Friday, 31 May 2013

Boyd's call-up continues to Rankle

There are two sides to the news that Boyd Rankin has been called up to the England ODI squad for the remaining two two games of the series, and they are divided by the Irish Sea. This is not the first time an Irish international has been called up to the England side, but it comes at a key moment in Irish cricketing history. But first, let's look at the short term of Boyd Rankin being picked for England.

First and foremost, Rankin being picked for the England team comes as a bit of a surprise. Not because he isn't good enough, because his height and bounce, plus his reasonable ODI record for a supposed weaker nation prove that he very much is an international player, but the fact that he's been fast-tracked up the pecking-order so quickly will leave a few others feeling a tad miffed. Rankin may have been but an injury away from a test call-up in early 2012, but a difficult 2012 season saw him going backwards in the selectors thoughts, to the extent that he didn't even make the England Lions squad for their winter tours, with Matt Coles, Stuart Meaker, Toby Roland-Jones, Reece Topley, Chris Wright and James Harris being preferred, with Harris even getting a call-up into the full England squad for the ODI tour to New Zealand. Roland-Jones, Wright and Graham Onions led the Lions' seam attack against New Zealand earlier this month, with Rankin nowhere in sight. Yet suddenly, from almost completely off the radar, he's been parachuted in after injury has ruled out Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, and Roland-Jones, Wright, Harris and Meaker very much have the right to feel aggrieved.

On the face of it, the decision seems sound. Broad and Finn are both tall men, and without them the England attack lacks that X-Factor that a tall, steepling quick can bring. Rankin very much brings that to the table, and the added international experience over his counterparts will also have counted in his favour. What those rivals will not be so happy about, however, is the county from which Rankin has been selected. While as county champions it's only fair that are large pool of players are being selected from Warwickshire, but in Ashley Giles' short reign as limited overs coach he's pushed forward Chris Woakes and now Boyd Rankin to England colours. Rankin becomes the fourth Warwickshire Bear in the current ODI squad, and while there is no suggestion of anything underhand, the accusations of favouritism will only grow stronger, leaving those waiting in the wings bemoaning the close relationship between Giles and his former charges at Edgbaston.

The other side to the story lies a short hop over the water, where yet another Irish player has been vindicated in his decision to turn his back on his parent country by being called up by England. Cricket in Ireland has never been so healthy, and after two fantastic ODIs against Pakistan last week, where they lost the series by the narrowest of margins after a tie and a two-wicket defeat, the only downside is that had Eoin Morgan and Rankin been added to that side, Ireland should currently be celebrating their first series victory over a test-playing nation at home. Something is clearly going right in Ireland, as without the huge bank balances and TV deals that England, and other nations possess, they are finding and creating a group of very talented players who are going toe to toe with some of the world's best players. However, the worry for Ireland is that whenever they do produce a world-class player, he is but a few good performances away from his head being turned by the lure of fame, fortune, and test cricket in England. How can Ireland expect to compete and improve when their best talent is at constant threat of being taken from them by a country that's shown they have no qualms in doing so?

The first thing Ireland can ask for is help from the ICC. First and foremost, a law that prevents an Irish player switching to English nationality at the drop of a hat is absolutely paramount. The laws have nothing in them that could have prevented Rankin playing for Ireland yesterday before being whisked away to play for England tomorrow, but they do prevent the opposite, with him potentially having to wait for four years after his last England appearance before changing back to the boys in green (see Ed Joyce). This rule is completely backward, protecting the bigger boys ahead of the small associates (which really isn't like the ICC at all) and should be remedied as quickly as possible, if nothing else, to stop the likes of Rankin and Morgan from switching so readily. Ideally, a rule that outlaws players playing cricket for two nations at all would be introduced, but given the intricacies of employment law, this may not be feasible. Nevertheless, we could see a situation in the next ODI where Morgan, Rankin (Ireland and England) and Luke Ronchi (Australia and New Zealand) have all represented two cricketing nations, which plainly just is not right.

More importantly for Ireland, however, is making sure that the pull to leave is outweighed by the rewards of staying. Ireland have targeted test cricket by 2020, and with central contracts bought in, an improved national four-day set-up and improved performances against established nations, it would be hard to argue that they wouldn't be as deserving as Zimbabwe or Bangladesh for test status, with Ireland probably being more competitive in test matches than those ranked nine and ten in the rankings. Test cricket is said to be the primary motivation behind the switches of Morgan, Rankin and Joyce, and if the ICC could give some indication that it could even be a remote possibility, this could be enough to encourage the next batch of promising youngsters to stay. In the meantime however, regular ODI series against the test-playing nations will have to suffice, like the one just gone against Pakistan, and the key is to ensure that the one/two-off matches are turned into three or five game series. Packed houses like the ones seen at Clontarf and the possibilities of upsets might well be enough to keep hold of the likes of Stirling, Dockrell and Sorensen, who could already be on England's radar, and Ireland, with the support of the ICC and other cricketing nations need to be able to offer that to them on a regular basis.

