Sunday, 3 August 2008

Rob Key: next England captain

Well, well. After fumbling along for so long with faults prevalent but the cosy set-up in denial about these, there is finally a shake-up within the England side. Michael Vaughan, who won more Tests than any other captain, has resigned; Paul Collingwood has seemingly been pushed from the one-day set-up.

There are two obvious candidates to replace them. Kevin Pietersen is well established as a star in both forms of the game for England. Captaincy could help rein in his impetuosity, which reared its ugly head when trying to launch Paul Harris for a six to bring up his century. During the last one-day international, when he was stand-in captain, his choice of bowlers seemed a little less formulaic than Collingwood's has been. He clearly has a fine cricketing brain and under-rated tactical acuman. Making your best player captain is, in many senses, the most logical step. However, he still has a worrying lack of captaincy experience - doubts exist over his ability to handle disparate characters within the side.

There may be calls for Andrew Strauss to be handed the job on the basis that he should have led England to Australia in 2006/07. But that is no sound reason. His current form is grim and he has scored hundreds only against New Zealand in the last two years. Add to this that he is not in the ODI side and it is clear England must look elsewhere, for all his captaincy credentials.

But where? The next England skipper should be Rob Key. He has led Kent with distinction for almost three seasons, winning the Twenty20 Cup last season. This year, they were one shot away from retaining the trophy; they will play Essex in the Friends Provident Trophy final; and they still have a very realistic chance of Champuionship glory. At 29, he has developed tremendous cricketing nous and commands respect. Key is a phlegmatic character, outwardly relaxed but alo fiercely determined. His status as an 'outsider' - he has not played for three and-a-half years - is surely a benefit, given the deep malaise England currently find themselves in. New ideas, which have clearly been very successful at Kent, could reinvigorate the side.

But what of Key the batsman? For a captain's authority is undermined if there are doubts over whether he merits his place in the side, as Vaughan is striking testament to. Key did reasonbly in his 15 Tests, but is a better player now, who knows how to get the best out of himself - and has also lost plenty of weight. Though not outstanding, he is having another good season, averaging 51 in first-class cricket (it was 56 last season), including 178* for Kent against New Zealand. Given the batting woes of the top three, he fully merits a recall even if his captaincy skills are ignored. Whilst it is true he was out-of-his-depth in his brief ODI career to date, his limited-overs game has developed wonderfully of late, as he has learned the art of pacing innings - and even developed a paddle over fine-leg. So he merits a place in all three forms of the game on current form. Add in his know-how and captaincy pedigree and Rob Key stands out as England's best choice.

8 comments:

Brian Carpenter said...

A couple of points, Tim: Why do you think that Collingwood has 'been pushed'? Hugh Morris simply said that Collingwood had phoned him last night to resign the ODI captaincy, after Vaughan had resigned the Test job. Or are you assuming that 'the powers that be' have decided, with Vaughan gone, that the captaincy of the two sides has to be unified again and 'advised' Colly to step aside?

It's strongly rumoured to be Pietersen and this make sense if only for the reason that he's just about the only player who's sure of his place in both forms for the forseeable future.

I agree that Key would be a good choice 'from the outside', but introducing him would be a risk in that no-one can be certain he's a Test class batsman. I think he'd probably do okay, but they can't risk ending up with another lame duck, especialy one without the past record which has sustained Vaughan.

I really can't see it happening.

Chrispy said...

Key just couldn't be thrown into the setup as capt. He wouldn't have the respect or authority necessary, nor would he feel comfortable I imagine.

Strauss statistically is proven to improve as capt - +15 runs on the average for Eng (55) - +20 runs on the average for Middlesex (60's). But as he isn't in the ODI side it would mean split captaincy which the selectors don't want. And his place is not a certainty. However, whilst everyone is getting on Strauss' back it is worth pointing out that Cook has done diddly squat in the last year. Cook is averaging 38 from 27 innings back to and including the India at home series. He has scored one hundred in that time from those 27 attempts. More worrying he has been out for 61, 81, 62, 60, 61, 60, 60 and 76 in that time which suggests a big conversion problem. He has also been out for between 36 and 44 6 times in that period. Strauss has averaged 41.28 in the same period (though only 21 innings) with 2 hundreds. But he was only convincing vs NZL. Prehaps both of them should go...

KP will make a good capt if he keeps playing the way he does. He needs to be himself still. All this rubbish about him throwing the game away by trying to hit a 6 is nonsense (Collingwood played the same shot and it came off). It is the way he plays. You said it yourself Tim in that great piece that he tried to be more reserved in NZL and he played poorly, he wasn't himself. If he plays his shots he is a great player. Yes he will be out for 94 from 130 but it is better than the 8 from 24 against NZL in the ODI's when he felt the "responsibility" pressure of captaincy.

At least England are making changes, whether they are forced ones or not!

Tim said...

Brian: perhaps I'm overly cynical, but I find it a bit of a coincidence that he should resign simultaneously!

Looks like it will be Pietersen - I'm not too upset, and he would certainly be my second choice. Chris I think this is the piece you are so kind about - http://third-umpire.blogspot.com/2008/04/longing-for-old-pietersen.html - although seeing him get out to that shot against SA made me long for him to be more responsible! It's obviously a question of balance between retaining what made him so incredible in 2005 with becoming more consistent even as sides become more used to him. All things considered, he's doing pretty well. If he could be ever-so-slightly less cavalier - but closer to that 94 than that innings in the ODI! - that would be perfect.

And agree about Cook too. He's done well this series but his technique does not convince at all.

Richard Lake said...

Tim - I wouldn't be surprised if Vaughan let Colly know what he was doing, which triggered the response. Colly has always been one of his best mates in the set up.

I don't think Key is an option as he's not worth his place in the team. Given that it is likely to be someone who plays tests and One Dayers, then that leaves KP, Ian Bell or possibly Owais Shah, who I'd guess is likely to come in for Vaughan at the Oval. Of the three options, it has to be Pietersen.

I didn't think that KP was being irresponsible getting out at Edgebaston. It was playing like that which swung the momentum England's way and you can't do that without taking risks. He's learnt from two of the best captains around in Vaughan and Shane Warne. He will be a bold choice but one that could take the team forward.

martin nash said...

Does anyone remember Mike Brearley ? Did he really merit a place in the side ? well he certainly made an inspirational captain, his team rallied to him and that is why Robert Key should be given the job, KP is a maverick, brilliant and let that remain so , Key is our man , be brave. M

Mark said...

We need KPs runs - at the moment he's the only guy getting them with any regularity. So why jepordize his run scoring ability with the distraction of captaincy?

Agree that Key has worked wonders at Kent, but - as a Kent fan, I hope England don't pick him!

I've got an awful feeling it's going to be Pietersen - and it could turn into a complete disaster.

Tom said...

KP is a player i think needs to be left to his natural game, people were angry at him for getting out but he had scored 94 when he did so - silly but better 94 than getting in and then self destructing in the 30's like other players do.

I read that cook is actually a year older than Smith was when he took the captaincy - he is a candidate for the future, for now Strauss did well enough last time he was stand in, give him another go.

Michael said...

Rob Key is really good mates with a lot of the England team. He is also very close friends with one of the big characters - Andrew Flintoff so respect in the dressing room would not be a problem.

I may be proved wrong but i think we are risking putting too much pressure on our best and most reliable source of runs.