It was the day that supporters of English cricket hailed the return of Jonathan Trott to the Test squad after a 16-month absence and the decades-old adage of “strong Yorkshire, strong England” dripped down social media timelines following the decision to call up six players from the county champions’ ranks.
As it happened, it was also the day that Alastair Cook, understandably embittered by his removal as the one-day captain prior to Christmas, ended a three-month break from the spotlight to speak openly and honestly about why he felt the World Cup campaign nosedived so spectacularly. The reason, he insists, was a lack of leadership. His leadership.
That the incumbent Test captain was prepared to so publicly criticise the decision to dispense with him in his one-day capacity, three and a half years into the job and just two months before the 50-over showpiece, is encouraging. Cook will need all the fire he can muster in the face of a gruelling eight-month fixture list, laid out by those same employers, that contains an eye‑watering 17 Tests.
A three-match series in the Caribbean against a West Indies side who have won just eight times against the top-eight ranked nations in the last 10 years would appear a pleasant initial setting on the treadmill, were it not for the fact that England lost on their last Test trip across the Atlantic five years ago. Either way, with New Zealand and Australia visiting in the summer, followed by winter tours against Pakistan and South Africa, the speed of the conveyor belt will increase dramatically.
Whether the decision to recall Trott is a gamble, therefore, depends on your perspective. Should a player who, by his own admission, became so overwhelmed by cricket to the point of leaving an Ashes tour after one Test be subjected to the inevitable level of scrutiny such a calendar brings? Or, well again and in the runs once more, is the right-hander precisely the kind of experienced campaigner the year ahead is crying out for?
For England, who have thankfully ignored those who still believe it was simply Mitchell Johnson’s raw pace that undid Trott in Brisbane, the latter argument wins out. In scoring five centuries for Warwickshire in the second half of last season, as well as an unbeaten double-hundred while captaining England Lions in South Africa in January, Trott has demonstrated his rehabilitation.
Trott re-enters an England dressing room that will feature six of last season’s County Championship title-winners. In helping Yorkshire steamroller their way to a first championship in 13 years under the guidance of coach Jason Gillespie, the left-handed opener Adam Lyth, top-scorer in Division One with 1,489 runs, and the 46-wicket leg-spinner Adil Rashid have rightly earned their chance to join team-mates Liam Plunkett, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Gary Ballance on the international stage.
Lyth’s call-up comes at the expense of Sam Robson, the right-handed opener who struggled outside off-stump after a maiden Test century had been ground out against Sri Lanka in the second of his seven appearances. Trott, who partnered Cook in one Test in Bangladesh in 2010, could yet nudge Lyth out at the top of the batting order.
Rashid, at 27, has waited patiently for his chance having spent eight years confusing domestic batsmen to the tune of 375 first-class wickets. With Moeen Ali ruled out of the initial part of the tour with an abdominal strain, Rashid, an all-rounder who also averages 35 with the bat, could step in. It would be fitting, too, should a leggie earn the No666 shirt that awaits England’s next Test debutant, given this country’s longstanding fear of wrist-spin.
Also vying to wear the number of the beast following a foot injury to Chris Woakes is the Durham fast bowler Mark Wood, the third of England’s uncapped tourists and one who has been privately talked up by the outgoing fast bowling coach, David Saker, and the ECB’s behind-the-scenes string-puller Andy Flower despite just 23 first-class matches to his name. Ten years on from Simon Jones’s contribution to the 2005 Ashes win, who is to say an injury-prone exponent of fast, skiddy reverse swing cannot topple Australia once more?
Wood is joined by Ben Stokes, who in the first Test at Antigua will get the chance to, ahem, reconnect with the locker that saw his golden winter of 2013-14 end with a broken wrist when he unloaded a right hook in anger during a one-day international. Stokes’s return to the England setup was not expected so soon after he was unceremoniously dumped from the World Cup squad along with Cook, with reports from his Lions tour in January suggesting his enjoyment of life off the field continues unabashed. England, however, in the face of such an imposing schedule, need the fight a character such as Stokes naturally brings to proceedings. The captain certainly seems up for a scrap.
AN Cook (capt), IJL Trott, A Lyth, GS Ballance, IR Bell, JE Root, JC Buttler (wkt), JM Bairstow (wkt), BA Stokes, AU Rashid, JC Tredwell, LE Plunkett, SCJ Broad, CJ Jordan, JM Anderson, MA Wood.
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