Sri Lanka in England 2014 June 5, 2014

Moeen, Robson, Jordan get Test calls


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No real surprises in young England Test squad

England's post-Pietersen era, unveiled in Test cricket for the first time, has a serious and well-planned look about it. From the chaos of an Ashes hounding, England's selectors have managed to produce a squad that seems entirely logical. The new order is not just new, it is also extremely orderly.

There is no pin sticking in England's 12 for the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's, no sense of floundering around as there would have been a generation ago. Three uncapped players - Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Sam Robson - all seem carefully introduced and worthy of selection.

Pietersen himself might remark on a shortage of batting flair. This is a side that will seek to bat long and responsibly.

Liam Plunkett might be regarded as a bit of a punt - nobody can be entirely sure how he will respond to his first Test call up for seven years - but he has been bowling consistently quickly for Yorkshire and, at 29, should have enough experience to cope with the additional pressure a Test summons will bring.

Sam Robson is the baby of the squad, but even he is approaching his 25th birthday and his move through the England ranks has been so well planned, and his own approach to batting is so methodical, that his first Test call up as Alastair Cook's opening partner seems entirely sagacious. "Lovely lad, fit, focused, disciplined," was how the chief selector James Whitaker put it. And five hundreds for England's development sides last winter.

An old stager returns, too, in Matt Prior, an Ashes vice-captain who was dispensed with for the final two Tests in Australia but who returns as Cook's dressing-room sergeant major. Prior is perhaps England's biggest gamble. They were desperate to select him and it would have needed Sussex's regular medical updates to warn that they had had to install a stair lift outside the Hove dressing room for him to be discounted.

A return to classier wicketkeepers of a certain age - the excellent James Foster prime among them - have been discounted. This selection team is not revolutionary. Such selections, as persuasive as they seem to onlookers, can disturb dressing room morale. Random = dangerous.

Whitaker insisted that England had no qualms about Prior. "Our No. 1 priority for selection criteria is that someone is 100% fit," he said. "Very few people go through their international career without a little bit of a blip. Matt is no different. He comes back as just the sort of character we want in that team."

Nevertheless, Prior's season with Sussex has been severely disrupted by his long-standing weakness in both Achilles and what little wicketkeeping he has had has reflected as much. He has only batted three times in the Championship, but from the moment he made the first Championship hundred of the season in early April - 125 against Middlesex at Hove - the selectors, with full encouragement from the captain, Cook, knew the course they wished to take.

Casual observers, in particular, will regret the omission of Jos Buttler, who has lifted England's mood like no other player this season, but his keeping remains rudimentary and it is best that he is allowed to address it. Prior will have to put his body - and reputation - on the line.

If England felt obliged to gamble on Prior, they took the opposite view on Ben Stokes. Only two Championship matches was not enough to gain selection. "Ben Stokes is very much part of England's future, but with barely 30 overs under his belt we want to see him bowl more overs and get more stamina into his body," Whitaker said.

Stokes, at least, does not seem to have suffered long-term damage from thumping a dressing room locker; it is to be hoped that England took the precaution of covering every hard surface in County Durham in foam rubber before advising him of his omission.

There are only seven survivors from that fateful Ashes squad. To run through some of the names in England's last Test, against Australia in Sydney, is to recognise the extent of the changes: there is no Jonny Bairstow, Boyd Rankin, Scott Borthwick, Michael Carberry.

Graeme Swann has retired, Monty Panesar, muddle-headed, needs to regain trust before he will be considered as a permanent replacement and, while any right-thinking person should wish Jonathan Trott well in his attempts to return to the professional game, England's attention seems to have turned elsewhere. From England's rock to a hard place in no time at all.

No player is more unfortunate to miss out than Samit Patel; even the presence of his Nottinghamshire coach, Mick Newell, on the selection panel has not been enough to win him recognition. England are more bent upon Moeen Ali, even though Moeen's runs have been made in Division Two, understandably believing that Moeen's offspin is more serviceable than Patel's left-arm slows, or indeed the leg spin of Borthwick.

There was an argument for Patel's inclusion at No. 5, but England's selectors have chosen a top five of serious intent. Gary Ballance, a nuggety cricketer, gets the vote alongside his Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root. Patel, or indeed Eoin Morgan, might have added some flair to the England batting line-up in the absence of Pietersen, but Morgan's form in both short game and long has been middling after he chose to miss the IPL to push his England Test claims. Morgan might quickly revert to the conclusion that he is essentially a one-day specialist.

Yorkshire's coaching staff, as Whitaker was quick to indicate, have worked wonders with Plunkett. Martyn Moxon, who knew Plunkett at Durham, had enough faith in his skill to advocate his signature when Durham released him in October 2012; Jason Gillespie cleared his head again, encouraged him to make use of his physique by bowling fast, and his ability to bowl occasional unplayable balls has once again come to the fore.

It is the nature of things that Yorkshire have been so successful with Plunkett that their Championship challenge could now be undermined as a result, so it was refreshing to hear Whitaker recognise the good that can be done at county level - a necessary shifting of the relationship that deteriorated during the tenures of two southern African coaches, Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower; Fletcher, in particular, regarded the county game as a repository of slack habits and spent as little time observing it as he could.

"Well done to Martyn Moxon and Jason Gillespie and all the guys at Yorkshire who have made Liam successful," Whitaker said. "They have asked him to run it and feel good and feel good in himself again. He has bowled some really quick spells, 90mph or so."

