It’s official. Ed Smith is trolling us. Not only has he kept faith with Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook, possibly England’s least convincing opening partnership since Tim Curtis and Martyn Moxon strode out at Trent Bridge on 12th August 1989 (and made a combined total of two runs), but he’s also recalled everyone’s favourite punchbag: a certain James Michael Vince. I can neither confirm nor deny entirely fictional reports that Joe Clarke muttered the words “Smith you ****” when he heard the news.
If one believes that county championship form should be important when selecting England teams, as I do, then one can hardly grumble at Vince’s selection though. The Hants skipper has been in great form this summer. And he’s even making the big scores rather than pretty 20s and 30s that he was asked to do.
On the other hand, this is James bloody Vince we’re talking about. How many chances has he had? If he plays a couple of gorgeous cover drives and then nicks off behind for an attractive but essentially useless cameo then I might just explode.
The other somewhat controversial decision – although nobody has really picked up on this – is that Adil Rashid has kept his place in the squad, despite the fact that Jack Leach registered innings figures of 8-85 in 48 overs against Essex this week. He has now taken 203 first class wickets at an average of 26. Adil Rashid has taken his first class wickets at an average of 35.
I don’t think Rashid has done much wrong since his recall but Leach’s exploits certainly offer food for thought. It’s also worth mentioning that Moeen Ali took six wickets in an innings in Worcs’ recent win over Yorkshire. Two weeks ago Ed Smith argued that Rashid had been recalled due to exceptional circumstances, as Leach hadn’t had enough bowling. Well, now he’s had plenty. Not that it seems to matter.
It will be interesting to see what XI clever clogs concocts for Southampton. Much depends on whether Jonny Bairstow can bat. The consensus seems to be that he certainly won’t keep. Therefore, all the people who’ve been clamouring for Lancashire’s third choice gloveman (behind Vilas and Davies) to become England’s first choice gloveman can finally rejoice! In fact, many people are saying that Buttler should now become England’s permanent keeper so Jonny can focus on his batting.
Now I don’t want to piss on anyone’s parade, but this is a bad idea for several reasons. Firstly, Bairstow is probably a better keeper than Buttler. Why else would England have kept faith with Jonny for all this time? Smith and Bayliss might have done a few daft things this summer but they’re surely smart enough to know that chances are at a premium in test cricket and you should always give the gloves to the best person. Surely they’ve haven’t been neglecting this fundamental rule all summer?
Bairstow might not be as good a keeper as Bob Taylor or Alan Knott, but he’s done a very good job over the years. He’s been very reliable and missed very little. Why jeopardise this by giving the gloves (long term) to someone who looks no better in ODIs and might make more costly mistakes? It will certainly be difficult for Jos to make less errors than Jonny.
The main argument behind giving Jos the gloves – and let’s pretend Ben Foakes doesn’t actually exist at this point – is that England would be better served by Jonny focusing solely on his batting. Again this is codswallop for two reasons: (a) Buttler is coming off a maiden century in which he showed more application than Bairstow has for a while, and (b) Bairstow averages a lot more with the bat when he keeps than when he plays as a specialist batter.
People forget that Bairstow only started to look like a proper batsman when he took the gloves a few years back. Before that he played purely as a batsmen and didn’t do very well at all. In fact he was dropped. And when he got his second crack at test cricket (in a series in which he finally kept), he immediately played very well and was extremely candid about the reasons why: he said that being an all-rounder took the pressure off.
Many cricket fans talk about Bairstow wanting to keep wicket as if it’s just some kind of meaningless ego thing. But it’s not. There are deeper psychological reasons as to why Jonny wants to keep wicket and why he should. For starters, his father was a keeper, and therefore he feels extremely comfortable (and takes huge pride) in fulfilling this role. This, in turn, helps him to play better.
What’s more, Jonny has spoken about how keeping wicket helps to keep his head clear during matches. In other words, he can’t stop himself from worrying about his batting when he’s twiddling his thumbs in the field for long periods. And this makes him overly anxious when he finally strolls to the wicket. If Bairstow is supposed to be England’s second best batsman, why risk upsetting the routine that makes him successful?
Trevor Bayliss has actually addressed this psychological issue and said that England’s aren’t worried about Jonny’s fixation with keeping – even though Jonny is. This seems naive to me. Cricket is a mental game, and if Jonny thinks it will be an issue then it probably will be. He’s the best person to judge not Bayliss. I bet Bayliss didn’t think that moving Joe Root to No.3 would affect Joe Root’s form either – but it did. Sometimes players have preferences for a reason.
The problem that Bayliss and Smith have, of course, is that the whole batting order is a mess and they have no idea how to fix it. Who does? Therefore they’re groping around in the dark hoping to find a solution. My personal view is to keep things simple. Jos Buttler proved he can bat in the top six at Trent Bridge, so this should be his role long-term. He should be moving up the order not down it in order to take the gloves permanently.
Recently England have developed the strange habit of demoting run scorers rather promoting them. Chris Woakes was moved from 7 to 8 after scoring a century, they’re talking about moving Buttler back to 7 when he scored a ton at 6, and they dropped Sam Curran (and Dom Bess) from the team entirely after making important contributions. It just doesn’t make sense.
It will also be interesting to see where James Vince bats – if indeed he plays at all. Personally I think he should play so he can bat 3 and let Root move back to 4. Then we can have Jonny at 5 (if fit enough), Buttler at 6, and Stokes at 7. This would mean young Ollie Pope missing out but I’m sure his time will come. If Bairstow isn’t fit enough to take the field at all, then Pope will simply replace him. The middle-order in this alternative scenario would therefore be Vince at 3, Root 4, Buttler 5, Pope 6, Stokes 7.
What I would do and what England will do, however, are two very different matters. If I was in charge of English cricket then the championship would be played in high summer, the T20 Blast and some test matches would be on terrestrial TV, and Colin Graves, Tom Harrison, and Ed Smith would be locked up on a wooden galley on a long journey to the south pole. But that’s just me.