Friday, 19 October 2007

Right on Strauss; Wrong on Ramprakash

England's squad for the series in Sri Lanka contains neither Andrew Strauss nor Mark Ramprakash. In his past six series, Strauss has only averaged over 40 once. Signs point to opposing sides having worked out his minimalist game. They are, increasingly, denying him the opportunity to cut and pull, and so reducing his scoring possibilities dramatically. Moreover, he seems mentally fatigued, having gone from one failure to the next. Even a month playing in both second divisions for Middlesex did not see an upturn in form - although, because his slump has gone on for so long, it looks more than just a temporary dip. The puzzle is not why he is omitted; it is why England saw fit to award him a lucrative central contract.

Ramprakash, conversely, did everything that could have been possibly required to show he is physically and mentally ripe for a return to Test match cricket. In the last three seasons, he has averaged 75, 103 and 101. Yet, astonishingly, he is being omitted, showing that past failings (more than five years ago) and age count for more than current form. David Graveney mentioned the dexterity of Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara against spin; but Ramprakash, with his perfect balance and the concentration to amass huge innings, including 266* against Mushtaq Ahmed at Hove, would simply be likely to score more runs than either in Sri Lanka. England are a mid-table Test side; are they really in a position when they can afford to refrain from picking their best XI in the hope of building for some mythical date in the future?

Of course, Shah is a worthy selection. Bopara, though, is lucky in the extreme. He has tremendous promise, and did well in the World Cup, but he only averages 30 to date in ODIs for England (with a strike-rate of just 70), and did not cover himself in glory in the recent series. Maybe he's being picked for the extra bowling he offers - but a man who averages 48 with the ball at county level is hardly likely to pick up anything more than an occasional wicket at Tests.

The bowling selections are totally predictable but, with the possible exception of Chris Tremlett, no bowlers can feel unfortunate not to have been selected. It is wise that Steve Harmison will have to prove his fitness playing two first-class games in South Africa; he should not waltz straight back into the side. Unless England play both Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad as part of a four-man attack - which is unlikely - their tail will have an unwelcome fragility to it, making it essential Matt Prior proves the doubters wrong at number seven.

Michael Vaughan will return to opening, which is surely the correct decision. Ian Bell, despite having a poor series against India in the Tests and struggling alarmingly (at three) in Sri Lanka, is rather fortunate to be promoted to number three. It would have been more prudent, surely, to use a truly specialist number three who is batting even better than Graham Gooch did at the same age. Either way, this is looks like a series England would be happy to draw.


Richard Lake said...

This is something that we're just not going to agree on Tim. Many players have scored heavily in county cricket without doing the same at International level. Likewise, neither Michael Vaughan nor Marcus Trescothick (arguably England's finest batsment of recent years) were huge county starts prior to their selections.

County cricket can be used to identify whether someone has the ability to be given a chance. Ramps had his chances at International level and along could not make the step up.

He's not the only one. Of the big scorers in county cricket over the last couple of years have also been Graeme Hick, Antony McGrath, John Crawley, Chris Adams. All are exceptional county players, but without the ability to make the final step.

Ramps has been in excellent form and had this come from a 28 year old then he would have justifiably been next in line and vying with Owais Shah. However, he's 38 and there's no point in taking him along just for the experience.

As for coming in at 3. Do you want a batsman with an average of 42 and six hundreds in his 30 tests, or a batsman averaging 27 with two hundred in 52 tests? Ian Bell may have had a poor test series against India, but in coming back from a personally disappointing 2005 Ashes he's shown the sort of character that Ramps has never managed at International level.

Chrispy said...

A shining example of the England management's continued stupidity, giving Strauss a renewed central contract and then discarding him without giving him a game. I agree with him not being in the team by the way, but why the hell would you give him a central contract if he isn't going to play. It is pure crazyness. Once he was given the contract he needed a series to show the selectors were right to keep the faith, rather than totally confuse the bloke by axing him following the offering of hope. It is quite rediculous.

Sorry to say that I still can't agree with you over Ramps. Great guy, player, but for how much longer? If Bell is going to be the number three for the next decade in both forms then play him there now, not move him up and down like a yo-yo. We need someone at six who can be aggressive but also play a big innings. Owais Shah is that man I think and he plays spin beautifully. He has never looked as comfortable high up for England where the pressure is more intense, but I think down the order he can do the job we need of him. I can't quite see Bopara doing too much more than Colli with the ball, though we will never know unless we try. Nasser reckons he has a "golden arm" so he could come in handy at times, especially if Swann is selected at the expense of a quick.

All in all it isn't a bad squad, with the exception of the inclusion of Harmison, who is lucky to be included at the expense of Chris Tremlett who was brilliant in the Tests against India (He like Harmi isn't a one day man though) and possibly Mustard, who excuse the pun, just didn't cut the mustard, like so many WK's before him. Prior isn't doing that bad. I'd go with:

Vaughan (c)
Prior (wk)

I don't believe that Graham Swann will be quite the difficult proposition in Tests that he was in the ODI's, hence his exclusion, unless it's turning like a corkscrew.

Nick Gammons said...

