Friday, August 14, 2009

Where are England's young batsmen ?

Apparently England’s middle order on the evidence of the Headingley debacle ain’t much cop so we need to change it and bring in new batting talent at The Oval. And, it would seem, the cupboard is so bare that we need to consider that excellent “prospect” (c 1990) Mark Ramprakash or the roly-poly promising ex-tyro (c 2001) Rob Key. There is young Trott (a stripling of 28) to throw into the pot and he has the benefit of never having failed at Test cricket – unlike the other two. He hasn’t played Test cricket either – but give him time.

Let’s roll back the years to 1956 – a randomly chosen point in time when the Australians were also around. In that year England’s top order (1-6) included from time to time Peter Richardson, Cowdrey, Graveney, May, Compton, Watson, Sheppard, Washbrook and Trevor Bailey. Not a bad bunch to perm from in the event of injuries – which is what happened. England retained The Ashes reasonably comfortably and all of these batsmen played their part. But what if these batsmen had all suffered a collective touch of the “Boparas” (a bit like the yips in golf but with more sledging). What talent could the England selectors have called upon in extremis? Well there were a few decent batters around in the counties – Brookes, Insole, Wharton, Kenyon, Horton, Mickey Stewart, Parks, Leary, Milton and others – and there were a few promising youngsters at the Universities as well- like MJK Smith, Eagar and Walton at Oxford and Dexter and James at Cambridge. True Washbrook was recalled at the age of 41 which suggests a Ramps-type moment by the selectors (of whom he was one) – but in truth there was no shortage of batting talent all over England in those halcyon days.

So what of the scene in 2009? I have put on my anorak and delved deeply into Wisden and can reveal the state of English batsmanship circa 2008. Please bear with me for some data. 369 players batted in the first-class County Championship last year of whom 96 (26%) were foreigners and not qualified to play for England. A further 94 of the England qualified players were 30 years old or more and most of these had either had their chance or were patently never going to be good enough to get a Test opportunity. This leaves us with 179 players under 30 and England eligble. If we exclude the bowlers and any batsmen who averaged less than 40 in the Championship we are left with the following 22 players who might be considered good enough and young enough to be termed a “prospect”: Clare (Derbyshire), Smith (Durham), Bopara, Foster and Maunders (Essex), Snell (Gloucestershire), Brown (Hampshire), Horton (Lancashire), Cobb (Leicestershire), Morgan and Scott (Middlesex), White, O’Brien and Peters (Northamptonshire), Patel (Nottinghamshire), Trego (Somerset), Newman (Surrey), Prior (Sussex), Bell, Trott and Ambrose (Warwickshire), Moore (Worcestershire) . If we exclude Bopara, Foster, Prior, Bell and Ambrose (who we know about because they have already played Test cricket) that leaves us with just young 17 batsmen who might possibly be potential Test cricketers – less than one per First class county!

The counties differ widely in the extent of their reliance on overseas players in their batting line ups. Top of the list is county champions Durham for whom 54.4% of their runs last year were scored by non-England qualified players. Next are Kent (46%) and Derby (40.2%). The counties which eschewed mercenary batsmen were Worcestershire (just 1.6%), Warwickshire (4.5%) and Glamorgan (5.7%). As far as reliance on the old lags is concerned top of the list were Surrey for whom 57% of their runs were scored by players over 30 like Ramprakash, Butcher and Afzaal. Middlesex also had a bit of a Dad’s Army – more than half their runs were scored by players like Nash, Strauss, Udal, Shah and Joyce all the wrong side of 30.

Of course if you have batsmen in your team who are not going to play for England because of non-qualification or a mixture of age and limited ability they block off places for developing young talent. The Counties which had the highest percentage of their runs scored by English players under 30 were Essex (an admirable 66%), Sussex (60.5%) Hampshire (59.4%) and Glamorgan (55.2%). Those countries who most restricted opportunities for young players either by employing overseas players and/or by sticking with aging professionals were Kent (just 23.1%), Surrey (24.8%) and Somerset (26.1%).

The seventeen players mentioned above are not household names but the circumstantial evidence from 2008 is that they just may be good enough as well as young enough to be considered for England. But the rest of the hundreds of players in the counties, players whose employment is substantially underwritten by grants to the counties from the England and Wales Cricket Board, are either bowlers or if they are batsmen they don’t come into the frame for selection. A very sorry state of affairs indeed!

No comments: