of ‘horses for courses’ cricketers to batsmen (when it normally just applies to bowlers)? I really hope not.

I don’t like ‘horses for courses’ as a strategy because it creates problems down the line. What happens, for example, if Jennings scores lots of runs? Would Smith drop him like the proverbial stone for the next Test at home? I don’t think he could. He’d be obliged to pick him again. And that’s where the problem lies.

When you pick horses for courses cricketers (who do well in specific circumstances) it then becomes bad man management to simply toss them aside once the specific course is run. It’s why England used to select guys like Neil Mallender at Headingley, watch them pick up a cheap five-fer, and then pick them again in the next match on a flat Oval pitch where they’d concede 0-100 in 15 overs and look about as threatening as a toddler wielding a guava fruit.

The rest of the squad, fortunately, looks pretty much as expected. I endorse it entirely. If Adil Rashid wasn’t available then Matt Parkinson makes sense as the third spinner – although I did wonder at one point whether Mason Crane might get the nod after he took 3 wickets for The Lions in Australia very recently.

What’s more, I’m pleased that Denly has kept his place for now. He deserves the opportunity to score an elusive Test hundred against weaker bowlers that aren’t capable of knocking his block off. Sri Lanka will present a different challenge to Australia and South Africa, and it won’t be easy of course, but the cricket should be less intense.

Perhaps the biggest news, however, is that Ben Foakes is back in the squad. Hallelujah! Let’s hope he’s here to stay rather than being another horse for a course. There are even reports that he’ll start ahead of Jos Butter, who will apparently travel as a spare keeper and batsman.

I’ve been on Jos’s case recently but I really don’t mind him touring as long as it’s Foakes who starts. For me it was always Foakes as No.1 for this tour with either Jos or Jonny Bairstow in reserve. Predictably Ed Smith has decided that it’s Jonny who should make way – although I really don’t understand this talk of Jonny being ‘rested’. He’s hardly played any cricket recently. Everyone knows that he’s really been ‘dropped’ so why pretend otherwise?

The other notable inclusions / exclusions are that Stuart Broad is going, Chris Woakes is going, Mark Wood is going, but Jimmy Anderson is not. That’s all fine by me. I just hope and pray that Sam Curran isn’t given the new ball ahead of Broad and that Wood isn’t bowled into the ground. Jimmy can rest up at home and get himself 100% fit for the summer.

Squad: Joe Root (capt), Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Ben Foakes, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes Mark Wood

James Morgan


  • A decent squad. Thank goodness they’ve run out of excuses for not picking Foakes. But Jennings? A retrograde step if ever I saw one. As you say, James, if he does well he’ll be picked for the next series when all of the deep seated flaws will be revealed again, so you’re depriving someone else – and we have options now unlike last time- of valuable experience. If he does badly….!!! Either way, the selectors will learn nothing.

  • I’d have given Virdi a punt here. It’s all about spin and your seamers probably won’t bowl more than 25 overs an innings between them. Why flog Wood? 3 spinners and 2 seamers.
    Butler? Why do they keep picking him? Reserve keeper perhaps but Pope is as good.
    Jennings? Don’t like to go backwards, and as you say James time to develop new players.

  • Presumably Jennings would not have been picked if Burns had been fit. The fact that Burns is acknowledged to be due to come back makes it less problematic to drop Jennings again after Sri Lanka. Of course, it is only a problem if he succeeds in Sri Lanka, but even then not so much as before Burns established himself.

  • “Specialists for specialist roles”? Mr Ed has really gone down that route? Buttler (aka ‘Hands of Stone’) retained (even as a back up keeper. Military medium Curran to open the bowling. Denly to provide the leg spin (since Parkinson is patently not ready for tests). Stokes as a no5 (I have no problem with Stokes but he is obviously batting at least one place too high). And I haven’t even mentioned Skipper Root – he of the zero captaincy experience before England (and it sure does show).

    • I was referring to Sibley for Roy and Burns belatedly getting picked. Denly too could be considered a somewhat old fashioned or orthodox batsman good at occupying the crease. Pope coming into the side is a good move too.

      • Thanks James. I agree about Sibley and Burns, although I rather suspect it was more a case of Mr Ed running out of white ball style players who had not already been tried and failed!

  • Am I the only one who believes that Jennings ability against spin is a little overplayed? In Sri Lanka he has had one really good Test followed by two where he scored a total of 41 in 4 innings – to me he always seemed over reliant on the sweep (including a rather stiff legged reverse).

    • My thoughts entirely. Besides the fact that horses for courses is stupid, nevermind the fact that we’ve got a pair of useful-looking young openers form whom this would be a fantastic learning opportunity, the bottom line is that he really isn’t all that great against spin anyway.

      His stats in the subcontinent are barely ok, and stats don’t tell the whole story anyway.

  • England *are* blooding young batsmen who might become legitimate options all around the world. Sibley and Crawley, who debuted this winter, are both in the squad, as is Pope. At least two will definitely play, and I don’t think it’s unlikely England retain all three with Jennings just running drinks and sneaking on with the short leg pads as often as they can get away with.

    You need a reserve opener in the touring party – just as you need a specialist back-up keeper. The most talked about alternatives (Bairstow, Hain and Northeast) all bat at 4 or 5 for their counties. If you take, say, Hain instead of Jennings, and Crawley breaks a finger, then either Hain has to play out of position on debut, or you have to shuffle what finally looks like a sensible middle order to create space for him by batting probably 2 or 3 people out of position. And even then, they’d probably play Buttler at 5/6 instead. Jennings can slot straight in, and even if the injury is in the middle order it’s easier to adapt to batting (say) 5 than opening, even if they don’t go for Jos in that role.

    Also, yes, picking Jennings in the summer, when Burns is fit again would be a mistake. And the concern about communication from the selectors to sidelined players (recent stories about Plunkett, Willey and Malan spring to mind) is valid. But it should be possible, even if he has a fantastic tour, to explain that Burns has done enough to come straight back in, that he’s still in the frame for India, and what they want to see from him to male sure he’s the beneficiary if Denly is maved aside and/or Crawley/Sibley fail to kick on.

    Tl:dr with Burns injured, unless you can think of another opener who’s actually ready to make his Test debut, Jennings is a perfectly reasonable choice for this tour.

    • Denly is also a reserve opener. He opened in the Windies I recall. Therefore no need for Jennings imho. I would’ve picked another batsman from The Lions – Northeast, Hain, or Lawrence over KJ.

      • But even if you’re comfortable with Denly opening (I’m not particularly), you still have a hole at number 3, which is still at least one spot higher than any of the Lions middle order players normally bat, so you probably have to move Root to 3. So, as I said, you’re having to bat at least 2 players out of position to avoid playing a debutant too high up. And that’s before considering asking Stokes or Pope to bat 4 so the debutant doesn’t have to. It’s a lot of disruption to avoid picking a player with a respectable record in these conditions out of fear you might forget he’s rubbish in other conditions when the player he’s replacing is fit again.

        I would have no particular issue with Hain/Northeast/Lawrence touring instead – particularly if they’d actually be ahead of Buttler in the pecking order (again, I suspect they wouldn’t be) – but the squad is better balanced with a specialist opener imo.

        Wouldn’t life be dull if we all agreed?

        • Indeed :-) I don’t think batting 3 is a big issue in Sri Lanka. Bairstow is in no way a 3 in normal circumstances but he scored a ton at 3 in SL last time. Seam plays such a small role that exposure to the new ball doesn’t bother me. I think most of our middle order players could do it … but please don’t go moving Pope though ;-)

    • You need a reserve opener in the touring party – just as you need a specialist back-up keeper.

      That used to be the case, but it hasn’t been true for a while. Not least because we haven’t had openers let alone reserve ones, we have tended to regard a re- jigged batting order (which hasn’t been settled anyway) as the solution to the loss of a batsman in any position, not just an opener, Similarly, for the opposite reason we have tended not to bother with a specialist back up keeper as it has often seemed that the main qualification for inclusion in the squad has been the ability to keep wicket, so there was never a perceived shortage of cover in that area !

  • Ten of the eleven seem obvious. Don’t know who gets the final bowling spot. For me not Curran but a good case for any of the other three:


  • I agree entirely, though Jimmy’s going to be pissed. I saw one Twitterist excusing the Jennings return with “He’s a fine fielder and he’s got a really *good character*”. Maybe someone should have told Foakes.

  • I think overall the selections are quite sensible. I share your reservations about Jennings, and would not have picked him. I am delighted to that Foakes is in the party. I would personally have selected one fewer seamer (probably Woakes would be the one to miss out as I cannot see him doing anything on Sri Lankan pitches) and one extra spinner to have more cover there (Virdi would be me choice for the fourth spinner). My probable starting XI would be Sibley, Crawley, Denly, Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, S Curran, Wood, Bess, Leach, with Parkinson possibly coming in for Denly (Stokes moving to no 3, followed by Root, Pope, Foakes…) if it looks like a very flat pitch so that England need to maximize their bowling options. Wood should be used sparingly, and in no circumstances given a spell of more than five overs, and likewise Stokes the bowler should be used for brief, high intensity bursts.

  • Jennings’ face fits – it is that simple.

    Good to see Foakes in – I am old-fashioned enough to always favour picking the best available ‘keeper, irrespective of his batting ability. That Foakes is no mug with the bat is a bonus.

  • A preview on how England will get XI out of this squad:

    1) Jennings in for Crawley (“century in Galle…. excellent character…. looking good in the nets…. “).
    2) Pope up to No.3 (“best players bat there… no hiding places at this level…. looking good in the nets…. “).
    3) Buttler back to specialist No.7 (“exceptional talent…. too good not to succeed… looking good in the nets…. “).
    4) Four seamers (“play to our traditional strengths… [off-the-record: we don’t fancy Leach or Parkinson]…. looking good in the nets… “).

    Team for first Test: Jennings, Sibley, Pope, Root, Stokes, Foakes, Buttler, Curran, Bess, Wood (or Woakes), Broad.

