Monday, 23 September 2013

Insular England have no time for difference

The exclusion of Nick Compton from England’s Test touring party to Australia is just one of several controversial choices, but it gives an insight into the current nature of the England ‘group’. Despite the inclusion of three uncapped players to go to Australia, it is insular and gives further credence to the theory that England likes their players identikit and robotic.

Compton’s path wasn’t the typical age group to Lions to England team one taken by the likes of Root, Bairstow and Broad etc. but a rambling journey from early talent at Middlesex, to contentment at Somerset and an amazing 2012 season which through weight of runs pushed him on to the India tour and to a Test début at Ahmedabad.

That first series in India produced a few useful contributions, but no place sealing innings, but two hundreds in New Zealand seemed to seal his place for the long term. However, after struggling for two Tests against New Zealand, he was dropped for the Ashes series, somewhat prematurely.

What happened after the dropping indicates it was the wrong decision. Root, bar one big century, struggled opening the batting, making many slow starts as England lost early wickets regularly throughout the series, and England missed him at six, Jonny Bairstow lacking the technique to counter Australia's bowlers.

Compton went back to his county and scored 889 runs at 46.78 in a misfiring Somerset team in the County Championship, with two centuries and six fifties, to add to a couple of half centuries against the touring Australians. His batting seemed to exude confidence, and he scored noticeably quicker. 

So when the Ashes party to go down under was announced, it was a surprise to see Michael Carberry get the backup opener’s slot. Carberry made 602 runs at 40.13 in Division Two of the County Championship, and had a middling ODI series, hardly battering the door down for selection. The likes of Varun Chopra, with 1063 runs at 53.15 and Sam Robson (1180 runs at 47.20) – both in the England Performance Programme squad – had better cases for inclusion, not to mention Compton.

David Hopps, on ESPNCricinfo wrote about Compton that, “England's management will not be swayed from the view that Compton's game became dangerously introverted against New Zealand - and successes for Somerset and twice against the Australian tourists have not changed that.

"He has also suffered from a perception that outside his runs he gives little to the dressing room and because of his reservations about working with England's batting coach, Graham Gooch, who he feels does not understand his game. He also expressed his disappointment at his exclusion quite forcibly and this England management prefers its players verbally malleable.” So, that’s that. Two poor Tests and if you don’t fit into the ‘group’, you’re out for good.

The exclusion of Woakes is another curious choice. Just a few weeks ago he took the number six spot and delivered an admirable performance in the last home Ashes Test. His bowling settled down after a slightly nervy start, and he was unlucky not go get more wickets, and he batted well on the final day to push England close to the target with Bell.

Despite that, he doesn't take a place in the touring party. Ben Stokes, on the basis of a few ODI performances and perceived talent has overtaken him as England's number one Test all-rounder.

The exclusion of Graham Onions as well suggests that the England selectors don’t care much for County stats. They want players they’ve been able to mould, players who’ve come through the system. Compton and Onions are seen as county players. Woakes came through the system, but has been excluded for the next off the assembly line.

The England performance programme squad contains few who could be expected to cover the main squad, and no Compton, Woakes or Onions. It’s very much a development squad, and given that it’s shadowing the main party, it's an odd approach to take.

England like their players to fit the mould, and Compton, Woakes, Onions et al don’t, so their rewards for bouncing back from being dropped, a solid first Test, and a brilliant county season respectively are a seat on the sofa with the rest of us.

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