England’s four weirdest Test picks of the last 20 years

Joe Denly (via YouTube)

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Picking teams is fun. That’s why fantasy cricket leagues are a thing. Tell you what’s not fun though: picking a team for a living and being subjected to actual real-life scrutiny for all of your terrible decisions.

Whenever a Test squad is announced, there’s generally at least one selection you’ll disagree with and quite often it’s James Vince. Whoever it is though, you can normally at least understand how the decision came about, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.

However, every now and again, about once every five years or so, there’s an out-and-out weird Test selection that makes absolutely no sense at all.

Here’s a true thing that you might not be fully aware of: these truly weird selections are actually very hard to identify when you look back into the past. Hindsight knackers everything up, you see.

Here’s a couple of examples.

Usman Afzaal played three Tests for England and made 83 runs. His feels like a weird selection because we think of him as a nothingy sort of middle-order Test batsman. But Afzaal averaged 40 in first-class cricket and England needed a middle-order batsman. His selection made total sense.

Chris Schofield played two Tests for England and never took a wicket. We remember him as a leg-spinner who couldn’t even hack it in county cricket, but he was called up before anyone knew he would utterly fail to live up to his promise. He made his Test debut at 21 at a time when there was huge desire to find a wrist spinner. His selection was understandable.

Here are some weirder ones.

Not good, not bad – just weird.

Darren Pattinson, 2008

One cap, two wickets at 48.00

Darren Pattinson (via YouTube)

The Pattinsons moved around. Darren was born in Grimsby, James was born in Melbourne, then they all went back to the UK for a bit. “We lived in one of those skinny houses,” said James about the period the family spent in Cleethorpes.

As we all know, James ended up playing for Australia, but only after Darren had played one Test for England. It wasn’t the fact he had an Australian accent that made it weird. It was the fact that he was almost 29 and had only played 11 first-class matches. (He’d mostly been working as a roofer.)

England seemed to change their entire selection policy out of nowhere for this one. At that time they didn’t really do ‘horses for courses’. Whenever there was an opening, they had a hierarchy and the players in that hierarchy tended to have quite a bit of cricket ahead of them and generally quite a bit more than Pattinson behind them as well.

To provide the necessary context, here are the pace bowlers who made their Test debuts before and after Pattinson: Chris Tremlett, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions and…

Amjad Khan, 2009

One cap, one wicket at 122.00

Amjad Khan (via YouTube)

Sometimes, even with that era’s very careful ‘picking-on-promise’ sort of policy, selections still ended up slightly weird. Amjad Khan was a good bowler, but in terms of promise, he was never The Next Big Thing. He was also sufficiently injury-prone that he never really forced his way into the team based on his returns in county cricket either.

Yet somehow, thanks to a certain amount of promise and a reasonable record and a couple of injuries, he played a Test match. His first over lasted nine balls and he was later fined for excessive appealing.

Amjad Khan is the only person born in Denmark to play Test cricket, which is weird enough to warrant inclusion in itself.

Scott Borthwick, 2014

One cap, five runs at 2.50 and four wickets at 20.50

Scott Borthwick (via YouTube)

What on earth was that all about? Scott Borthwick basically played for England because he happened to be in Australia.

Depending on your nationality, you may or may not remember the 2013/14 Ashes. If you don’t remember it, all you really need to know is that it did not go amazingly well for England.

It went so badly, in fact, that when Graeme Swann retired after the third Test, England concluded that it wasn’t worth spending money on long haul flights. Borthwick was already over in Australia playing Grade cricket, so they added him to the squad.

By the fifth Test, there were quite a lot of players who England did not want to pick because they were fragile eggshell men. Borthwick was duly selected as the frontline spinner, despite having finished 15th in Durham’s Championship averages the previous season.

Scott Borthwick is a batsman now.

Eight caps, 457 runs at 28.56, no wickets

Joe Denly, 2019

Joe Denly talking to Rob Key (via Sky Sports)

Joe Denly made his Test debut against the West Indies earlier this year. Let’s walk through how that actually came about.

Denly had a really good 2018 domestic season in white ball cricket. He made some runs and bowled a bit more than he had done in the past. His leg-spin was duly recategorised from ‘part-time’ to ‘handy second string’.

Even though he’d only averaged 34.50 in the second division of the County Championship, he was called into England’s Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. He wasn’t named in the limited overs squads, but when Liam Dawson was injured they brought him in. He played the T20 international and took four wickets.

A combination of that performance and hanging around without being Keaton Jennings meant Denly made his Test debut. Ever since then, he has done juuuuust enough to avoid being dropped and gives every impression he will continue in that vein pretty much forever.


