I’ve had misgivings about the way England have gone about dealing with the troublesome opening spot for some time. Today they picked Mo to do the job. It would appear that he got the job not because the coach and selectors thought he was the best man for the job but because they couldn’t come up with anyone else. ‘It’s not ideal’ is the ringing endorsement from the coach, who in one short sentence manages to undermine Mo and annihilate Hales’ confidence completely.
It would seem that Mo is expected to fail. If he does not fail here, he is still expected to fail against South Africa. So we haven’t solved a problem by picking him to open, we’ve postponed it – and created a new one.
Coming in at no.8 last summer was an odd spot for Mo but he rather made the most of this niche position during The Ashes. He played with delicious freedom and treated us to strokes of such grace that the ball didn’t so much hit the bat, as genuflect before it prior to racing away in reverential haste to the extra cover boundary.
Now, however, we’re in danger of doing a Joe Root on him. Taking him from a position where he’s comfortable and performing well and asking him to perform another role in the team that he’s not ready for simply because the powers-that-be are a bit stuck. It would be a crying shame if Mo’s confidence, currently clearly growing, was shattered by a difficult test series. And I do fear for him. From seeing the way he batted in the summer, he didn’t look like a candidate to open in a test match, and to see him wafting outside off stump in the warm-up matches like a cross between David Gower and d’Artagnan confirmed my fears.
What’s sad about the situation is that not only is this decision potentially messing with Mo (and Hales) but it’s also monumentally unfair on other opening batsmen who could be fulfilling the role. If they wanted someone to wave at balls as they passed outside off stump, they could have stuck with Adam Lyth. At least he opens for a living.
But really, I still have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about Compton and Carberry. Two proper openers who did a decent job and should have had a chance to do more. Both had steady, if unspectacular, county seasons and both would have been raring to go. Before you ask, no I don’t think they’re too old. Apart from Younis, Misbah and Shoaib Malik proving the old guard have a bit to offer today, I think Compton (32) and Carberry (just turned 35) are in that stage of their careers where the proximity of retirement is such that it really concentrates the mind. Perhaps you’d call it the Chris Rogers effect™.
When Chris Rogers retired from international cricket this year, I was so glad he didn’t rescind his decision after a successful series. I think he was so successful largely because it was his last series. Essentially he gave it his absolute all for two glorious years and by the end of those two years, he was spent. The fact that his light blazed brightly was inextricably linked to the fact that it blazed so briefly.
It would be the same with Compton or Carberry. Indeed, I think we got a glimpse of it when they first played. Remember how Carberry stood there in Australia and took on Johnson and co, where others were in full retreat? He tried his heart out in that series and his stats stacked up with the best of a bad bunch. One of these two (and realistically it probably would have been Compton) should have been inked in for the whole winter – Pakistan and SA. One of these two would have got their head down and fought with every last bone in their body. It might have been the start of a Rogersesque couple of years. And Mo would still have been down the order, persuading the ball to the fence and changing the shape of games.
And a word on Ian Bell and his selection. My previous post explains my reservations about Bell. He shouldn’t have been picked for this tour, and shouldn’t have been picked for this game. I just don’t know what James Taylor has to do to get the nod. And now Bell has spilled two sitters at slip. When he was pondering retiring at the end of the summer, I think a part of him did. The rest of him should follow.