England players are better than county players

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We know that’s kind of the point, but it’s worth cementing this notion while everyone’s moving in similar circles. It’ll prevent confusion later in the season.

There will come a point – probably at some point in July – when Ian Bell will have made a couple of ducks against India and generally looked a bit uncertain. People will start to suggest he should be dropped, saying that he could be replaced by [insert name of form batsman] because he’s averaging 48.12 in the County Championship this season and therefore deserves to play.

No, he doesn’t. Whoever he is, he doesn’t. Ian Bell deserves to play.

Because while Bell will have spent the summer playing Test cricket, unnamed batsman will have been playing county cricket AND THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

Everyone will have forgotten that when they were playing the same game, Ian Bell was showing that he was a class apart, hitting his second hundred of the season in a match where his side were bowled out for 263 before reducing the opposition to 43-6.

And it’s the same for everyone else. No-one trusts Steven Finn any more, but we’d better start coming back round to him soon because he’s taking wickets for fun in county cricket – 4-50 in this latest round of matches. (Maybe he should play for England on an unpaid basis so that he’s only taking wickets for fun then too, rather than as a job.)

Jimmy Anderson started badly, but has now picked up his customary annual Lancashire cameo five-for. Alastair Cook has two hundreds in two matches. Matt Prior has one in one innings. These players now move onto tougher things.

A surprisingly large number of people assume that when England lose, it’s because they picked the wrong players. Like many things in life, sometimes the only thing you have control over is the scale of the defeat.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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  1. But the thing is, how do you identify the next generation of England players when the likes of KP, Swann, Trott etc depart?

    County averages, or just instinct about their temperament?

    1. It’s not as simple as plain stats. Somerset batsmen will tend to score more. Durham seamers will tend to take cheaper wickets. Compton and Onions should really swap counties if they want to make stronger cases for selection.

      But when it’s hard, or when the match really matters – those performances are worth looking at.

      Oh, and Gary Ballance should move up the order. He’s making a lot of easy runs and it’s hard to know what to conclude.

      When people talk about selecting on temperament, they often give the example of Duncan Fletcher picking someone like Trescothick, but Trescothick was selected primarily on the basis of a big hundred on a difficult pitch against Fletcher’s then side, Glamorgan. He now has 51 first-class hundreds.

      The article above’s a bit black and white, because it’s emotional. Really it’s about somehow finding good players on an upward curve. But it’s also about NOT abandoning really good players just for the sake of changing the team.

    2. I feel that ‘Ballance scores when it suits’ is something of an out-of-date criticism.

    3. Okay, easy’s unfair. Relatively easy. Okay, you can cane second-rate first-change county bowlers and new ball bowlers in their second or third spell – we get it. What else?

      No England batsman should bat at five in county cricket. He doesn’t do it any more, but Paul Collingwood made a point of batting at three when he was looking to win a Test place.

  2. Whenever things go badly, certainly in England and Australia at least, the selectors immediately start making the case that anyone and everyone would have picked the same team, so therefore it’s not their fault. This is just another way of saying that they are either rubbish or redundant. What we need is a selector who says “I have picked X because he will be a good test player” and for him to be correct, irrespective of how he came to that choice. If the player was picked because he scored a pile of second division runs and he becomes a good test player, great. If he was picked because of a gut feeling and he becomes a good test player, also great.

    There are some jobs, prestigious or well-paid jobs mainly, where being right is more important than trying hard. Being Chairman of Selectors is one of them, so we should simply expect that whoever holds the job is actually good at it, whatever method he or she uses. They can pick a team based on star sign for all I care, as long as it wins.

    1. Our point really was that you can’t prove that a selection was right; that someone else wouldn’t have done better; but at least when England players play county cricket early in the season we get to see that they probably are the right men for the job.

      Later on in the year, there is a tendency to contrast poor Test form with good County Championship second division form, which is a comparison which is of little use to anyone.

  3. “Jimmy Anderson started badly”

    5-55 and match figures of 7-107 against Notts is classed as “starting badly”? I hope this bad form continues into the test summer if so.

    1. Sorry, yeah, we were thinking of the 1-85 and 0-22 against Warwickshire as being the ‘started badly’, but of course he was already up and running by then.

      Turns out we could have made our point rather better if we’d used the facts.

  4. Must say, genius decision by Gale to drop himself and make Root captain.

    As long as his aim was to give Yorkshire as much chance as possible of retaining Root’s services this summer.

  5. And to be fair to Ballance (in the interests of balance, it has to be said) he came in at 57-3 against Northants before knocking out 174 runs. And then 55-3 in the first innings against Middlesex before scoring, *cough*, 20.

  6. Moneyball:

    “Michael Lewis’s bestseller showed how the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s management had successfully overturned decades of intuitive scouting via their reliance on strange, newfangled things that would come to be known as “evidence” and “readily available statistics”. Players were not signed on the basis of what some hopelessly romantic scout could imagine them doing in his mind’s eye, or on the basis that they “looked like a ballplayer”.”

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