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26 Appeals

  1. Those *are* odd picks – I didn’t even know that anyone named Amjad Khan or Scott Borthwick ever played for England. I think you’ve missed a trick by not expanding the period to the last 25 years. Imagine the fun you’d have had with the weird and wonderful selections from the 90’s 🙂

  2. Darren Pattinson.

    When his selection was announced, my cricket friends and I were unable to talk about it. We’d start, but then become overwhelmed by the weirdness of it all. It was like when someone tells you that certain early scholars knew that the earth was spherical because the sun rises at the same moment no matter where you are on it (I read this in a book once, genuinely), or when someone looks at the derivative dy/dx and divides through by d. I believe that the apposite phrase is “Not even wrong”.

    Darren Pattinson wasn’t the answer to the question that nobody was asking, he was the answer to a question that didn’t make any conceivable sense, like “What colour is Friday?” In fact, that must be it. Someone asked Geoff Miller what colour Friday was, and he replied Darren Pattinson. Yep, that makes sense.

    According to Michael Vaughan (Pattinson’s captain for his one and only test), Matthew Hoggard should have been picked to replace the injured Sidebottom for the Thursday match, but “on the Tuesday Matthew Hoggard had had a benefit function and he was absolutely trolleyed.” This makes even less sense that the chromological chronological question. 24 hours is surely plenty time for a fast bowler to become sober.

    • Surely a professional sportsman shouldn’t be ‘absolutely trolleyed’ at any point during the ‘on season’? I think cricket is among the only sports where this would be tolerated (rugby being another, probably, but I don’t know much about rugby).

      Imagine someone like Messi or Ronaldo being unavailable for selection because of a hangover. It is inconceivable.

    • You have ‘cricket friends’? Like, in real life?

      • There is no real life, Sam. Are we here, or in the pub? It all seems the same to me. I’ll have a pint of IPA please.

  3. For sure the Pattinson pick wins the weirdness contest.

    But as for the other three, I’m not convinced that they are weirder test picks than Anthony McGrath and/or Ian Blackwell.

    • King Cricket

      October 15, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      McGrath is a good call. We’d bracket him with Amjad Khan as a reliably good cricketer who never breached the Test quality threshold.

      We disagree about Blackwell. Made plenty of brutal runs, plenty of hundreds and bowled solid support act accurate flat spin. Totally see how he got in. Probably even wrote in favour of it.

      • Blackwell only played the one test: Nagpur 1-5 March 2006.

        Daisy and I flew from Ethiopia to Zanzibar on the first day of that test. We listened to significant chunks of it (especially Days 2 and 3) while on the beach, through the unimaginably old-fashioned-sounding expedient of a short wave radio which could pick up spoofs of Radio 4 long wave.

        The TMS commentators were simply not getting the Blackwell pick, probably because Freddie was so reluctant to bowl him. In fairness, Blackwell’s first class averages do/did indeed indicate that he made sense to fill the Ashley Giles void on an India tour.

        By the time Blackwell’s sole test match was petering out into a draw, I was otherwise engaged in a different form of elite sporting activity:

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/ianlharris/8566951636/in/album-72157633021817946/

        Hard yards.

    • You could go down a much deeper wormhole with weird ODI picks.

      The crown calls Jim Troughton.

  4. I’m sure there were some weird picks that turned out to be successful?

    • Andrew Strauss?

    • Didn’t Trescothick have a fairly ordinary FC record when he was picked but Duncan Fletcher on instinct?

      • King Cricket

        October 16, 2019 at 10:26 am

        His selection was based largely on one colossal innings when no-one else could get a run. He had been very promising and pretty successful as a younger batsman though before having a bit of a dip. Made plenty of runs for England Under-19s too.

      • He also had a brief stint in the Somerset First XI as a medium-fast trundler batting at nine, I think after that loss-of-form-related layoff.

        No-one else seems to remember this.

  5. Mason Crane is a strong contender i feel.

    • King Cricket

      October 16, 2019 at 10:23 am

      See our Chris Schofield comments in the piece. Leg-spinners are often picked early on promise. Crane had a really good winter before he was picked and was creating “a bit of a buzz”. I think there was also a tacit admittance that county returns for leg-spinners were almost irrelevant, what with all the spring and autumn Championship cricket.

  6. Martin Saggers, anyone?

    If for no other reason than his Wikipedia page is currently experiencing some rather juvenile vandalism. Made his debut aged 31 – quite senior for a pace bowler.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Saggers

  7. Outside of your time period- Monty Lynch
    Outside of your specified nation- Steve Smith

  8. I know he wasn’t a Test cricketer, but I still find it utterly baffling that Vikram Solanki (international cricket’s first ever super-sub!) played for England 54 times.

  9. I agree, there have been some very random picks by England over the years, not least Darren Pattinson where other tried and tested options were available at the time such as Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones (briefly back from injury).
    I recently wrote an article which looked at middle order batsmen for England over the last 30 years and picked 15 players that were given a chance in the middle order but failed to capitalise whether through bad luck, selection failures or just not being good enough. The article is here for reference:-

    cricketlife.co.uk/15-english-middle-order-batsmen-who-never-quite-made-it/

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