Omission of Harmison could prove to be a glaring error
The England Test and limited over squads for the tour to South Africa were announced yesterday with no place in either squad for Steve Harmison, Ravi Bopara and Monty Panesar. Whilst the poor form of Panesar and Bopara means that their omission is no surprise, the absence of Harmison seems an obvious error.
Naturally the press pack were eager to understand from national selector Geoff Miller the reasons why Harmison’s name was not amongst the 16 names in the Test squad. Miller responded by saying that “his performances, certainly over the last two or three tours, have not mirrored what he was capable of doing.” This point can not reasonably be argued against and we will come back to this later.
Miller also explained that Harmison’s “form has not been consistent enough over the last 12 months to justify a regular place in the side.” This seems strange considering that Harmison took 51 wickets at 22.62 as his county Durham retained their County Championship Division 1 crown. He also bowled well enough in the final two Ashes Tests of the summer. This is in contrast to Ryan Sidebottom, who has been picked despite being overlooked for the entire Ashes series – when was his last good game for England?
Finally, Miller also referred to Harmison’s comments after the Ashes victory at the Oval, when he suggested that he didn’t want to tour Australia in 2010/11 and also that he didn’t want to be a bit-part player at his age. Let’s worry about the tour to South Africa first, where England will now face the number one ranked side in their own backyard without a strike bowler who can take advantage of the traditional bouncy South African wickets. Secondly, those comments were made by Harmison in the emotional aftermath of an Ashes win so can probably be ignored.
Harmison is a player that needs to be handled with care. What he probably needed was an arm around the shoulder and an assurance that form and fitness permitting he would be an integral part of the plans to retain the Ashes on Australian soil. This brings us back to Harmison’s poor contribution on his last few tours. Most observers agree that this was because he didn’t have the overs under his belt and that this affected his rhythm and confidence. This could have perhaps been solved by picking him for both squads (England also lack a strike bowler in their one day squad) and putting Harmison through extensive net sessions prior to the Test series.
It’s not as if the players picked ahead of Harmison are going to rip through the strong South African batting line-up. Liam Plunkett, a surprise inclusion, has had a good season for Durham (49 championship wickets at 24.83) and looks a better player than when he last played for England in 2007. There are no problems with his selection, but why pick Sidebottom? Apart from one golden year, he has never looked like an international class bowler. Witness how Australia treated him in the recent Nat West series. Furthermore, his pace is not what it was in his successful period and the South African wickets are not likely to suit him – whereas they do suit Harmison.
The decision to pick Luke Wright is also a surprising one and unlike Plunkett, the Sussex man’s inclusion is difficult to justify. Granted he has the right attitude and work ethic and he has improved as a cricketer, but is he even close to Test class with bat or ball? Does his selection mean that he may play at seven to reduce the level of expectation on Stuart Broad? If so, it is a brave but probably foolhardy move by the selectors.
Elsewhere in the Test squad, no reserve opener has been picked, which seems strange considering the poor form of Alastair Cook. What if South Africa exploit the flaws in Cook’s technique the same way Australia did in the Ashes? It would have made far more sense to pick a spare opener (probably Joe Denly). England do not have the luxury of a Shane Watson in the squad who can come in and play as an emergency opener if Cook’s travails continue.
One good move however, is the selection of Adil Rashid ahead of Panesar. The Yorkshire all-rounder has a genuine chance of becoming England’s long term replacement for Andrew Flintoff at seven and his leg spin will only get better and better. He is unlikely to play in the Tests though as only one spinner is likely to be required and Graeme Swann will fulfil that role. But it is a good opportunity for Rashid to continue his development. Panesar will benefit more from playing for Highveld Lions in South Africa, with whom he has already signed to play over the winter, and where he will hopefully rediscover both form and confidence.
Ian Bell gets the nod over Bopara, who can have no complaints after his poor form in the Ashes and since then in the one dayers. Stephen Davies has been selected as the reserve wicketkeeper ahead of the unlucky James Foster and also Geraint Jones, who scored five championship hundreds for Kent this summer.
Bopara has also been left out of the one day squad along with Owais Shah, who can consider himself extremely unlucky after a reasonably successful performance in the Champions Trophy including that sparking 98 against the Proteas. There are no complaints about the inclusion of Kevin Pietersen (after injury) and Jonathan Trott (belatedly) in the one day squad, but it does seem strange that Cook has been included at Shah’s expense. Sajid Mahmood, who like Plunkett has not played for England since 2007, also returns to the one day fold.
The squads are as follows, with Paul Collingwood confirmed as skipper for the two T20 matches:
Test squad: Andrew Strauss (Middlesex – captain), Alastair Cook (Essex – vice captain), James Anderson (Lancashire), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham), Steven Davies (Surrey), Graham Onions (Durham), Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire), Liam Plunkett (Durham), Matt Prior (Sussex), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire), Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire), Luke Wright (Sussex).
One-day squad: Andrew Strauss (Middlesex – captain), James Anderson (Lancashire), Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham), Alastair Cook (Essex), Joe Denly (Kent), Sajid Mahmood (Lancashire), Eoin Morgan (Middlesex), Graham Onions (Durham), Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire), Matt Prior (Sussex), Adil Rashid (Yorkshire), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire), Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire), Luke Wright (Sussex).
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