In what can only be described as a bizarre twenty-four hours, Darren Pattinson somehow found himself in the England Test starting XI on Friday of last week. From being consistently stupid to just plain stupid could be one way of describing the situation. Consistency had been the word of the moment whilst England were just about beating New Zealand in two series. Unfortunately consistency had nothing to do with those victories, the limited skill of the opposition played the major role. Whilst players like Paul Collingwood and Tim Ambrose were contributing nothing, they were nevertheless assured of their places and were it not for the return of Andrew Flintoff, Collingwood would undoubtedly still be playing today despite series averages of 32.83 (India (h)), 33.00(Sri Lanka (a)), 40.66 (New Zealand (a)), 10.66 (New Zealand (h)) and 7.00 (South Africa (h)) which is plainly not good enough (cumulative 30.71, HS 66). Michael Vaughan though tells us that the whole squad are disappointed that Collingwood is not in the XI, perhaps because they now fear for their own places given their own dwindling averages. Consistency must be applied, but needs to take into account form.
Nevertheless, the message of consistency indeed vanished for this particular test match, well for the bowlers anyway, but then that always seems to have been the case with the England side of late. Batsmen have all the time in the world, bowlers do not. Darren Pattinson was on Thursday afternoon called up as a replacement for James Anderson should he not be fit for the game. Chris Tremlett, who has been following both the Test and ODI squad around all summer, was already on standby in case Ryan Sidebottom came up short on Friday morning. Friday morning came and Anderson was fit, but Sidebottom was not, in you step… Darren! Utter madness! Whilst the Australian roof tiler, albeit raised for six years in England, has had a good county season with Nottinghamshire so far, he has played just 13 first class games and only 6 of them this season in England. He doesn’t even play his cricket at Headingley, the location of the second test.
I have no problem with the fact that he is a self-confessed Aussie through and through, but the usual pattern is that you are born abroad, move to England, confess your love for the motherland and qualify, rather than move away for two decades, immerse yourself in the culture of another country, then come back for a summer and strike lucky. That may sound harsh, but strike lucky is exactly what Pattinson has done. A quick glance at the first class bowling averages for this season will reveal that Matthew Hoggard (22 at 24.31), Simon Jones (32 at 16.03), Steve Harmison (40 at 23.10) and Jon Lewis (20 at 24.85) are right up there with England’s newest addition who has taken 29 at 20.86. These are proven international and domestic performers who for various reasons were sent back to county cricket to prove their fitness and their form. Not one of those can be accused of not having done that. All of the above, bar Harmison, are swing bowlers. Surely one of them should have been given the chance instead of Pattinson if swing was what England were truly after, rather than shock and awe. Even the likes of Sajid Mahmood, Liam Plunkett, Kabir Ali, and Tim Bresnan must be wondering what the hell is going on.
As for poor old Chris Tremlett, what can you say. If Anderson had been injured Pattinson would have played, if Sidebottom had been injured (which he was) Pattinson would have played. They were the two injury doubts from the end of the first test, so what was the point in dragging Tremlett around the country if he was never going to get a look in? I know that Moores as a Sussex man doesn’t like Hampshire but come on, the guy is missing out on form boosting cricket and is being consistently dealt mental setbacks! To make matters worse it was Morne Morkel, exactly the Tremlett type of bowler, who did best in this test match.
The batting woes were the most apparent problem however. Michael Vaughan has averaged 29.52 since the tour to Sri Lanka. His series averages are 35.83 (Sri Lanka (a)), 20.50 (New Zealand (a)), 50.00 (New Zealand (h)) and 11.00 (South Africa (h)). He is forever searching for form it seems and for every good series he has had recently he seems to have had two bad, which can not be sustained forever. His captaincy may be a major positive of his presence, but he needs to score the runs consistently as well. Alistair Cook seems to have forgotten what a hundred is meanwhile. The last four times that he has passed fifty he has been out before reaching 61. Given that he offered very little against the Australians last time round, England must be getting twitchy about how he will fair against them come this time next year. The current top three looks very samey and pretty weak. Tim Ambrose meanwhile is surely on the brink. It is quite comical to think that if you are out of form you should be stuck higher up the order, in a more pressurised position, against a newer ball. He has averaged just 18.78 in 9 test innings since making his maiden test hundred in his second test in New Zealand. His career average is 27.16 and falling after eleven test innings. Even worse, in ODI’s he has averaged 2.50 in five innings and one of those was a not out! Add in the fumbles and is this really the man to take England forward? You would have to say that England in attempting to find a balance between batting ability and keeping ability have found neither and indeed now have the worst of both worlds.
England’s problems are back to the fore it would seem and they need to act fast. If they are going to persist with a five man attack then quite simply Matt Prior has to play at number six. Otherwise the team looks unbalanced and bottom heavy. Only by playing four bowlers can England afford to play the best wicket keeper at number eight, which means either of Chris Read or James Foster. However, given Read’s little trip to the ICL over the close season I doubt India would welcome his inclusion come this winter’s tour. Foster seems to tick more of the boxes in terms of what England are looking for in their keeper, a batsman who can bat low down the order in limited overs cricket and a glove man who can snaffle all of the chances which come his way in test matches and who can offer a score with the bat. Prior on the other hand is not going to take all of those catches, but he will offer the chance to play five bowlers without embarrassment. What England need to decide is if they want less chances, but more takes, or more chances and less takes, I’m glad I don’t have to make that call.
Let’s end on a positive note however and the continued improvement of James Anderson in test match cricket. It will be Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom who will be jittery about the next England team selection, with support growing for Jones and Harmison, but given recent events anything could happen.