Unsurprisingly, there’s chat about Alex Hales and whether he should get another chance opening the batting. This debate is as premature as it is predictable. The man has played two tests, averages 25, scored a good 60 in one of his four innings, and with a strike rate of 37 he is clearly reigning in his attacking instincts in order to make a good fist of the test opening job. He averaged 50 in the Championship last year. It’s worth noting, too, that in each of his four partnerships with Cook, it has been the skipper’s dismissal that has come first.
With all the talk of Cook’s run of unsuccessful opening partners, my mind turned to Graham Gooch’s rather slow start to his test career. He managed 0 and 0 in his first test and soon disappeared back to county cricket, only to return with considerably more success three years later.
Saeed Anwar had the same experience, coming back from a pair on debut to score 169 three years later. And as any cricket aficionado of a certain age will tell you, Marvan Atapattu is the poster boy for ropey beginnings followed by sturdy careers. He made 0 and 0, 0 and 1, 0 and 0 in his first three tests (admittedly rather unhelpfully each about two years apart). This is a less than solid performance for a test match opening batsman. Hales’ average of 25 looks pretty good compared to Atapattu’s 0.16 (and even his one run was rumoured to have come off his pads not his bat). Atapattu was then dropped for three years before coming back to have a distinguished 90 test career that included 16 tons of which six were doubles.
It was only as I began to research this article, which was ostensibly to be about Alex Hales (with a side helping of self-congratulation on my previous post calling for Mo to be kept at 8, Compton to be recalled and Bell to be dropped), that it dawned on me that all the players mentioned above were dropped for around three years before they made their successful comebacks. I wonder what the significance of those three years is? Is this the amount of time it takes to refine your game or work out whether you’ve got the hunger to play for your country?
It worked for James Taylor too. Much as I believe he deserved his recall sooner, the fact is that he had a three-year hiatus from the team and has returned a transformed player. He says himself that not being picked drove him on. Are the selectors on to something here? Do they possess a psychological insight that we hadn’t credited them with?
Nick Compton’s absence was approaching three years too. Undoubtedly a better player now.
There must be something in this three years thing (I think I’ll call it the Campion Rejuvenation Formula©) because Boycott even dropped himself for precisely that length of time before his glorious return with a ton against the Aussies in 1977.
Then there’s Adil Rashid, who spent six years in the international wilderness and judging by his form in the Big Bash, he’s now twice as good as he used to be.
(If I’ve missed anyone you can think of in the three-year club, do shout up.)
It’s impossible to know whether being dropped was the right decision, of course, because we can never know how players’ test careers might have turned out had they been retained. Other teams, with scarcer resources, might be forced to find out whether a player could learn on the job. Certainly when England’s own options have been limited, they’ve had to be patient. Look at Gatt – it took him seven years and 54 test innings to make his first hundred. Hales has had four knocks in his test career. I reckon he should be allowed a few more.