Toil and Trouble

The announcement that Ben Stokes would now be available for the New Zealand leg of this winter’s tours caught most people on the hop, and it’s not too surprising as to why.  The ECB have tied themselves in knots consistently on this subject, and perhaps it was always going to be inevitable that they would do so.  As an employer of a high profile public figure, they could not afford to appear prejudicial to any trial, a problem that simply doesn’t apply to most employers in the same position, or people who never appear in the media.

Yet having followed a line of selecting him for tours at the same time as stating he was suspended for them, to then announce his return once the CPS has laid charges inevitably looks messy, and a contradiction of the previous line taken.  The ECB board was clearly split on what to do, and if nothing else that probably reflects public opinion rather neatly.  There are few easy answers here.

It’s most likely that one way or the other, they had hoped this would have been resolved by now and they could deal with that, but instead it remains a live issue, and one where everyone with the remotest degree of sense is tip-toeing around the subject.  The legal process can take a long time – though it tends to be quicker in the UK than many comparable countries – and perhaps that in itself was a factor, given nearly half a year has gone by since the story first broke.  Even so, two Tests and five ODIs is hardly a major forthcoming series (whether it should have been is a different question) and to take the decision now rather than at the start of the English domestic season could be seen to have made a rod for their own backs.  Would it have made a material difference to have delayed it?  There’s an argument that by doing so might be perceived as a judgement on guilt or innocence, which rather neatly makes the point about the difficulty of handling a situation where even the smallest indication may have significant ramifications.

That England are a stronger side with him than they are without is beyond question.  Missing the Ashes certainly unbalanced the side, and if it can’t be said that it was the reason for the thrashing England received, it can be said that his absence unquestionably weakened them, as it would any side.  To that extent, his presence in New Zealand will increase England’s prospects of salvaging something from a shambles of a winter, if he is able to focus properly on his game.  The more low key nature of the tour may too have been a factor compared to the cauldron of the Ashes.

The wider issues have yet to play out.  The ECB and its predecessor have never been particularly good at maintaining a consistent line on players around whom there is controversy, though they’ve never had a situation quite like this one to deal with.  Yet the criticism of expediency is one that regularly is thrown at them, and especially so when a player is considered vitally important.  Previous instances of rapid forgiveness for those who went to apartheid South Africa on rebel tours seemed far more forthcoming when they happened to be particularly good players for example, something that rankles still when compared to the treatment of players who did nothing so contentious.  Over the years, individual decisions and instances tend to be compared to others, highlighting inconsistency and flat out hypocrisy.  But in this one, it’s a little hard to be certain that any different actionsor decisions would have been clearly and inarguably better.  The ECB were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, which might not excuse previous treatment meted out, but does in isolation illustrate the genuine dilemma they will have faced.

Perhaps above all else, the most delicious irony of the situation is that finally, at long last, circumstances have arisen that raise so many different and difficult ethical questions that it’s possible to have some sympathy for the ECB.  It’s a new and unusual feeling for many, and probably not one to be repeated too often.  But as an illustration of the complexity of the issues at hand, perhaps it can’t be bettered – Being Outside Cricket feeling a degree of empathy for the England and Wales Cricket Board is a first.

 

Housekeeping Note:

As ever, please be circumspect with comments on this matter, and don’t post anything that could be viewed as in any way prejudicial, or we’ll have to remove it.

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See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something!

I doubt that it would have escaped many of our eagle eyed readers that the squad for the tour of New Zealand was announced on Wednesday, nor would it escape many that it was another tremendous let down. Indeed it smacked of the fact that it had been cobbled together in 5 minutes over a pint of Fosters in a dingy bar in Sydney. Toothless bowling attack – check, flimsy batting attack which is likely to collapse at any moment – check, lack of spin options – check, well that’s that then, all good to go. It almost seems that the selectors decided to totally ignore the failures of the last series and just stick with jobs for the boys, no matter how they perform. Of course there were some casualties, Gary Ballance paid the price for carrying the drinks in such a disengaged manner that he had to be dropped. Jake Ball and Tom Curran also paid the price for not being able to bowl at 90mph or for not being Jimmy and Broady. England on the other hand have decided to injure Mark Wood again and also call up Ben Stokes (yep remember him) and also Liam Livingstone, no doubt for when Stokes is ruled out of the tour on the grounds that there is still a criminal investigation going on!

