There is something palpably wrong with a cricket team when a batsmen can underperform for two years, culminating in 25 innings without hitting a century, and is then dropped before being recalled for doing precisely nothing. Yet that is exactly what has happened to Andrew Strauss.
After a disastrous run in the one-day side, for which he averaged 19 in his last 14 games, Strauss was dispensed with after the World Cup. He was then dropped from the Test side for the tour of Sri Lanka, a man who appeared mentally fatigued and, more worryingly, someone whose minimalist style of play had been worked out by opponents, who starved him of width outside off-stump. Unable to score prolifically through the V, Strauss appeared a man whose time at international level was up after outstanding initial success. It takes an excellent player to score 10 Test hundreds, clearly; but to recall him based on past successes, totally ignoring his form, is ridiculous.
Since the 3rd Test last summer, Strauss has not been a man reinvigorated by a break from his international career. Rather, his domestic struggles have been painful. Towards the end of the 2007 season, he could barely score a run for his county finishing with an average some 37 runs behind Owais Shah. For Northern Districts in the decidedly modest standard of Kiwi domestic cricket, he hit a century in his final game, but his overall average was 26. What justification did England have for picking him on this tour?
None whatsoever - except he was a 'safe pair of hands' at slip and, more significantly, he possessed a central contract. That was clearly a big mistake. But two wrongs do not make a right. The favoritism borders on the absurd. In England's first tour game, Strauss scored a painstaking 25-ball four, while his rival for a spot in the side - Owais Shah - hit 96. The perpetual fall guy of English cricket, Shah was inexplicably left out for Ravi Bopara in Sri Lanka and faces similarly unjust treatment here.
Because he has become a member of the 'inner circle' and despite the fact that his recent form is atrocious, Strauss will almost certainly play in the first Test. He will bat at three. It is a wise move to allow the Cook-Vaughan partnership to develop, but a bewildering one to play a man out of his normal position when he is in such dire form. Recalling Strauss evokes the blind loyalties of the Duncan Fletcher era, with the implication that reputation counts for more than consistent failings over an 18-month period. It is a selection which totally ignores any convention of picking on merit. What must the best batsman in England, and consummate number three - Mark Ramprakash - be thinking?