Opinion: Why form should come before reputation during selection

Opinion: Why form should come before reputation during selection

A handful of England’s more senior players are struggling to score runs in the current series against India.

Chris Lincoln

As India prime themselves to keep the five-match Test series alive in England, various questions are being raised about the hosts’ selection policy, particularly high up the batting order.

What else do some domestic players have to do?

England have passed 300 just twice in six innings to date and both of those were down to centuries from middle-order batsmen, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes.

The problems in the top five are further emphasised by the scores England have manufactured by the time the fourth wicket falls. Apart from a score of 216 in the first Test, preceding an ironic collapse, the home side have posted five scores between just 36 and 86 at that point in the innings.

The opening partnership has been a particular source of concern. In six innings, Alistair Cook and Keaton Jennings have contributed just 191 runs with both players lingering around an average of just 16. The former and ex-captain has not manufactured a score above 30.

Yet the pair have been selected for all four Tests when there are plenty of players waiting in the wings for their opportunity. Rory Burns of Surrey has scored almost 1,000 runs in only 15 County Championship innings. With three centuries, four half-centuries, a top score of 193 and average above 64, the opener must be wondering what he has to do to even be considered.

With noises from the home dressing room suggesting they are trying to give young players opportunities, it is wonder why someone like Burns has not been given the nod ahead of 33-year old Cook who is clearly struggling with his confidence and technique.

Another thought surrounds James Vince who may have not covered himself in glory for England when given the opportunity but is currently enjoying some excellent domestic form. Five scores above 50, including a double-century, at an average of 56.80 suggest they he could deserve another chance with the bat.

Woakes and Curran did not deserve to be dropped

A glance at the series statistics shows a familiar presence at the top of the batting and bowling averages. Chris Woakes’ 137 not out may mask another two innings where he scored just 12 runs but such a performance shows he has the ability to win a game, as he did in the second Test.

An impressive all-rounder, the Warwickshire star has the second best bowling average of the England squad with 20.87, picking up eight wickets in four innings.

Ironically, the man he replaced in the second Test, Ben Stokes, has been given the recent vote of confidence despite a dip in form running back to when he was arrested on suspicion of affray almost a year ago. Stokes has an average of just 24.40 with the bat, although he did take six wickets in the first Test.

Yet perhaps the unluckiest English player of them all has been Sam Curran. The 20-year old took five wickets and scored a half-century in the first Test before an important knock of 40 added to a crucial partnership with Woakes in the second contest.

However, he was immediately dropped for the third Test where England struggled with both the bat and ball, again a victim of the Stokes reputation. On his return, he proved exactly why the England selectors were wrong to make that call, striking 78 to give the hosts some sort of total to defend in the fourth Test.

It is a similar scenario in the spin department. Adil Rashid did not even make himself available for first-class cricket for his county but was selected purely on reputation and previous international performances. Yet Moeen Ali has hit a double-century and taken 16 wickets in two matches for Worcestershire. Coming in as a second spinner for the fourth Test, he hit a vital 40 before tearing through the Indian lower order with the ball.