When I cast my mind back to the dark days that English cricket suffered during the 1990’s, one things leaps to mind; the revolving door policy of selection. Just have a look at some of the names (and total number of tests they played): Mark Lathwell (2), John Morris (3), Tim Munton (2), Jason Gallian (3), Mike Watkinson (4), Aftab Habib (2) and one test-wonders, Alan Wells and Gavin Hamilton. At one point Geoffrey Boycott’s mother was probably close to a call up, as he often proclaimed on the TV.
Then at the end of the decade central contracts emerged. Chris Schofield (!?) was one of the recipients of the first 12 but, more often than not, the selectors have got it right in terms of selection for a considerable period of time. The central contract gives a player time. There is no ‘two failures and you’re out’ atmosphere – which seemed to permeate the 90’s – so players feel more at home in the setup. There seems to be a pathway for cricketers to follow, no horses for courses, no ‘form players.’ Players are picked on ability and results over a long time. Take James Vince. Long ear-marked as a test player since breaking into the Hampshire limited over team in 2009 and earning selection for the under 19 World Cup. This summer he made his test debut. Just three tests in and he has a top score of 35, which would have seen him dispensed with in the 90’s, however he can feel secure that he will get a decent run in the team to make his mark.
However, with Nick Compton taking a break from cricket it opens up a space in the batting order. Today the England squad was named and in it they named Gary Ballance, giving him a recall to the side. Other options that had been mentioned were Jos Buttler playing as a specialist batsman or Liam Plunkett, and the batters moving up one. Now, I’ve nothing against Gary Ballance. However, his selection seems to owe much to the ‘Team England’ tag that follows the England Cricket team. Has he really scored the weight of runs to force his way back in? 17 innings, 585 runs at 36.56. Compared to Scott Borthwick who has made 609 at 55.36 in 13 innings – and who was a lot of people’s pick – it’s hard to argue for Ballance.
Maybe what they say is true; it is harder to get out of the England team than it is to get in it.