the wrong 'un

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fletch Lives

So, it's the eve of the third test, and the Aussies lead by two. The hapless and hopeless British media have already decided exactly who should take the blame for what they have decided is already a fiasco on a grand scale. Unsurprisingly, as they rarely had a good word to say about him even when England were beating all-comers, the brunt of the oprobrium is being borne by the taciturn Zimbabwegian, Duncan Fletcher.

The consensus is that England have picked the wrong team for both tests, and it is hard to disagree with this, but where I diverge from the consensus is where I place the blame for these selections.

A particular weakness of this England side is that, with the exception of Flintoff, none of the front line bowlers are sufficiently competent to bat as high as eight, in fact I wouldn't regard any of them to be good enough for the nine spot either. Harmison, Hoggard and Anderson, have proved to us that they can't bat, while Panesar, Mahmood and Plunkett have done nothing yet to show us that they can. If England were minded to play five bowlers at every opportunity - and fitness doubts about Flintoff meant that they were - this meant that the tail had to begin at eight.

Thus, when the England squad assembled before the first test, the tour selectors (Fletcher, Flintoff, Strauss) unsurprisingly paled at this prospect, particularly as England were not obliged to make the running in the series. They took the cautious but not imprudent decision to play Giles as the fifth bowler, on the strength of his greater batting ability. Even after the first test was lost, you could make a case for saying that, as a draw at Adelaide would not be a bad result for England's chances of drawing the series and hence retaining the Ashes, the safety-first option was still a viable one. If England had managed to draw the game, as they could and should have, it would have proved a justifiable decision.

That they had to twice take this option is due solely to the structural faults of the squad that was selected for the tour in the first place. Besides Flintoff, the squad contained no-one who could remotely be called an all-rounder, being made up of specialist batsmen, bowlers and keepers, and this while Flintoff was troubled by an ankle injury that could deteriorate at any time. The selectors created a situation so lacking in fluidity, that the only possible team England could have put out for the first test without a tail the length of Chile had Giles at number eight, and Panesar (their second best bowler) nowhere.

So if you are one of those people that desperately needs a scapegoat when an England team loses, you may be better off turning your attention to the person who made those Grave selection errors in September.


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