So England have finally selected Mal Loye. Cries for his selection have risen as England’s performances have worsened. But it is worth reflecting on why the English management so patently do not rate him.
In recent years, Loye has certainly been the finest English exponent of limited-overs batting in county cricket, batting fearlessly and often unorthodoxly (as with his idiosyncratic sweep off opening bowlers), while also retaining the basis of the technique that has ensured a fruitful first-class career; he has averaged over 40 and very nearly won a Test cap in 1998.
Yet, in spite of this, England have, until it was unavoidable, avoided selecting him. Even now, there are whispers that either Ravi Bopara or Ed Joyce may open the batting alongside Andrew Strauss, which really would touch the confines of lunacy.
Vikram Solanki and Matt Prior, both players lacking Loye’s inventiveness and consistency, have both been preferred to Loye in one-dayers over the past year. England have also ‘experimented’ by opening the batting with Ian Bell. All this while ignoring the option advocated by so many county fans.
The answer to the selectors’ reluctance surely lies in both his age – he is now 34 – and their fears over whether his unorthodoxy would thrive at international level; did they view him as merely Ali Brown – a belligerent county batsman but with a ODI average of just 22 – Mark 2?
And it could even be argued that, because of his unique style, the selectors thought Loye’s impact would be greatest in the World Cup if largely an unknown quantity. But, as county bowlers grow more accustomed to his oddities as a one-day batsman, his effect has only increased. It remains ludicrous to think England opted to open with Bell and bat Flintoff at three in the Champions Trophy when their batting line-up could have remained the same has they only replaced Marcus Trescothick with Loye. While one-day caps were handed out so haphazardly, where was the harm in giving the Lancashire player his chance?
Yet, whatever the truth behind Loye’s omission to date, he certainly deserves his chance. Here is someone who has a genuine idea of how to best utilise the fielding restrictions, has experience and has proved his quality over a decade and a half in county cricket. If England, having finally called him up, continue to refrain from giving him his ODI debut, it will epitomise the lack of coherent thinking that so characterises their side.