It just wouldn’t be England without some pre-World Cup drama. In previous years we made last minute changes to personnel because, well, the team was a bit crap and the selectors desperately hoped some new faces would turn the tide. This time, however, we’re facing a mini crisis because our governing body is a bit crap.
It’s typical isn’t it. Just as England get their on-field product sorted – we’re 5/2 favourites for the World Cup with most cricket betting sites – things off the field start to go belly-up. It’s not easy being an England cricket supporter sometimes.
It’s hard to see how the ECB could’ve handled this Hales controversy any worse. At one point I praised them on social media for playing things by the book and not letting outside pressure’s cloud their judgement. They banned Hales for 21 days – which is the standard protocol for a second drugs violation – and they seemed to be taking his delicate state of mind into account by keeping his problems private.
But I should’ve known this prudent and principled approach wouldn’t last.
Once the story got out the ECB panicked, wrongly assuming that England’s cricketers (in general) have a discipline problem, and wrongly assumed that the only way to avoid media criticism was to come down on Hales like a ton of bricks. So they immediately dropped him from the squad – which was something they promised the player they would not do – and then spouted some rubbish about Hales risking team harmony and becoming a potential distraction.
The reasons given for Hales’s axing were cynical and disingenuous even by the ECB’s standards. If they thought his presence in the squad was likely to cause a problem then they would have dropped him straight away as soon as he failed the test. Instead they only decided he was a problem once the story was all over the newspapers.
One can only conclude, therefore, that the real reason was their determination to look tough on drugs and portray the England brand (and cricket in general) as whiter-than-white. It hardly seems fair. Justice should be consistent whether matters are private or public.
The ECB decided to purge Hales because they want to use the World Cup as an opportunity to increase the game’s popularity, improve its image, and reverse falling participations levels – something the ECB themselves caused when they foolishly decided to take live cricket off free-to-air television over a decade ago. They’ve been playing catch-up since.
The ECB want nothing, absolutely nothing, to stain what they hope will be a glorious year for English cricket. And it appears they’re quite prepared to break their word and sacrifice their duty of care to the troubled Hales to achieve this end. After all, if England win the World Cup and the subsequent Ashes series they can pose as progressive and successful administrators of our wonderful sport. The truth whatever the outcome, of course, is that the very opposite is true.
But I don’t want to cry over spilt milk today. Hales has been dropped (something that wouldn’t have happened if he’d kept his nose squeaky clean) and thoughts must now turn to his potential replacements – one of whom, rather ironically, is Ben Duckett. Interesting isn’t it? If squad harmony is so important then why have they replaced one potential distraction with a player who was sent home from an Ashes tour for being a distraction less than 18 months ago? Hmmmm.
Anyway, today I’d like to discuss who you would like to see as Hales’s replacement – in other words, the first batsman off the bench in the event of injury. Is Duckett the right man? Or would you prefer James Vince? Or even someone else not currently in the squad?
It’s a tricky decision this. Duckett has opened regularly in white ball cricket in the past but he’s currently batting 3 for Notts in the Royal London One Day Cup. He’s a very talented shot-maker but hasn’t been in the best of form so far this year. He’s made one half century for Notts in five white ball outings. And he’s only made one 50 in the championship too, although he did make some notable contributions for the Lions in India this winter.
Perhaps a better like-for-like replacement would be James Vince, an elegant player who has immense talent but a somewhat flakey temperament. If it comes down to form then Vince is surely a shoo-in. He has been in sparkling form in recent weeks with scores of 56, 95, 14, 190, and 47. Those are pretty big numbers. Perhaps he’s finally putting it all together? English batsmen often mature later than some of their international contemporaries so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Vince finally figured out his game at the age of 28.
The other batsman who’s been named in the squad to play Ireland is Dawid Malan. I like this selection a lot. Malan didn’t quite have what it takes at test level but he’s always been a better white ball player than a red ball one. His career stats back this up. He averages an underwhelming 37 in first class cricket but a petty perky 42 in the 50-over stuff.
Although Malan has yet to play an ODI for England, he’s made 4 half-centuries in 5 international T20s at an astonishing average of 50 with a strike-rate of 150. That’s quality by any standard. He’s certainly got the shots. And we also know he’s got the temperament to play longer innings and adapt too.
If England were to pick up an injury in the middle-order (say Eoin Morgan gets a knock) then Malan would be my first choice to replace him. He’s a very mature cricketer and he possesses a calm demeanour at the crease. The problem, of course, is that England might be looking for a top order batsman if they want a like-for-like Hales replacement.
As a result, Vince is probably my preferred option. The Hampshire captain can basically slot into any of the top 5 positions in the batting order and not look out of place. The only problem is his modest record in international cricket (in all formats). Can he finally crack it? He’ll have to score runs against Pakistan to convince me. If he struggles then I’d move on to either Duckett, who is high risk – high reward pick, or someone else capable of opening.
With Joe Clarke currently on the naughty step and about as likely to play in this World Cup as Alex Hales – if the ECB want whiter than white then young Joe has a Dothraki’s chance in Winterfell of being selected – there aren’t too many options to choose from. One name we should put out there, however, is Sam Hain from Warwickshire.
After his huge ton against Worcestershire at the weekend, Hain’s career List A average rose to the dizzy heights of 59. Apparently that’s the highest domestic white ball average in history for a batsman who’s played over fifty innings. Virat Kohli eat your heart out! The Indian skipper averages a modest (ahem) 58 in comparison.
Would you take a gamble on someone like Hain or have the selectors already identified the best candidate?
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