England have made exactly the right decision in selecting Eoin Morgan ahead of Ravi Bopara for the No 6 batting position in the opening Test against Sri Lanka. In my view the easier call would have been to pick Bopara, the tougher one was to choose Morgan.
A lot has been said about Morgan not playing any county cricket in the run-up to this three-Test series, which starts in Cardiff on May 26, and deciding instead to go to play in the IPL. Conversely, Bopara turned down an IPL offer, has been an ever-present for Essex in the first six weeks of the season, and latterly has been scoring a lot of runs besides taking useful wickets with his medium pacers.
This, to me, has got nothing to do with the selection for the first Test. Morgan was picked for the England Lions, scored a brilliant 193 against the bowlers that England have to face over the coming weeks, and only went to the IPL in April and early May because he was allowed to do so by England’s team management and the ECB.
It is up to England to manage its players and Morgan, having been given a no objection certificate by the Board, was perfectly entitled to go to India. Don’t forget, too, that he trudged around Australia all winter as England’s spare Test batsman without getting a chance to play in the Ashes series.
To my mind, Morgan has got the perfect temperament for Test cricket and he has proved himself to have a good head in a crisis. He has all the shots, and a few of his own, and coming in at No 6 he can also provide England with the style of batting that could be needed to take the game away from the opposition in the middle of an innings.
If Morgan does get established in the Test side – and you have to think that he will now be given at least these three matches against the Sri Lankans to show he deserves a run in the team – then I think he could prove to be the better choice in terms of giving more to England’s cause in specific situations. He already has a fine Test hundred, against Pakistan, to his name.
What England have to manage now, though, is a bowling attack of just four specialist bowlers and very little in the way of back-up in case of injury during a match or just in giving the frontline bowlers a bit of a breather. Paul Collingwood may not have bowled a great deal in Test cricket, but he was better than either Jonathan Trott or Kevin Pietersen and that is where Bopara’s presence in the team would have been useful.
I would always want to see England getting back to picking an XI with five specialist bowlers in it, but for now I support the decision to go with Morgan as I believe he is a terrific talent.
This opening Test match in Cardiff, meanwhile, is a very big game for Glamorgan and for cricket administrators in Wales. It is not the Ashes now, and despite the huge success of Cardiff’s inaugural Test in July 2009, at the start of England’s last home series against Australia, these coming five days will be a truer test of the viability of Test cricket being staged in Wales.
Will the Welsh come out to support England in May, and against a Sri Lanka team that still has some wonderful players – their win against the Lions in Derby after following on was a magnificent effort – but which always traditionally struggles in our early-summer temperatures?
It is a real shame there is no Lasith Malinga, who has been forced to follow Muttiah Muralitharan into Test retirement because of injury, because the slingy Sri Lankan fast bowler is box office, but Cardiff simply has to get on with things and – despite slow ticket sales – it has to get people into the ground and show that bringing England Test matches across the Severn Bridge is justified.