I agree that it is madness to give Strauss a contract, but he had to be left behind. Better to have just cut him off completely and let him regain his form, though I suspect Tim is right that he has been found out and may never make it at Test level again.

I think Shah must be given a chance at Test level and, therefore, Ramprakash has to be left out.

However, I would play Shah at 3, as Bell has struggled with the pressure of that position. In his only Test in the subcontinent Shah batted well at 3 and it is a position he is used to.

I thought Tremlett's performances against India were over-hyped and I would prefer Harmison to play, assuming he can regain his fitness.

Prior is also very lucky to tour - his ability and temperament are suspect and I would have taken Ambrose. Mustard showed his glovework was up to international standrads, but his gung-ho batting is not what is needed at test level.

The bowlers selected are the right mix and should allow England to take wickets in all conditions.

Stuart said...

Gee you guys are quick to kill off Strauss. I reckon he is a class player, and will come back better. I don't disagree with leaving him behind for this tour as that he can get his head and form together, but I predict he will be in the side for the next Ashes series.

Prasanna S said...

Come on ... Ramps has simply been the best First-class batsman in the world for the past two years( including all batsmen who played test matches during that time) ... Crazy to think that there are people who think he does not deserve to be a test batsman anymore...
Building team is a much hyped pick a team ( and not build one) ... a team that has players who are built to be professionals who can just fit into a team and perform... Ramps has to be the best bet ...

allrounder said...

Still gotta say that I think the selectors made the right call with Ramprakash. He's too old, and doesn't have the track record of a Stewart or a Gooch (despite his recent county average).

I would disagree that England are a mid-table Test team, as well. We're still second as far as I can see from the rankings, and despite the India defeat, when shorn of several players, and the Ashes debacle, I think we've played some decent cricket over the last couple of years.

Players like Cook, Sidebottom and Panesar have all made their marks, and we now have Shah, Broad and Bopara waiting in the wings to hopefully do the same. In 2005, Paul Collingwood was a one day specialist - now he's an excellent middle order batsman in Tests too.

Strauss I think has been unlucky (it was only in the previous summer that he scored two centuries whilst captaining us to victory over Pakistan) and I can see him back in the side after some R & R, and a little work on the technique. His central contract points to the likelihood of him being restored sooner rather than later.

Ramps, whilst raging admirably against the dying of the light, surely can't have that much left in the tank. He'll be on the pundit circuit by the time the Ashes next come round...

Tim said...

I very much doubt Ramps will have retired come 2009. It was a nice idea, and I cannot think of any other player who has done so well over two seasons to still be overlooked for his country, but England will have to manage without him.

Allrounder - add in the series draw to Sri Lanka at home, and the defeat in Pakistan (S Africa just won there fairly easily, though they were without Shoaib) and I really think we can no longer justifiably call ourselves the second best Test team.

allrounder said...

Hmmm... well, you're right, the record since the Ashes isn't great. But drawing in India surely cancels out the duff home result against Sri Lanka (which was 12 days of decent cricket followed by three of rubbish); and Pakistan was a whisker from being a creditable 1-1, if we hadn't chucked the first Test away.

I think more importantly, with so many personnel changes, we still look strong. Tresco, Strauss, Flintoff, Vaughan, Jones (G), Jones (S), Harmison, Giles, even Hoggard have either been discarded, injured or dropped, yet in have come Tremlett, Cook, Sidebottom, Anderson, Shah, Prior, Panesar, Broad and Bopara (although the last to are still to be capped).

We have to fancy our chances anywhere against any team - and that is a mark of a top side.

Soulberry said...

Tim, I wouldn't be disappointed with Ramprakash's exclusion. There is some merit with the horses for courses policy. More so if the team is winning consistently and only a place or two need tinkering with.

Then, I somehow believe Bell is a better bat than he sometimes appears. I feel he gives up being himself and playing the way he knows best and that lands him into trouble. When he does play the way he wants and can, his game looks beautiful.

He may have failed in the test series against India, but I must remind you how he pulled back his form in the subsequent ODI series. Wasn't he on top of his game then? I just hope he records a big score this time around for that could change the character of his game forever. I've been keeping the faith in him since his first tour of India in 2005 under Freddie's stewardship.

Boapara's is an interesting one. From all I have read in various posts in different fora, he appears to be thought of highly for the longer version. Unfortunately, I have never seen him play the longer version of the game so I cannot comment if his selection is warranted.

Shah looks ready and raring to go.

In closing, I am looking forward to see what Bell does with his elevation. I did think, too often he had to bat with a brittle tail.

Tim said...

Soul - I agree Bell has to bat at three eventually, but I would have preferred Ramps there for the simple reason logic suggests he would have scored more runs.

I am a big fan of Shah (who, in certain mannerisms has a startling resemblance to Ramps) and am happy he's in the squad. Again though, I am baffled as to why they think Bopara would be more likely to score hundreds than Ramps.

Soulberry said...

Ramps would certainly have scored runs in his current form. Of hat there isn't any doubt. The question is dows one focus on just winning the series with immediate performers or winning a series and building up a player to another?

I tend to go for those I know can play me this series and the next three. The value earned through winning with less experienced (but equally talented)players multiplies with time.