I don’t know what it is about the Aussies but they always seem to back the right horse. A new player who looks like they’re never going to make it? Back them, back them, back them until they do – à la Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell. Old player who could be finished but might just be in a form slump? Back them, back them, back them until they come good. Steve Waugh, Hayden, Langer, Mark Taylor. Other greats tend to have the happy knack of quitting while they are still ahead. Even Ponting, who I remember as a distinctly fading force towards the end, managed to average 43 in his last year of test cricket, with a top score of 221.
So, Alistair Cook then. Do we stick with him and hope for the phoenix from the Ashes? Or is his goose…ahem…cooked?
In the last two years of test cricket he has averaged 31.66 with just one ton in 20 matches. That’s 37 innings opening the batting with one century. Just to prove this is no fluke, it’s 27.70 in 28 ODIs over the same period, top score 64.
That’s a long bad trot. I’m all for loyalty but how long can he live on past glories? It can only be his highly distinguished career that saves him at the moment. The likes of Carberry (average 28.10 in the most recent five dismal Ashes tests against the best attack in the world), Robson (average 30.54 in seven tests) and Compton (average 31.93 with two tons in nine tests) must be biting their tongues so hard they’re drawing blood. All have a comparable average and all were just starting out.
Then there’s Adam Lyth, selected for England as an opener after spending the whole of 2014 as an opener for the Division 1 County Championship winners and scoring 1,489 first-class runs at 67.68 with six tons. Now he’s carrying the drinks for Cook and Trott.
With Cook, it’s not just the stats that are troubling though. It’s the fact that he looks like a walking wicket. Where before he was natural and fluid, now he looks as if his body is made of entirely of sharp angles and limbs that don’t quite move together as they should. He pokes at the ball from a distance, hands thrust out in front of him. It’s mechanical, awkward, unnatural and painful to watch.
Then there’s Trott. To be fair to him, he’s stacked up a pile of runs since his return but rushing him back in when his position wasn’t available was unfair on him, on us and on Lyth. Clearly Trott still has challenges to overcome with his technique – you just can’t be ambling across the stumps so spectacularly as an opener, hitting on the move and still expect to score consistently.
If you were an opening bowler lining up these two, you’d fancy your chances. It’s not like they’re going to get off to a flier either…
England just seem to be so uncertain in their selection – and their default is safety first; for example choosing Tredwell over Rashid for the first Windies test. It’s a similar selection to Trott’s – he seemed to have been selected solely because he’s familiar.
Somehow England need to find this sixth sense that other countries have when it comes to identifying someone who’s going to come good (fingers crossed for Stokes…) – and also being bold enough to call time on a career when all evidence points to terminal decline.