Monday 3 September 2012 

Comment - No Obvious Candidate To Replace Strauss

Comment - No Obvious Candidate To Replace Strauss
Comment - No Obvious Candidate To Replace Strauss
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

South Africa measure their rate of progress and development between cycles of series between them and Australia. Increasingly, England are being forced to rebuild after each home Test series against the Proteas.

In 2003, Michael Vaughan took over as captain following Nasser Hussain's retirement and five years on it was Pietersen who took over when Vaughan stepped aside.

With Strauss moving on and Alastair Cook assuming the mantle of Test and One-Day International captain, the time between the end of the Test series and the date when England announce their Test squad to tour India has opened the floodgates for plenty of discussion and debate over which direction England should now take.

It is a debate further complicated by the Pietersen situation, especially with no sign of a quick resolution. My colleague Daniel Grummitt has pointed the way forward is to bring in Nick Compton to open the batting and it is a view I broadly share.

In an ideal world, you ought to pick specialist opening batsmen to open the batting. Moreso in England where the ball moves around significantly. Compton opened the batting for the majority of his Middlesex career and almost scored 1,000 runs in April and May of this season to put his name in the frame but when middle-order slots became available, he was overlooked in favour of Jonathan Bairstow and then James Taylor.

However, England do not currently live in an ideal world. One in which a happy, free-flowing run-scoring Pietersen was available in all three formats, for example. Or one where Joe Root had played another season or two with Yorkshire and tested himself against a wider variety of bowling.

Therefore, whether Compton, Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott or Ian Bell are picked, it appears that a short-term 'fix' is being looked for while Root gains some experience and proves he is good enough. Square pegs for rectangular holes, you might say.

However, I have seen several journalists, fans and former players offer their views on who should tour India and who should open and I haven't yet seen two identical views. Perhaps England should be glad of the number of choices this indicates they have available to them?

Cricket World contributor and author Matthew Roebuck got me thinking about a few things during a conversation over the weekend. His view is that Trott should be pushed up to open, but not necessarilty just to fill the gap, but as part of a complete shift in England's philosophy.

He argues that it would enable Samit Patel to come into the side, boost the batting and offer support to Graeme Swann, who has been struggling with a few niggles as he comes towards the end of his career. He writes:

"Patel also provides more long term balance to England’s bowling attack. Pietersen may not have been used much as a back-up spin bowler, but the option was important and has the potential to become more so. Graeme Swann’s injury problems have been recognised by the England management and the player himself as increasing in frequency and another spin bowler to share the heavy work load may help lengthen Swann’s career.

"England have also been testing out a number of new middle order batsmen, Bairstow, Taylor and (Jos) Buttler. The movement of Trott or England’s new one-day opener Ian Bell up the order would allow one of these young batsmen to keep their place, continue their development and maybe even challenge Patel for the additional batsmen slot should the additional spin option not be required. The promotion of these young batsmen will also free up spaces below them in the Lions and Performance programs, something the introduction of Carberry or Compton would not do as at 31, they would be one of the oldest players in the squad - second only to Swann.

"Returning to long-term strategy, England must consider do they want to get their hands on the mace as quickly as possible or ensure that next time they have it under their control, this does not signal the summit of their development and  performance as it appears to have done in the last year or so.

"The development of Bairstow and Butler provides the potential for an interesting debate and ability to balance the teamsheet. South Africa have long benefited from Jacques Kallis ability to provide them with a quality, wicket taking fourth seamer. Shane Watson’s promotion to opening the batting for Australia created the same option. England’s attack has generally not required the fifth bowler to find 20 wickets, but up against South Africa they once failed to take 4.

"Neither Bairstow or Butler bowl but as well as batting up the order, they are also known to keep wicket. Andy Flower long experimented with Prior in the one day side as a higher order batsmen because of the benefit it creates in being able to introduce an additional all-rounder."

He goes on to explore the wicket-keeping all-rounder theme by throwing up Steven Davies as a hitherto unconsidered option. It does seem that teams have stopped searching for the new Adam Gilchrist and some have gone back to picking specialists as well as those who can bat and keep - for example Sri Lanka play both Kumar Sangakkara and Prasanna Jayawardene and Brendon McCullum now plays as a specialist, allowing Kruger van Wyk to take the gloves.

England have a rich tradition of producing brilliant opening batsmen. Anybody with a passing knowledge of the game will recognise the names, if not the feats, of the likes of Herbert Sutcliffe, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Len Hutton, Geoffrey Boycott and Graham Gooch. Even in the last decade, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Strauss and Cook have dominated England's opening slots and were even accommodated to the degree that the first and final three in that list appeared in Test sides together. But, in a world where Watson, Tillakaratne Dilshan and even Morne Morkel have opened in Test matches, times have changed.

If there is no outstanding one candidate to replace Strauss at the top of the order, and the lack of consensus from those around the game suggest there isn't, it might therefore be time to take a look at what Roebuck suggests. England won't win back the mace by simply recycling previous tactics as without Pietersen and Strauss, new ideas are required.

The more it is mooted, the more sense it makes to try Trott or Bell up the order, minimise disruption and look to balance and develop the side before a natural successor to Strauss - be it Root or not - makes themselves known.

Who do you think should open the batting for England now that Andrew Strauss has retired? Who would you pick to tour India? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

© Cricket World 2012