Flower hopes Taylor solves No. 6 issue
Andy Flower, the England team director, hopes James Taylor can take ownership of England's problematic No. 6 position but has said that Ravi Bopara will be considered for future selection when his personal situation is resolved.
Bopara, who returned to the side for the first time in a year at The Oval, was inked in for the second Test against South Africa at Headingley, despite a lean comeback match: he made 0 and 22 in the crushing innings defeat before informing the management that he would not be available. His withdrawal means England are set to use their fifth No. 6 of the year as the middle-order spot, which has not been consistently filled since Paul Collingwood's retirement, continues to cause headaches.
Eoin Morgan was the first to be given the role and had a sustained run through last summer and the early part of 2012 until paying the price for a poor series against Pakistan. Matt Prior then moved up the order in Sri Lanka, with Samit Patel playing an allrounder's role at No. 7, before Jonny Bairstow was debuted against West Indies where he struggled.
That laid out a clear route for Bopara to finally return to a position that would have been his earlier in the year but for injury but now another obstacle has been put in his way meaning a second debutant of the season in the role. It has also meant another tricky Test build-up for Flower to manage, following the issues revolving around Kevin Pietersen in the days leading towards The Oval.
"It's disappointing for him obviously but it opens the door for another player who has come through the academy system and worked really hard over the years to get his chance," Flower said. "I certainly hope James can make six his spot for a while.
"I don't know him that well. We've had him down for the odd net and he's worked with Graham Gooch. I watched him play against Sri Lanka at Derby last year. He looks like a young man that understands his game pretty well and he knows how to score runs. We don't know how he'll do but we wish him well and hope he has a wonderful international career. It doesn't close the door on Ravi Bopara."
Flower all-but confirmed that Taylor will debut at No. 6 by saying that it was "unlikely" England would employ a five-man bowling attack despite only taking two wickets in 189 overs at The Oval. However, he did not completely dismiss the idea of an all-pace attack if the Headingley pitch looked particularly lively - although that is a trap England have fallen into before at Leeds. "An all seam attack is an option for us," he said. "But we haven't done that for a long time."
It would be a major departure from type if England were to leave out Graeme Swann even though the offspinner went wicketless in 52 overs against South Africa, has taken just six Test wickets at 72.16 this season and is carrying a long-term elbow problem. Flower said Swann's elbow was "Okay... He has a chronic problem but it's improving."
Some of England's players, especially Swann and James Anderson, have been reasonably candid in the days following the defeat at The Oval about how the team have struggled to adapt to their No. 1 ranking, which will slip away if they lose this series. Swann went as far as to call England's recent record as "dismal" but, perhaps unsurprisingly, Flower did not quite agree.
"I wouldn't describe our results as being dismal," he said. "I think you have to look a little deeper than that. The series in the UAE was in different conditions and we struggled against their two spinners. You can't compare that to the first Test against South Africa.
"South Africa played very good cricket, we played some good cricket in parts but we didn't capitalise on a great platform in the first innings. On a pitch like that you need a significant score. South Africa bowled well that second morning and that was where the momentum of that game changed."
And, as even with the measured Flower, he tried to keep the situation in perspective. "Sometimes you are outplayed, regardless of your attempts at dismissal or strategy implemented, so you have to give credit to the opposition," he said. "It would be very hard for me to argue our strategies were successful. But in international sport you'll have huge ups and downs, and our make-up has to deal with those ups and downs."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo