For much of the year England’s selectors are Uncle Alan and Auntie Cynthia, who always go to the Marks and Spencer coffee shop. On the average trip to town, they might stop in there two or three times to break up the afternoon. They will walk past any number of other coffee shops to go there but it will never once occur to them to try one out.
Alan and Cynthia have their coffee shop and they’re sticking with it. Alan has a white coffee. Cynthia has a pot of tea. They don’t always have something to eat, but if they do, they have toasted teacakes.
When England’s selectors arrive for the first Test in the subcontinent, all that goes out the window. Suddenly they metamorphosise into a pack of toddlers raked to the eyeballs on Sunset Yellow. Confronted with an oversized laminated menu, no-one has a clue what they’re going to do.
How many batsmen? How many bowlers? How many spinners? How many all-rounders? No-one knows. As for who those players might be, it could be anyone. Even the squad itself only gives a rough idea who might be selected.
It’s all very exciting.
The thinking at the moment is that England will go with three pace bowlers and three spinners, of whom most will be all-rounders of some standard or other. Somewhat oddly, however, it is the batting decisions which have been attracting more attention.
Perhaps it’s because batsmen tend to get a run (in the side) whereas bowlers are more likely to be chopped and changed. A week ago, the decision was between Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett. It now seems likely that the selectors have hit upon the innovative solution of selecting both and binning Gary Ballance.
Whether this comes to pass or not, who can say? Opinions change rapidly when there hasn’t yet been a first Test to firm things up a bit. A hamstring strain for a pace bowler could precipitate a whole series of knock-on changes that would result in Jos Buttler opening the batting. A nasty bout of dengue fever for someone might see Ballance back in the side as second spinner, batting at nine.
All we can say for certain is that we can forget about the coffee, tea and teacake order for at least the next few months. This is no bad thing. Life is all about making arbitrary decisions in the hope that everything will somehow be fine.