In an odd way, the call-up of Rankin to England's ODI squad may prove to be the best news possible for Irish cricket at the moment. Rankin's long-term injuries meant he would only be able to appear sporadically in green anyway, but him being picked by England shows the cricketing world that a) Ireland are capable of producing world-class players and b) they need support in being able to keep hold of them. If he performs well in England colours, this only adds to their claims. Another man who'll be hoping that Rankin performs is Ashley Giles, as plenty of aggression, hostility, steep bounce and wickets would justify Rankin's selection to those who are accusing him of only looking to further the careers of those he's coached before.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Making the case for Compton

So despite winning the first test by a canter and being miles ahead in the second, the English cricketing press would have you believe that Alastair Cook's brave boys are on the verge of meltdown. The bowling fab four of Anderson, Broad, Swann and Finn are all in the wickets, so they're safe. Cook's captaincy seems to be going well, so he's off the hook. Prior, Trott and Bell haven't done a great deal wrong recently, so they're free to go. The columns detailing Joe Root's ascent to the role of Saviour Of English Cricket look far too positive, which means somebody has to shoulder the blame for the inevitable wheels falling off. That poor bastard is Nick Compton, who despite a steady start to his test career is already "facing the chopping block", "staring down the barrel" or even a "dead man walking". Which all seems a little harsh and unnecessary.

Nick Compton is playing in his 9th test match. In that time he's been part of an England team that won a generation-defining series away in India, and scored back to back hundreds - two things plenty of players don't achieve in 90 test matches. In that time Compton's forged a decent understanding with Alastair Cook, making six partnerships over 50, with three of those being converted into hundred run stands, and a top partnership of 231. Compton has bought a stability and maturity to the top of the order born of over 100 county games for Middlesex and Somerset where he's proven that he's willing to work hard for his runs and not throw his wicket away. His promotion to test cricket came where England were at a crossroads at the top of the order after Andrew Strauss' retirement, and he's let nobody down. And while he made two hundreds away in New Zealand in a series where English batsmen otherwise struggled, four failures in the home series has apparently put his position in jeopardy.

Jonny Bairstow is currently in the England team due to an injury to Kevin Pietersen. Jonny Bairstow has played one fewer test than Compton, and has made two fewer hundreds. Going into this match he also averaged 10 runs fewer per innings. Bairstow (23 years old compared to Compton's nearly 30) has played 40 fewer first class games than Compton. The word on the street is for Bairstow to keep his spot in the team once Pietersen returns, with Compton being the man to miss out to make way for The Reintegrated One. Has there been anything in Bairstow's test career to suggest that he's more likely to make runs than Nick Compton? I'm not sure.

I don't want to take anything away from Jonny Bairstow as he will undoubtedly score thousands of test runs for England, but Nick Compton is someone who knows their game inside out and has been piling on runs for a long time - Bairstow is still attempting to get to grips with his, as the amount of times he's been dismissed hooking for Yorkshire this season have proved. Dropping Compton to keep Bairstow strikes me as bizarre - especially considering the upheaval that doing so would cause. Getting Compton straight outta there would mean Root would have to move up to open - admittedly something he's done throughout his career for Yorkshire, but something he'd have no experience with in an England shirt, and the first Ashes test is one hell of a place to find out whether someone can sink or swim. Besides, knee-jerk decisions and uncertainty didn't get England to the number one spot in the world (even if they did knock them off again) and it doesn't seem like Andy Flower or England's way to change for changes sake.

While an Ashes summer always brings some level of media hoopla, England will do well to ignore the armchair selectors (the irony of me writing this while sitting in an armchair is not lost on me) who want the next man to finally be the one who faces the chop. There's a lot going right about this England team at the minute, and while Nick Compton has struggled for form this series, he should very much be seen as a big part of the team who hope to go and win back to back Ashes in the next six months. It is very much the way of the world that no matter how well the team are going, someone has to be supposedly in the firing line, and the best thing team England can do is to back Compton to come good and make runs, which he's more than good enough to do. While speculation about who takes to the field on July 10th at Trent Bridge will continue until the teamsheets are in, I'm confident that the selectors and the powers that be will do the right thing and keep hold of Compo. Besides, the last English opener who was certain to be dropped before an Ashes series didn't do too badly, did he?

I'm back!

Hi all

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that it's all been a bit quiet on this part of the internet for the past few months, and if you've been missing my opinions on all things cricket, then I profusely apologise. A combination of studying for exams, starting a new job and a general lack of laziness has meant I've very much neglected The Short Midwicket, and for this I'm sorry. However, I've decided that enough is enough and from here on in (or at least until I stop again), I'm back and I'm blogging. What with it being a fairly busy summer with Champions Trophies, Middlesex title challenges and back to back Ashes, hopefully I'll have a fair bit to talk about.

Hope it's been worth the wait! (it won't have been)