Out of the Frying Pan; Into the Fire

This week England has named their squad for the upcoming tour of India. This week may have finally been the point at which Kevin Pietersen snaps, and decides he no longer wants to be a part of this English set up. It is without question that Pietersen must be a difficult player to deal with, for the management and his teammates also. He can appear to be egotistical; demanding and aloof. The several run ins with the upper echelons of the team and the ECB, be it his very public dispute with Peter Moores that led to Moores losing his job and Pietersen the captaincy; his repeated desire to play more IPL cricket in lieu of England’s fixture list or the texting scandal of only two months ago, display the discordance in the relationship between Kevin Pietersen and the England set up. Kevin Pietersen is no saint and the aspects of his game that making him so unique a batsman: the will to dominate; the audacious stroke play; the arrogance, can also make him a difficult man to coach and direct. Be this as it may, an England team without Kevin Pietersen is merely a very good, combative, hard working side; with Pietersen they have the potential to be a great one. The public adoration that he rightfully won, after that innings at the Oval in 2005, seemed to dissipate following his loss of the captaincy. His average dipped beneath 50 (the true indicator of a great batsman) and he looked a lost man, timid and isolated in the outfield; the assurance in his own talent doubted as he struggled against all left arm spin of varying quality. His previous two centuries, scored in a style reminiscent of the halcyon days of Pietersen’s coming, should have dispelled any questioning of his temperament or class. This has to stop, the establishment has flexed its muscles; forced him to grovel; to make concessions; to publicly apologise. The purgatory they have thrust him into may prove to be a step too far, to a man who they have made feel an outsider. The homogenous nature of the side without him does not have the look of a world beating team. Agreements must be made and this must stop, for the sake of the English cricket team, the cricketing world and the paying public.

For the first time in quite a while, the selectors have had to choose several relatively untested players to join the familiar faces in the test squad. A four match test tour of India is like no other, and represents the zenith of the international itinerary for the Western cricketing nations. In conditions so alien, against a backdrop of intense media spotlight and a passionately partisan crowd, Cook must aim to lead his team to respectability. England have only won one test match on Indian soil since the historic tour of 1984/85, victory this winter would represent progress of a more profound kind than the last Ashes triumph. Alastair Cook seems to be very much a like for like replacement for Strauss. Being the first Englishman to have held the tag of a FEC (Future England Captain) since Mike Atherton, I feel he will be cut from a similar mould: Willing; studious; tough and fully aware of the teams (and his own) limitations. The way a man bats can tell one quite a lot about his general demeanour, especially so in the cases of Cook and Pietersen.

The fresh faces are Joe Root and Nick Compton: the former having been groomed from a young age for this step up; the latter in his prime after his move west to Somerset has provided a few seasons of consistent run scoring. The absence of James Taylor, seemingly due to Eoin Morgan’s recall is a strange decision: Morgan having failed so dismally in sub-continental conditions earlier on in the year, and having no first class success at all this season. Taylor did nothing wrong in the tests he played and appeared to cope well with international cricket. It stinks of the old England, dropping and re-calling talented players incessantly, making jilted lovers of them. The decision also – if looked upon cynically – could be seen as a show of favouritism: Flower and co like Morgan, they believe him to be in possession of the right disposition for international cricket. All of this in spite of his average record thus far and the fact that he has not quite earned a test re-call. It is disheartening to the younger players when consistency of selection begins to look a bit more like back slapping cronyism. Johnny Bairstow’s rollicking end to the English summer seems to make him a certainty in the starting line up, so how could the middle order have any balance with him and Morgan potentially coming in at 5 and 6? The other contentious issue, aside from the absence of Pietersen and Taylor, is the inclusion of Patel. Samit Patel is a man who could potentially fill 15 overs a day and score an inventive 30. His spin bowling is not the equal of James Tredwells. Broad and Swann should be more than capable of supplying the runs that Patel might score should he be included, and he is not a worthy bowler to replace either Swann or Panesar. With Swann seeming to be caught in an injury induced decline over the last eighteen months, going to India with your third spinner a very much bits and pieces cricketer is a dangerous tactic, one that I hope the Indians do not take full advantage of.

My England XI for the first test:

Alistair Cook

Joe Root

Jonathon Trott

Ian Bell

Nick Compton

Johnny Bairstow

Matt Prior

Stuart Broad

Graeme Swann

James Anderson

Steven Finn

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