The Ashes 2013-14 November 10, 2013

Carberry gains from Flower's ruthless call

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

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.

"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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 13, 2013, 13:16 GMT

    There is a difference in class between the County game and Test cricket. Carberry is up to the task and Compton clearly isn't.

  • Samuel on November 12, 2013, 17:15 GMT

    @Cyril_Knight - it's not exactly like we were losing many when he played!

    @Westcountryman - agree entirely. Gutted for Nick, feel he earned his chance the old fashioned way and was then asked to bat in a position he didn't actually score the runs that got him selected in, and only really had two iffy Tests. That said, us fans never see what's going on behind the scenes - faces & play styles sometimes don't fit, and if Carberry fitted into the set-up better then it's no real surprise. And, as you say, it's impossible not to feel pleased for Carberry. He really should have played a lot more international cricket by now; he was banging out runs at a time when it seemed we could never get either Cook or Strauss in form at the same time & in & around 2009 he was up there with Trott as the most consistent county batsman. He's done incredibly to fight back from his illness, and even though I'd have taken Compo, it'll be impossible to not feel pleased for him when he walks out in Brisbane.

  • Nigel on November 11, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    John Yelton makes a very fair point about Carberry's test career having been delayed through no fault of his own. Like many other Somerset supporters, I feel that Nick Compton has been very hard done by; but that's not to say that anyone should begrudge Carberry his chance. Especially after the really serious health issues he's had, which he's done amazingly well to put behind him. I also feel that both he and Compton are rather better than 'journeymen' players - either could still make a real go of it at test level. I'd personally go for Compton - slightly more solid, and providing a right-hand/left-hand combination which wouldn't help Johnson or Starc's radar any. But I accept I'm probably biased. Carberry's a worthy pick, no doubt about that.

  • David on November 11, 2013, 20:59 GMT

    Cloudmess, you are wrong. Carberry is not a county journeyman. It may be that he is not made for test cricket, but he is not a stodgy, county professional, as anyone who has seen how explosive he can be in limited overs would testify. I hope he makes it (he was disastrous in recent one day games), because he is a dedicated and brave man, and (can be) a quite brilliant fielder. I feel sorry for Compton too. However, both of these two are better bets as test openers than Root, even though Root is a much better batsman than either. However, he should remain at six.

  • Paulo on November 11, 2013, 20:34 GMT

    To come back from his illness is incredible, and shows a tremendous amount of fight. Is that worth a place? But he's scored runs now so has to play. Simple.

    I felt that ditching Compton for Root was a good decision. Still do. Ok, so he didn't get out early, but his painfully slow scoring puts pressure on others. Anyone who challeneges that, remember what the slow scoring of Strauss and Cook did in Abu Dhabi when we were bowled out for 70odd when chasing just 140odd.

    As a Hampshire (and England) fan, best of luck Carbs!

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2013, 17:36 GMT

    As far as consistent selection goes, Carberry should be picked. He was considered first reserve for opener when he made his test debut, but then was out of the running because of illness - allowing Compton his chance. Carberry's career record looks good. Anyone with a career average of 40+ in the county championship should get a chance of a run in the test team. He's also said to be a great fielder. Let's cross our fingers and hope he is good enough for Australia down under.

  • David on November 11, 2013, 15:20 GMT

    The problem with having Carberry open with Cook is that he's too much of a like-for-like replacement for Nick Compton - a county journeyman (and one in fact with inferior stats to Compton), who can probably score a couple of 50s and average, at best, about 30 in tests. I think the selectors are becoming more reactive with selection again, and inclined to listen to those with the loudest voices (eg Shane Warne). Root didn't do all that badly in the Ashes, he was opening on some spicy pitches, and managed both a 50 and a big century - he certainly did no worse than either Cook or Trott. He should have been allowed more time in the role, on Australia's flatter pitches. England should always keep in mind the bigger picture and look to develop the next generation of potential test batsmen (Root, Bairstow etc) rather than going back to their old-fashioned system of picking players game by game and rewarding good county stalwarts in their early 30s.

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2013, 15:04 GMT

    It's quite Ironic that Carberry has 2 Australians to thank for His Test spot. 1.Warnie (as he says himself) and 2. Ryan Harris though Harris would love nothing more than a continuing parade English openers.

  • Nicholas on November 11, 2013, 14:45 GMT

    People are looking at this as a demotion for Root, I look at it slightly differently I think the England selectors looked at the batting line up and decided that they needed a new number 6. Root played well at 5/6 in the last year, better than anybody making a debut since Collingwood.

    So there is an option of moving him to 6, well then there is a space as an opener so then they need to fill that gap. So I really see this as Carberry Vs Balance and Root will play in the other position. Still feel they have been Harsh on Compton there must be more to this than we can see, Personality clash?

  • David on November 11, 2013, 12:13 GMT

    Well, one man's interpretation of "ruthless" has the same meaning as another man's "indecisiveness"; the last time England picked a Test team, Root was considered to be one of the best two openers in England, the last time England's selectors discussed the openers position - pre-TB - I doubt Carberry even got a mention.

    Carberry's recall and the demotion of Root could be a stroke of genius. Then again, it could be an appointment with a firing squad for Carbs. What will "ruthless" Andy say then, I wonder?

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