When England named their squad for the ODI series in India yesterday, two names jumped off the page. The first was Stuart Meaker of Surrey, who was left out of Surrey’s CB40 final team. The second was Warwickshire seamer Chris Woakes, who seems to split opinion: some think he bowls too slowly to be effective in international cricket, while others think he bowls far too slowly.
The selection of Meaker was a brave and daring one. He’s got a bit of pace, reverse swings the ball, and like his county colleague Jade Dernbach, he’s adept at firing in yorkers at the death; in other words he’s got necessary tools to do well on subcontinent wickets. Whether he’s a bit too raw is another question. He’s hasn’t played many games for Surrey.
Woakes’ inclusion is more surprising. He bowls little above medium pace, relies on conventional swing, and his domestic one-day record couldn’t be more underwhelming: 56 wickets at an average of 34, with an economy rate of 5.4. His selection is therefore curious to say the least. Although his late-order batting is highly promising, Kohli and Co will be queuing up to face his bowling. It’s hard to see how he can be successful on flat and dry Indian wickets.
Lancashire fans are also entitled to have a good moan about Woakes’ inclusion. The conspiracy theorists will point out that Woakes was omitted from the recent NatWest Series – thus guaranteeing his availability for the county championship finale – yet suddenly he’s recalled to the England fold when the county season has ended. Well, I never.
The issue, of course, is that Ashley Giles, Woakes’ county coach, is also an England selector. It’s a blatant conflict of interest, but the ECB seem to care about it as much as we care about Ricky Ponting’s retirement plans i.e. not very.
We are not suggesting for a second that the conspiracy theorists are right – Ashley Giles is a good and honourable man – but you’ve got to admit that it doesn’t look good.
What’s more, Giles has a history of becoming embroiled in such controversies. After it became obvious that Warwickshire’s title hopes might flounder because of their lack of an experienced spinner, Giles tried to recruit Gary Keedy half way through the season (Keedy has since admitted that his ‘head was turned’ by Warwickshire’s ‘unbelievable’ offer). And who does Keedy play for? Lancashire, no less.
Cricket is not football – and thank heavens for that. It’s therefore surely just coincidence that Warwickshire tapped up a rival’s key player mid-summer. However, it all feels very Manchester City to me: ‘right then lads, who are our rivals for that fourth champions league spot? Villa eh. Ok, let’s sign their best two players by waving a wad of cash in front of them. That’ll screw ‘em right over’.
Giles is a good bloke – we all remember him fondly as a 2005 Ashes hero – however, it’s probably time he gave up his position as an England selector. If the current situation persists, the conspiracy theories will just gather pace.
Can you imagine the hoo-ha if he tried to sign Simon Kerrigan after failing in his bid to sign Keedy? And what if James Taylor leaves Leicestershire for Warwickshire, citing ‘improved prospects of playing international cricket’. Giles’ courtship of Taylor was well documented a couple of months ago. It looked bad then, just like Woakes’ selection for this India tour looks bad now.
Until Ashley gives up one of his positions, eyebrows will be raised every time a Warwickshire player is left out of an England squad during a crucial part of the county season. Warwickshire’s rivals will also continue to feel aggrieved when their key players sod off to play some meaningless ODIs, just so the selectors can ‘have a look at them’.
No matter how genuinely Giles’ wants to do his best for both England and Warwickshire, it’s impossible. It would be like Fabio Capello managing England and Chelsea at the same time. Nobody would put up with that – not least Giles himself. He’s a QPR fan.