Friday, 13 January 2012

England's Selection in a Spin

England have won their second warm up match, with the Pakistan Cricket Board XI crumbling to a 100 run defeat at the hands of the-best-team-in-the-world(TM). The big story from the game concerns Monty Panesar, who certainly put forward his case for test selection with 8 wickets in the match. Monty hasn't played tests since THAT game at Cardiff in 2009, but has he given himself a shot at getting into England's XI for the first test starting on Tuesday?

Common cricketing logic dictates that a team touring the subcontinent (yes, this isn't actually the subcontinent, but the pitches will be close enough) play two spinners, which England probably want to do. However, the selectors lives are made much harder with the lack of a genuine all-rounder. If there was a Flintoff style player who is good enough to bat in the top seven as well as being a test-class bowler, then Monty would happily slip into the team alongside Swann, Anderson and Broad, with Eoin Morgan the unlucky batsman to miss out. Sadly this is not the case. England's selection policy has been reserved to say the least over the past few years, with Andy Flower still bearing the mental scars of the horrific Ashes test at Headingley in 2009 where England played five bowlers, had no backbone to their batting, and collapsed miserably. Broad has developed as a batsman (the most recent game against Pakistan where he got 169 is testament to that) but doubts remain as to whether he's consistent enough as a test number seven. While he did score runs against India, that was the first time in a long while that he done anything with the bat, and moving him up the order (especially given Panesar's notorious inability with the blade) could be a recipe for disaster. Seeing as the closest thing England have to a proper all-rounder in Tim Bresnan will be watching the series from the comfort of The North, Flower will be very reticent in vastly altering the shape of the team to accommodate an extra spinner.

Another option would be to play only two seamers, with the dual spin of Panesar and Swann, as they did in the warm-up game (with Tremlett and Onions playing the roles of Anderson and Broad). While there would be a lot of testing spin, rotating the two fast bowlers would be tricky, especially in the new-ball period which seems to offer a lot out in the UAE. England no longer have the handy holding overs of Paul Collingwood to toss the ball to, which would make this option a no-goer as well.

The third way to get Monty back into the England team would be to play him instead of Graeme Swann. Dissenting voices of Swann have mentioned his lack of wickets over the last 12 months, but surely dropping the-best-spinner-in-the-world(TM) would be wrong? Yes, Swann hasn't taken many wickets recently, but that's mainly because the fast bowlers have done the majority of the damage on pretty green pitches. When Swann has needed to step up on a final day (Adelaide v Australia, The Oval v India), he's made match-winning performances to seal victories. Besides, dropping a key player would be very un-England, where the success has come from consistent selection, backing their players, and allowing those in poor trots to come good. Swann may not be in a bad trot, but he hasn't dominated a series in a while, but on the first tour with turning pitches since he decimated Bangladesh two years ago, Swann has the chance to tear them apart, again.

All in all, Monty Panesar won't play. As much as playing two spinners is important in these conditions, there isn't really any way (short of calling up Samit Patel, which they should have done in the first place) of getting two spinners into the team without sacrificing a batsman or a fast bowler. While Panesar took the wickets to win the game, the most important wicket of the match was that of Fawad Alam, who was caught Trott bowled Pietersen. If England go in with only one frontline spinner, Kevin Pietersen will have to turn his arm over a fair bit, and that wicket will give Flower, Strauss and the selectors confidence that he can do his bit. Whether or not they think that after the first test remains to be seen...

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