Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Flintoff muddies the selectorial waters

It's universally acknowledged that Andrew Flintoff cannot be replaced without weakening either the bowling or the batting. It's less universally acknowledged that Flintoff cannot be replaced without strengthening either the bowling or the batting.

So should England really stick with him, especially as there must be severe doubts over his capacity to withstand back-to-back Test matches?

If Flintoff plays as one of five bowlers, he leaves the batting looking a little thin. Furthermore, to compensate for this, England are forced into playing other non-specialists. Stuart Broad, for all his promise, owes a large part of his continued selection down to his run-making ability. But is he really a more threatening option than either Graham Onions or Steve Harmison?

Without Flintoff, there is no need for any compromisng. England would be free to play their best six batsman, leave Matt Prior as an excellent, counter-attacking number seven and select their best four bowlers without worrying about the runs they offer (given that Graeme Swann is one of them).

Broad will surely have a fine England career but a Test bowling average of 40 is simply not good enough for an opening bowler. Without Flintoff, his selection would depend entirely on whether England considered him one of their top three quicks.

Given their apparent refusal to countenance batting changes (Ravi Bopara should be batting at six, not three) England's side for Lord's could look like this:

Strauss
Cook
Bopara
Pietersen
Collingwood
Bell
Prior
Swann
Anderson
Onions
Harmison

Ian Bell is a lucky man indeed - he failed twice against Australia for the Lions and his suppossed run-scoring rehabilitation this season amounts to nothing more than two centuries at Taunton.

It would never happen, of course, but England could do much worse than select a bona fida number 3 averaging 90 this season. If they selected Ramprakash (whose fielding still puts Cook's and Strauss's to shame) the batting order would acquire a much better balance. His experience would be welcome in the most important position in the batting order, where Bopara appears more than a little vulnerable. He could then move back to number six, a more suitable position for a man of his experience in an Ashes series.

More realistically, England could do a lot worse than select a third opener, the simplest answer to the number three conundrum. Stephen Moore endured a rough start to the season but two recent hundreds, including against Australia, suggest he could be the man. Moore could open with Strauss, creating a left-right opening partnership and allowing Cook to bat at three, a position he occupied with great success in 2006.

3 comments:

Philip Oliver said...

Interesting thoughts Tim. I think the selectors want Harmison in regardless - they dropped Broad against SA at Edgbaston last year and might well do again. He is not opening bowler material yet.

Nick Gammons said...

I agree with your view on Flintoff, Tim. Though he has been a talismanic figure at times, he has not been anywhere near his best since 2005. In fact, his selection causes England problems as other bowlers seem to defer to him, where they would step up if he was not in the team. Also, Captains rely on him, which limits their thinking.

I would still pick five bowlers, though, including Broad, who had improved this summer, until the last Test. He, more than most, suffered from Flintoff's return and the lack of clarity this brought to his role. Given the responsibility I think he would bowl better, as would Anderson.

We should not forget that the pitch at Cardiff was ridiculous - another horrendously flat track that had draw written all over it. Australia realised this and batted accordingly. If England had shown the same resolve they would have scored 550+ and it woul have been the dullest of draws. Therefore, all the bowlers can be forgiven somewhat for their lack of penetration.

I just hope that Lord's serves up a better pitch than the last few it has produced. If not, another high scoring draw could be on the cards.

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