England took an unexpected step in dropping Stuart Broad for Saturday’s ODI decider against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford.
Alastair Cook’s men recorded a fine victory and series success that will surely go down as one of the great false dawns when we come to review their shambolic 2015 World Cup campaign. Suddenly the all-rounder’s place is in serious doubt for the four-Test series against India, starting Thursday week. It is, as they say, a welcome selection headache.
The decision to overlook one of the most trusted and talented members of this England set-up was obviously not ideal for Cook and Andy Flower, particularly so since Broad became twenty20 captain at the start of this season.
But it will not have cost the coach, an arch pragmatist, much sleep and his decision to back Jade Dernbach was vindicated in that game at least. Equally, it will not have kept Broad awake nights either. When last year he was rested in the home Test series versus Bangladesh, he admitted disappointment – the five-day game was the one he most wanted to play.
By contrast he has already accepted that he cannot play every LOI given the schedule and his injury record. And so missing out on the odd 50-over match, albeit preferably not a series decider on home soil, can be forgotten provided it does not become a regular event.
Perhaps, like many of his countrymen, Broad struggles to distinguish one ODI from another a few days later. Not so Tests, and so the all-rounder will be desperate to be included on Sunday when England name their squad for the first Test against India at Lord’s.
This has the makings of a genuinely great Test series. It is exactly for this reason that Flower must be consistent and drop Broad for the first Test as well. The all-rounder will not want to hear it and removing one of the team’s central pillars will naturally unsettle things.
But this series is no place for rehabilitation and improvement. The coach and Andrew Strauss have been ruthless with Steven Finn twice in the last six months on the grounds that the team comes first. They must now take the same attitude with Broad.
Finn is in line for more disappointment himself. Dropped mid-Ashes, he understudied impressively for James Anderson on his homeground last month and was the odd-man out in the last Test at the Rose Bowl. Yet now he will be leapfrogged by Tim Bresnan thanks to the Yorkshireman’s batting.
Bresnan himself was unlucky not to appear against Sri Lanka after his contribution in Australia, but it is a testament to England’s bowling strength in depth. He contributes in all areas of the game and currently is a far more trustworthy and penetrative option with the ball than Broad.
The Notts man will presumably be included in the squad even if they have no intention of selecting him, since the alternative would attract headlines. But he cannot be a serious candidate to play.
This series is too important for England to field anything other than their best team. Crudely, of touring parties to England the hosts expect to beat the West Indies, New Zealand and Pakistan with ease. Even Sri Lanka, in these conditions and without Muttiah Muralitharan, are a second-class proposition. In any of these matches experimenting for the team’s long term benefit would be allowable.
Not so against India. This series is every bit as important as the Ashes when you take into account the achievement – as opposed to the history – at stake. If England are to climb to the top of the world rankings the next six weeks are the most important in the calendar.
As in the winter’s Ashes this will be a physically and mentally demanding contest with little rest time. It would be no surprise to see the hosts use four or five seamers in the four Tests. But there are enough candidates that even then Broad is not guaranteed another opportunity. Captain or no, he should have to play his way back on form like anyone else. Cricket365