The thing that really gets me though is the complete lack of imagination of our selectors. Anyone in their right mind can see that James Vince doesn’t have the technique for County Cricket Division One, let alone for batting at number 3 in Test cricket against a world class swing attack. Vince may have shiny toy locked in his corner, but one feels that he must also have some explicit pictures of someone at the ECB to account for his continued inclusion in the squad. Likewise Moeen Ali, who is a rotten trot of form at the moment both with the bat and with the ball. I wrote before the Ashes series that I felt Moeen had to decide whether he was going to become a batsman or a bowler and not be the jack of all trades and master of none if he was to make a success of Test Cricket. It would be fair to say that to most seasoned cricket viewers that this experiment has failed dramatically, yet here we are again, heading to another away series with a part time bowler likely to lead our spin bowling attack because he can bat a bit at 7. I also feel that Messer’s Broad and Woakes are incredibly lucky to keep their respective places. Broad has looked weary and jaded for the past year and Woakes is the epitome of a home track bully – brilliant in English conditions, but truly terrible when the ball doesn’t swing away from home. To be honest, very few of the team with exceptions around Anderson, Root, Malan and to an extent Bairstow could’ve put together a cohesive argument at their treatment should they have been dropped for the upcoming series.

So what are we actually paying the selectors for? The continued reward to failure is simply breathtaking. Do they actually watch any cricket? I agree that whilst being an England selector is not an easy job at the moment, such is the paucity of the talent waiting in the wings; however, surely English cricket deserves more than sticking with a plan that is pretty much doomed to failure. What do they say about the definition of madness again? Now I’m certainly not advocating that England blows the whole thing up and starts again, but surely there is merit in trying to invest in players with the right mental fortitude than players who look nice and then get out edging to first slip EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Dawid Malan is an example of this, as was Marcus Trescothick as was Michael Vaughan, players that didn’t have outstanding county careers but had the mentality that they deserved to be on the biggest stage. What we would give for another Trescothick or even a Vaughan (the batsman and not the man obviously). Whilst I’m in agreement that there is a general paucity of talent around, England is not totally without some talented players and I would prefer them to test that on the biggest stage than settle for a mediocre 22 or 1-150 from a Test player that has proved that they are not talented enough to play Test Cricket time and time again. Some individuals who have not been capped or been capped briefly, that I feel worthy at looking at are:

  • Dan Lawrence
  • Haseeb Hamed
  • Sam Robson
  • Nick Browne
  • Daniel Bell-Drummond
  • Sam Northeast
  • Joe Clarke
  • Ben Coad
  • George Garton
  • Jack Leach
  • Olly Stone
  • Tom Helm

Now I’m not saying that any of these are guaranteed to have success in an England Test Shirt and I’m certainly not advocating the hire and fire culture of the 90’s, but I’d certainly have been a little more excited about the NZ tour than watching Cook fiddle about on anything but a flat pitch, Vince edge another delivery after a breezy 20, Moeen going for 4 an over and Woakes looking completely toothless. After all we have just been stuffed 4-0 for the second consecutive winter, surely alarm bells should be ringing somewhere in the selectors heads?

Alas no. we’ll have more of the same please, lets give these players another 10 Tests to prove what we knew after 5 Tests, that they aren’t good enough to play Test Cricket. Where is the accountability though? Whittaker is joke no doubt who is actively stealing a living, and Messer’s Fraser and Newell hardly seem to be the dynamic duo that we need, whilst our own Head Coach who wants out after 2019, freely admits that he doesn’t have a clue about county cricket. Hardly the recipe for success is it? Still no doubt, they’ll still be here in the summer, still making the wrong decisions and still benefitting from a complete lack of accountability from a board that couldn’t care less about the results on the pitch. After all, if you stick your head in the sand for long enough, you can almost pretend to see the positives.