here must be some grumpy English professional cricketers out there this weekend. Let me try to bowdlerise their thoughts: “Our wise selectors have plucked out 55 players for training ahead of the proposed international matches this summer and I do not appear to be among them. Fifty-five represents no fewer than five cricket teams so this is a source of some disappointment since I thought that I might still have the chance of the ultimate honour, playing for my country, in the foreseeable future. This now seems a rather distant dream. So it’s back to the nets, whenever that is allowed for the journeymen dirt-trackers. Que sera, sera.” The unbowdlerised version probably would not take so long and it might sully your morning.
Most of the names on the longest list ever produced by the England selectors are predictable and by and large they come from the obvious sources. No one employed by Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire and (promoted) Northamptonshire has been selected; Surrey provide the most players with nine (they signed Reece Topley in the winter); there are seven from Lancashire and six from Yorkshire and Somerset. One oddity is that Essex, the county champions in two of the past three years, have just one player selected, Dan Lawrence.
The omissions come in several groups and the most eye-catching is Alex Hales. He comes into the very small category of those who need – still – to be taught a lesson. No one can argue that Hales is a white-ball opening batsman of international stature, yet he does not make the 55. He is now 31 and time is ticking by. His omission was signposted earlier in the week by Eoin Morgan, who spoke of a “breakdown of trust” within a tightly knit one-day squad.
What Morgan says goes and he has earned that power as a World Cup-winning captain (just), who has overseen a transformation in England’s limited-over cricket over the past three years. Hales carries a lot of baggage and it seems he has yet to pay for his excesses. It may be that Morgan also feels that he has such an array of attacking batsmen that he can do without Hales; that assessment would be wider of the mark.
There remains a significant gulf between those batsmen in the best one-day team and those sitting on the bench. Recall the desperation to get Jason Roy back in the team in the latter stages of the World Cup. It is just possible that there is one other Nottinghamshire cricketer in this category, Joe Clarke, who was heralded as the brightest of prospects a couple of years ago (though his form in 2019 was rotten).
A slightly larger category includes those whose England aspirations are probably gone for good. Liam Plunkett has the consolation of his last game being a victory in the World Cup final; Gary Ballance, now 30, played 23 Tests and has a Test average of 37, a figure that several of England’s current side must look upon with envy; James Hildreth, unjustifiably, never had a chance but is now 35.
The third category may not have given up hope but they will hardly be bubbling with optimism this weekend. Two batsmen who represented the England Lions in their victory over a strong Australia A side in February, Sam Northeast and Tom Abell, are surplus to requirements; so too is Essex’s Jamie Porter, who was hovering around the Test squad a couple of years ago.
Porter, like Ben Coad of Yorkshire, may be reckoned to be too dependent on the sort of archetypal “English conditions” that would have been conspicuously absent over the past two months had cricket been possible. The selectors are more interested in pace and potential than a stack of wickets in championship cricket on some spicy pitches.
So there are a few stalwart seamers with fine records who are ignored – though I concede that it is a bit late for the ever-willing Chris Rushworth, 34 this year, to be called up. Perhaps the same applies to Northamptonshire’s Ben Sanderson, 31. By contrast I’m hard pushed to think of a spinner who can feel hard done by this weekend. All the likely lads – and there are not many of them – are there.
One or two players make the cut because they tick the appropriate boxes for white-ball cricket. It is deemed essential to have the option of left-arm pacemen and wrist-spinners and this helps to explain the selection of Topley, now with his fourth county, and Mason Crane. Both have had their struggles in the last few years. Topley has been beset by injuries; so has Crane, who also endured a loss of form after his Ashes expedition.
Quite how the selectors console those who have failed to make the cut is something of a mystery. “I’m terribly sorry but we were restricted by the fact that we could only pick 55” does not seem to cut it. There is still some confusion for those who have been overlooked and who remain on furlough over whether they are yet allowed to start training.
As a catalyst for argument – it is more than a month before any real cricket may be visible, despite the impressive work of Steve Elworthy, the director of special projects at the England and Wales Cricket Board – I’ll leave you with a respectable team of relatively young rejects, plus one other: Alex Hales, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Joe Clarke, Sam Northeast, Tom Abell, Ben Cox, Ed Barnard, Luke Wood, Sam Cook, Jamie Porter and finally, batting much further up the order and the only one who has no reason to feel a bit aggrieved this weekend, Delray Rawlins of Sussex, a 22-year-old all-rounder who can bowl left-arm spin.