England have a problem, and I’m not talking about the fact they still need to win three in a row in Australia to avoid a first series defeat in any form of the game since September 2009. No, the problem is the oldest one in cricket – the one which says it would be a much simpler game if you could squeeze 12 into 11.
Two men are currently complicating England’s World Cup selection – and a solution isn’t immediately obvious. While Jonathan Trott has played himself into contention with successive knocks of 84 not out and 102, Paul Collingwood is living off scraps. This morning in Adelaide he batted at No.7, from where his run-a-ball 27 felt like an unexpected bonus. He is clinging on for dear life.
So what do England do? Two weeks ago I suggested Trott would have to be the man to miss out given the inevitable return of Ian Bell and the presence of one batsman too many. The suggestion did not sit easily: I have always been a Trott-supporter. Probably better to trust the instincts. The man doesn’t know when he’s beaten.
Trott now averages 54 in one-day internationals, and although there are legitimate questions to be asked of both his strike-rate (73 overall and never better than 90 in any of his 15 ODI knocks) and his ability to manipulate the spinners on the subcontinent (he was dropped in Bangladesh last year), his capacity for batting through an innings looks increasingly valuable. The two wickets he took in Adelaide remind us of another handy string too. It would be brave to leave him out now.
Collingwood is another matter. For so long he has been the sine qua non of England’s one-day side: a versatile batsman, an under-rated medium-pacer (especially on slow pitches), a dreamy fielder and a cajoler of men. But he has gone from the first name down on the team sheet to a player whose inclusion is verging dangerously close to an act of faith.
Since England will have to play two spinners in Bangladesh and India – and Kevin Pietersen cannot be trusted to get through more than a few overs per game – there is little prospect of Michael Yardy being omitted.
But Andrew Strauss admitted after today’s match that the option of continuing with Collingwood at No.7 was one “we can definitely use in the future. It gave us a lot of variety and strengthened our batting line-up as well”. Not perhaps in Brisbane, conceded the captain, but the experiment could be reprised during the two warm-up games against Canada and Pakistan in Dhaka next month.
The move is a risk, because it turns Collingwood into England’s improbable third seamer, and would leave them exposed if either Jimmy Anderson or his new-ball partner has an off-day. But if Trott and Collingwood can get through five overs each on the sluggish tracks at Dhaka, Nagpur, Kolkata and the rest, then the plan may just work.
That would be tough on Ajmal Shahzad, who will drop down a place in the seam-bowling hierarchy when Stuart Broad returns, but Andy Flower is no lover of sentiment. Last year he happily replaced Anderson in the World Twenty20 team with Ryan Sidebottom and ended up vindicated.
But if England opt for no more than six batsmen (including Matt Prior) and play Yardy at No.7, one of Trott or Collingwood will have to miss out.
Who, frankly, would be a selector?