The selection of Ed Joyce to replace Pietersen was puzzling in that he seems incapable of being genuinely assertive; and, with Vaughan, Strauss and Bell already making up the top three, they are already over-reliant on Flintoff to raise the tempo. The selection of Joyce is puzzling in that he is patently a better player in first-class, rather than one-day, cricket.
Is this another example of England blooding potential Test players in the one-day game? Even if they genuinely view him as a potential star in ODIs, surely they must acknowledge that his only role will be replacing, rather than complementing, the top three? Their logic in playing him appears to be to give him sufficient experience to be the first reserve in the World Cup. But, with Michael Vaughan’s hamstring injury, England will have to play novice Ravi Bopara, who bats at five for Essex, at four, and move Joyce, who has appeared nervous in averaging just 9 in his four ODI innings to date, back up to his original ODI position as opener. Bewildering, indeed.
Fortunately, England have a get-out-of jail free card at hand. They can select Mal Loye, second only to Marcus Trescothick of Englishmen in his proven ability to get the innings off to a good start and open the batting with him. Loye is 34, but he is in the form of his life and is a necessity for the World Cup, bringing the one-day experience England so palpably lack. And, which Englishman doesn’t shudder at the thought of a Strauss, Joyce, Bell and Bopara top four?
Alas, Australia is a long way away, and it would be a logistical impossibility for him to fly out there and play in England’s next game on Friday. That would be a great shame, but, fortunately, we need not worry. Loye is already playing domestic cricket for Auckland; he has played two one-dayers for them scoring 90 and, just today, a run-a-ball 34. And, intriguingly, that match-winning 90, scored from just 79 balls, came at number four. So, if England are adamant Joyce must open, they could still slot Loye in at number four, where he would at least play in a similar manner to Pietersen and allow the men around him to bat as they do when he is playing.
England’s one-day batting is too often characterised by diffidence and an inability to score sufficiently fast at the top of the innings. Loye would present an ideal solution; he is a flair player of proven class (averaging 41 in first-class cricket), while his penchant for sweeping fast bowlers is just the sort of inventiveness required at the top of the order.