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This has been a momentous week for English history. The selection of a Test squad that was both surprising and interesting seemed to have been consigned to the bulging dustbin of history when central contracts took hold. England team announcements had mostly become as predictable as the returning officer delivering the results of the latest North Korean elections (at which, incidentally, Darren Pattinson last summer won a seat as MP for Pyongyang West).
On Wednesday, however, coach Andy Flower and his selectorial compadres caught the media – and some of the centrally contracted players – unawares with a novel XII for the Lord’s Test against West Indies. There are two brand new bowlers fresh off the splutteringly inefficient production line of county cricket (Bresnan and Onions), a new No. 3 (Bopara, the first current Kings XI Punjab player to be picked for England in 132 years of Test cricket), and a marked failure to base selection on fading reputation.
This is a no-lose selection for England. Either they will unearth a couple of new gems to hurl at the unsuspecting Australians, or they will be able to recall and unleash a seething, jilted Harmison, Vaughan or Bell, or even a justifiably peeved Hoggard, bent on proving their worth one final time. In fact, the trickiest scenario may be that the new players do adequately in the Tests, and the old players do adequately for their counties, and England enter the Ashes still unsure of their best team.
Well done to the selectors for a choice that is both bold and sensible, and that has added further to the necessary competition for places. In the absence of many world-class performers, it makes sense to select the team with greater flexibility than of late. At times in England’s past, the selectors have given the impression that they would quite like to give WG Grace another crack, for old time’s sake, because there is no substitute for experience, and because they did not want to upset him.
This time, however, they have boldly given youth its chance, whilst sending some strongly worded messages to the excluded. The Confectionery Stall’s mole in the ECB post room intercepted some of these strong-worded messages. Here they are:
Dear Mr Bell
Whilst we appreciated your charmingly naive confusion between ‘a good week’s batting’ and ‘earning your place back after an elongated period of irritating failure’, we would like to reiterate that you have been dropped, and properly dropped. Not merely sent to the corner until you’ve cheered up. You are, clearly, a very good batsman. Please prove it consistently and numerically over the next two months. And then keep proving it.
PS: Moving your front foot fully forward might help.
Dear Sir Michael
We want to pick you. The public wants us to pick you. Cricket wants us to pick you. Even the Australians want us to pick you. We all want to see that cover drive a few more times before it retires. You scoring a series-winning century at The Oval in August would be one of the greatest stories in sport history. The only thing that doesn’t want us to pick you are the cold hard statistics. And they are arguing their case loudly and annoyingly. If you could find a way of winning them round, we would be most grateful.
Dear Mr Harmison
Please find enclosed one official ECB time-machine. It has been set to travel back to early 2004. Please get in it, do some bowling, then set it to return you to Cardiff on July 8. Please. Please.
Call us when you get home. Something’s come up. Bad time to take a paid holiday.
Dear Mr Zaltzman
Thank you for your application to fill the vacant No. 3 spot in the England batting line-up. We regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful on this occasion.
After careful consideration, we concluded that your CV demonstrated that you lack the required experience for this highly specialised role. The job of batting first-wicket down in Test cricket essentially requires that the successful applicant be very good at batting, and you fall markedly short of the necessary standard in this regard (notwithstanding your outstanding century for Penshurst Park against Chiddingstone in a Sunday village friendly in 1997, as described in painstaking single-by-single detail in your covering letter).
We also noted your congenital fear of fast-moving hard round red objects, and, whilst we acknowledge that this has been assessed by your doctor to be a psychological condition dating from early childhood, we are nevertheless concerned that it would detract from the England team’s performance in the field.
Additionally, we felt that your claim to be ‘a dangerous partnership-breaking occasional wrist spinner’ in your spare time was a bare-faced lie, and our research has revealed that every single wicket you have ever taken has been due to either luck or criminally negligent batsmanship.
Furthermore, your two referees, whom we contacted, both testified that, given your catastrophic failure to control the audience for 20 minutes at a rowdy Christmas gig at the Comedy Store in Manchester in 2002, you would probably struggle to deal with the intense pressure of five days of Test cricket.
And, finally, having dropped Samit Patel due to his over-enthusiastic girthwork, we feel it would be hypocritical to select you.
We will keep your details on file, and should a similar vacancy arise in the future, please feel free to apply again. In the meantime, we recommend that you attempt to gain some work experience as a first-class cricketer, and cut down on fatty snacks between meals, to assist your future applications.
Regards, G Miller, National Selector.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.