    And they’d still probably still win SL are so poor currently.

    Don’t forget the five Test tour of India next winter – there’s some planning for that in this squad selection. They’ve also told the media they want Moeen Ali back by then (despite his average of nearly 65 with the ball on the last tour).

    P.S. Poor old Neil Mallender didn’t take 0/100 in his second Test (it was 2/93!).

  • I thought a few years ago that Jennings was being groomed as captain. Perhaps that idea hasn’t gone away, although I hope it has, because as everyone correctly says, Jennings is basically no use at all against the moving ball. “Horses for courses” can work I think, whether or not Jennings is an appropriate vehicle to test the theory. England have used it for tours on the sub-continent in the past. I’m thinking of Keith Fletcher in 1976/77 and 1981/82 – although in the former case he got in, outrageously, at the expense of David Steele who most people believed had earned a spot by his weight of runs against Australia and the West Indies.

    Jennings aside I am delighted that Foakes is back, and I hope he is now given a proper run of several seasons.

  • At least Foakes has made it into the squad. Buttler was always going after Collingwoods endorsement of him as an X-factor player. Good to see Anderson out of the fray, we need him fresh for the summer.
    Jennings is supposed to be a decent player of spin and so as long as he’s only cover for the absentee Burns I don’t have an issue with it. The problem is if he has a half decent series will he be continued with this summer at the expense of Sibley. Otherwise as you say James the squad is pretty much as expected.
    Whatever administration is in charge there will always be favourites and faces that don’t fit, it’s just unfortunate that the position is such a key one in this case. Hopefully Foakes will make some runs and Curran will take some wickets, as it’s seems only injury will stop his selection.

  • Seems a pretty decent squad to me. I’m uneasy with Parkinson’s selection, it seems a bit optimistic to consider playing in an international side someone who last season struggled to get a game for Lancs in Div2. But Parkinson actually has a good first class record and seems to have some control so I can see why he’s been picked, I hope it comes off.

    I’m so petty minded I went away and checked the stats for Neil Mallender’s second test. You were quite right, played at the Oval. But not 0 – 100, 2 – 93 (didn’t bowl second innings as England lost by 10 wickets.) Not great figures in a match dominated by Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Devon Malcolm, but better than, Chris Lewis 1- 70, Phil Tufnell 1 – 84 and Derek Pringle, 0- 28 from 6 overs, seems as if Pringle was playing as a specialist batsman. Which makes you grateful for Ed Smith.


    • Ha! Am I right in thinking that Mallender didn’t tour that winter and never played a Test again? I was relying on childhood memories. Not too far off :-)

      • Yep

        2 tests was all he managed, finished up averaging 21 in test matches and 26 in first class cricket, so a bit better than I remembered.

      • Yes just two tests. But finished with a test average of 21 and first class of 26.

  • The BCCI back Colin Graves for head of the ICC according to the Times.

    Countries have a free choice – support Graves or defy the BCCI which means effectively being nuked off planet cricket.

    Graves can do for the world what he’s done for the English domestic game!

  • Pretty good squad but Jennings is a puzzler and Buttler more so. I think Sammy C may have a Vaas role to play so don’t rule him out entirely. Cowell has given the X factor a rest and we should have followed suit. As I said previously why isn’t Hales there as Mr Ed loves a player in good T20 form! But let’s face it Stokesy is there to save the day so not to worry.

  • What everybody seems to be missing is that Jennings is a superb short leg fielder which is crucial in SL where they will surely play 3 spinners. It doesn’t matter if Jennings scores any runs as they will drop him for Burns in the summer.

    Regarding the seam bowling, they should pick the seamers who are the best batters i.e. Curran and Woakes because the seamers will only bowl about 20 overs a innings.

    • Good point that. I think someone else mentioned this above. Ticks the funky box too – Keaton Jennings, the first ever specialist 12th man fielder ;-) revolutionary thinking by Ed Smith. Visionary.

  • I honestly don’t mind Jennings being picked, he’ll probably play at the expense of Denly, I’m just not impressed with Denly so far. His fielding at short leg is superb, and his face fits, so yeah.

  • I am not so sure about the line that we need 3 spinners with seamers playing only a minor role in SL. It would certainly be true if we had even one spinner who gives it a rip, but both Bess and Leach – whilst good bowlers – only turn it fairly gently and will be of more use to control ends than take wickets against SL bats brought up against spin. And Parkinson is neither ready nor has the variations needed for leg spin in SL. So the seamers may have a bigger role than expected. Which ones? I would go with Broad, Woakes and Wood (Stokes as back up), and Bess and Leach as spin. It would need careful management with a long tail, but would have more of a winning chance than a heavy spin attack.

  • I would not be surprised to see;
    Foakes (wkt)

    2 seamers plus Stokes – probably enough?
    a left and right arm spinner plus Root and Denly

    I am not advocating that team, but I am expecting it.

  • Please ignore comment above – I missed out Leach who is likely to be the first name on the team sheet! Sorry I am an idiot


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