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England Test squad for Sri Lanka series: Reputation takes precedence over form

James Anderson © Getty Images
James Anderson will lead a largely untested bowling attack © Getty Images

England’s selection for the first Test series since their Ashes 2013-14 debacle defies logic in certain areas. R Vishal looks into how England are building under the Peter Morees-Part II era.

An overhaul en masse has seldom worked in professional sport. After a stinging Ashes whitewash earlier in the year, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have used numbers to make up for losing stalwarts like Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann.

Batting

With average displays in Australia and age not on his side, Michael Carberry makes way for the Australia-born opener Sam Robson. Carberry had done himself no favours after his outspoken comments on the selectors. The 24-year old Robson though, deserves his place after scoring consistently and piling up big scores for Middlesex. Gary Ballance’s steady displays means he holds on to his spot.  The two Tests will be massive for young Joe Root. After a quiet Ashes tour and coming back from injury, a lot will be riding on the baby-faced Yorkshireman to cement the No 3 spot. The experienced batting ace Ian Bell is expected to take Kevin Pietersen’s No 4 spot. But it’s the lower middle order’s make up that is perplexing. Chris Woakes should be slotted in for the all-rounder’s spot while Matt Prior is inexplicably brought back into the side.

Bowling

The major inclusion is that of Liam Plunkett, who comes back into the side after a seven year lay-off. A lot credit should be given to Yorkshire coach Jason Gilliespie for reinventing the English pacer. Plunkett has clocked 90 mph on a few occasions in county circuit and will relish bowling with spearhead James Anderson. Chris Woakes will be used as the fourth seamer but he is hardly world-class material. With the England management reasoning match-fitness as the reason for Ben Stokes’s exclusion, Woakes has big shoes to fill. Stuart Broad had been lacklusture in the few domestic games he played recently. The lanky pacer has held on to his pace solely because of the dearth of options. The spinning options leaves cause for further worries. Meanwhile, Chris Jordan has earned his place with stellar shows in One-Day Internationals (ODI) and warrants a Test debut. Granted, a Graeme Swann comes along once in a generation but going with no specialist spinner might come back to haunt England. It also show shows a lack of trust in the likes of Simon Kerrigan and Scott Borthwick.

Surprise Inclusions and Exclusions

Matt Prior heads the list after he was dumped midway through the Ashes. The England think-tank have wasted a golden chance to try out a new keeper by purely going on reputation. Further strengthening the claim is Stuart Broad getting in despite very limited exposure after injury. If Broad is believed to be match-fit, why isn’t Stokes? England trying to protect the lone bright spot of the Ashes whitewash is a possible reason. As mentioned earlier, the lack of a frontline spinner is baffling. Yet another chance to explore new options spurned. Plunkett’s comeback though, is a refreshing move.

With Jordan and Robson, Moeen Ali is another first-timer on the Test circuit. The selection is more batting-oriented, in what can be best explained as a cover-up for Pietersen’s axing. For a few, it will be a career-defining one — certainly for the ones picked on reputation over form.

(R Vishal is a journalist and alumnus of Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell

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