It was Plunkett's display against Durham at Chester-le-Street which gained most attention - the match was covered live on Sky - but as Whitaker pointed out that his performance against Middlesex at Lord's, venue for the first Test, was even more impressive. Plunkett outbowled Steven Finn, who at least can draw some confidence from Plunkett's own story that his own recovery of his best form is already underway.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paulo on June 8, 2014, 7:22 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK Unfortunately Onions has been injured for a while. However I fear he, like James Taylor, will never get picked.

  • c on June 7, 2014, 18:06 GMT

    Can a Test team ranked 7th (per ICC that will not reveal HOW it determines the ranking - except to tell us the duration it is effective when countries play different NUMBER of Tests during the SAME duration) beat a Team that is currently ranked 4th?

    Can a new fangled ENG team - no matter how determined they may be to prove their critics wrong - manage to get 300 on board twice if necessary to pose a threat to SL (who is more likely able to do it)?

    If we look at average performances by batters/bowlers for ENG and SL, it is clear SL is ahead on overal, average capablities but will that necessarily translate into SL being the more favoured currently though they are ranked 14 pts and 3 slots lower in ICC rankings? Will SL be considered underdogs despite this?

    Wonder why Farbrace has gone from a near 100% wins with SL to approx 30% with ENG and from being quite visible in SL dug out to almost non-existent in ENG dug out. And THAT during a format that he was more familiar with.

  • Dean on June 7, 2014, 16:54 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK, I was never a great fan of Plunkett when he was in the Eng set up under Fletcher and he seemed to sink without trace some yrs ago. However It would appear that the move to Yorks has worked wonders and I do expect him to play ahead of Woakes. By all reports his is speed is up at 90mph the season and he's taken 24 wickets in the CC so far so he warrants selection on his bowling alone. He was always seen as a bowler who could bat a bit but & I think the fact he's got a few runs this season is a bonus. The trouble with Borthwick is that although he's doing well with the bat for durham he's not been bowling much & has only taken 6 FC wickets this summer, so he would only be seen as a part time bowler at the moment & Ali is still a better batting option. IMO Borthwick needs to leave Durham if he is to further his test ambitions he needs to be playing on a home ground which offers a bit more assistance to his bowling & a county where he is 1 of the 4 main bowling options

  • Nicholas on June 7, 2014, 16:23 GMT

    You know, thinking about it further, I'd maybe have gone for Borthwick instead of Plunkett. The only justification I can think of for Plunkett is that he offers something with the bat as well as bowling seam; but if that's what England are concerned about then why not go for Borthwick who is a legspinner that can bat!? If Plunkett is simply there as back-up should one of the other seamers get injured, then where the heck is Onions who should in all seriousness be one of the first names down for playing a home series, never-mind as an afterthought / back-up.

  • Andrew on June 7, 2014, 1:09 GMT

    Sl always struggle away from the sub-continent, so will still be underdogs for this clash, BUT gee how much has England changed in 12mths???? How ironic, that England select an Ozzy to sure up the top order batting?? Will be interested to see if Jordan can translate ODI form into the Test arena, doesn't always happen. Would like to see Woakes get a run. Really only 4 world class players in that squad. Maybe by the end of the series there will be a different view, but right now, I would say a very modest squad.

  • Nicholas on June 6, 2014, 17:51 GMT

    The absence of a frontline spinner worries me, but Magic Monty has nobody to blame but himself, and there are no other standout candidates yet. Biggest surprise to me was the recall of Liam Plunkett; I'm wondering could he be squeezed into a team as a surprise all-rounder? His batting has really improved of late, whereas his bowling alone I do not think is enough to justify a seamer's slot in the test team. Be interesting to see what England try with this.

    Batting-wise, I'm not really surprised. Compton can feel hard done by, but Robson is overdue a chance and should deliver. Ali was always going to be there in my mind, and I just hope they keep Root down in the middle where he belongs and have Bell or Ali at 3. As I said in another thread, Prior is still my first choice keeper-batsman as long as he's fully fit and gets back to form; otherwise, it's time to move on. All-in-all, it's a squad worth a chance, but a few holes/question marks remain and could bite England.

  • Tom on June 6, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    @Sam Carr, the issue with Prior is that his fitness is in doubt and he has very little chance to show form after a horrific winter that ended with him dropped. He is not the man in possession, what has he done to deserve a recall? With Bairstow seemingly discarded there is a case for considering other names, especially after watching Buttler miss stumping after stumping.

    I have a bad feeling that Prior has been picked as a specialist vice captain.

    And why so dismissive of Borthwick, who did little wrong against Australia, and who Mushtaq considers one of very few genuine prospects?

  • Jeff on June 6, 2014, 15:13 GMT

    Dropping Bairstow could come back to haunt them...

  • Rahul on June 6, 2014, 14:43 GMT

    My question is Is Moeen really the best spinner available in England and what has happened to James Taylor.

  • Dummy4 on June 6, 2014, 12:35 GMT

    To those questioning Prior's inclusion 75 tests averaging over 40, in a team with only 2 other proven test batsmen! I'd pick him as a specialist batsmen. The fact most of his young rivals keeping is so bad that Prior is still better on one and a half legs as Cook and Moores have alluded to is for them to sort out. I suggest getting Bruce French involved he completely revolutionised Prior's keeping. Get him working with Butler, Bairstow and Kieswetter so they are an acceptable standard for Tests. Dropping a top test batsmen like Sanga could be cost you a match!

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