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England's batting order has lost some of its stability with Alastair Cook set to have his third opening partner of the year and Michael Carberry's resurgence has surely shut the door on Nick Compton
November 10, 2013
News : Pietersen knee trouble flares again
Report : Helmet fits Carberry in big stand with Cook
Features : Warne was my saviour - Carberry
News : Cook open to batting reshuffle
News : Carberry hopes to spark Ashes chance
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
Michael Carberry's path towards an opening batting position in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba highlights how quickly fortunes can change. After launching his Australia tour with scores of 78 and 153 not out it seems inevitable that he will now walk out with Alastair Cook having usurped two other men who have held the position this year.
For Joe Root the impact will be limited to a change in position - back to the middle order where he made his debut against India less than a year ago - but Nick Compton's career has slid much further than purely batting slots. The prospect of Compton adding to his nine Test caps (during which he scored two hundreds) were already slim after he was cut shortly before the previous Ashes; Carberry's re-emergence has all but put a full-stop on that brief top-level career.
Compton struggled in the two home Tests against New Zealand, during the second of which at Headingley Root made his maiden hundred in an energetic stand with Jonny Bairstow, and afterwards Andy Flower hinted at a change as Compton returned to county cricket while England embarked on the Champions Trophy. "Hopefully he goes away and can get back in the runs as quickly as possible," Flower said at the time. He made 166 in his first Championship match after the New Zealand series, followed by scores of 81, 34, 79 and 26 against the Australians for Somerset and Worcestershire but it was not enough - even for a place in the performance squad.
Compton's axing has been viewed as one of the more ruthless decisions by this selection panel - he scored 1001 runs at 50.05 in the 2013 County Championship season compared to Carberry's 687 at 42.93 in Division Two - but speaking in Hobart, after England's match against Australia A, Flower said that there are never any promises made regarding selection. His comments gave an insight into the deeper workings of England's selectors, who use far more than pure statistics, while acting as a cautionary tale for others who are sent away with a familiar message.
"Usually in conversations when you do leave players out, often players will ask 'well what do I need to do?' One of the things that's inevitable is that they must go away and score runs because there's nothing else they can do usually. So it wasn't a binding contract and it never is with a batsman that you leave out," Flower said. "The selectors say to him, 'go back to your first-class side and score some runs' but it doesn't mean that once they have scored some runs they are re-selected. There are other people in the mix.
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"I think most selection decisions are fairly difficult because you're making decisions about people's careers. We take those decisions seriously."
It all points to Compton's fate having been decided well before the names were made official. England's selection panel under Geoff Miller - who is about to hand the role over to James Whitaker - has not erred in many decisions and their judgement could be about to be borne out even though without Cook's dodgy back in Perth, Carberry may not yet have played on this tour.
"We selected him in the squad initially so we did see certain qualities about him," Flower said. "He is a mature bloke, a mature cricketer. He leaves the ball well, he's got a good range of attacking shots. I think he is well balanced at the crease and those are some of the qualities he will bring to his batting and to the England team.
"Cook stepped off the plane and had that back trouble. We had three openers on board so as soon as Cook started talking about his back it was a very obvious move to have both Root and Carberry open in the Perth game. I think one of the advantages we have is that we've got flexible players. Carberry himself is happy batting down the order. Root we know can do both and so we're pretty comfortable to be flexible."
Flexibility, however, would ideally go out of the window for England in their final-warm match against a Cricket Australia Invitational XI where Flower would like to select to the Test top seven, but the injury concerns to Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen could yet force his hand. This has been far from the smooth, clinical, build-up England enjoyed on the 2010-11 tour.
"Things don't always work out perfectly and this preparation has been different to the previous Ashes tour that we were on," Flower admitted. "But that's okay. Sometimes you can't recreate the past and actually I think it's a dangerous thing to try sometimes. We haven't had a perfect lead-in to that New South Wales game but that's okay. I think we're pretty comfortable that we'll ensure we're ready for that first day of the Brisbane Test. I'm confident our guys will be ready in Brisbane."
The other issue to confront England in recent days has been the leak of their dietary demands for the Test series in an 82-page document. Flower did not want to linger on the subject - "I don't think it's a very serious issue or story" - but did reveal that consideration has been given to having a chef with the squad. "We have thought about it but we don't think it's necessary," he said. Clearly, one Cook is enough for England. Now he just needs a regular opening partner.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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