Samit's fit for England: Patel and Bopara get the nod as Morgan pays the price
Eoin Morgan was put out of his misery by England when he was omitted from their Test squad for Sri Lanka and warned that he faces a long road back if he wants to play the ultimate game again.
Morgan became the first England batsman to be dropped from the Test side, with loyalty and continuity being watchwords of the Andy Flower regime, since Ravi Bopara during the 2009 Ashes.
Yet so bad has Morgan’s form been on the tour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and so mentally shot did he look during the final Twenty20 game on Monday that it was a move England had to make.
Out of the picture: Eoin Morgan had a miserable tour of Abu Dhabi and Dubai
The Irishman scored just 184 runs in 13 international innings against Pakistan and had a top score of 31 throughout the whole two-month tour as his struggles to establish himself as a Test batsman spilled over into his forte of limited-overs cricket.
And he will be unable to force his way back into contention with first-class runs for Middlesex in the early part of the summer if he presses ahead, as seems certain, with his plans to spend April and possibly most of May playing lucrative Twenty20 cricket with Kolkata Knight Riders of the Indian Premier League.
Flower, the England team director, accepts that his players want to cash in on the IPL but he never wastes an opportunity to remind them that it may not do their international aspirations any good.
‘Morgan has got some work to do on his Test game but I think that will be difficult for him considering the next cricket he plays will be in the IPL,’ said Flower.
Caught short: Morgan hit a highest score of 31 in the Test series
‘When he comes back from India he will have limited exposure to four-day cricket so he has to go away and give serious thought to his method in Test cricket. He has been severely tested by the Pakistan spinners here and has had a tough tour but I still think he has a very exciting future in Test cricket.
‘If he can get his game in order so that the next time he gets a Test chance he can grab it he will fulfil his career wishes and England will be a better team for it.’
It could be argued that if Morgan, at 25, really was serious about improving a Test record that has seen him score two centuries but average only 30 in 16 matches, then he should forget about the money in India and play in Middlesex’s first five Championship matches back in the first division.
Beneficiary: Ravi Bopara has been reinstated to the Test side
Yet, equally, it is vital for England that he relocates his one-day mojo and if he finds form with Kolkata then that could be to Flower’s advantage when England defend their World Twenty20 title, also in Sri Lanka, in October.
For now it is Bopara who is most
likely to benefit from Morgan’s absence in the two-Test tour that begins
in 10 days, even though he will have competition for the final batting
place in the England side from Samit Patel.
inclusion of the uncapped Patel is the biggest indication yet that he
has convinced Flower of his dedication and that he can reach the fitness
levels demanded of him by a highly professional regime.
is a classy batsman and could offer England a decent fifth bowling
option with his left-arm spin, and it is good that an individual talent
whose face has often seemed not to fit with both players and management
appears to have been accepted at last.
‘The addition of Patel gives us the flexibility of playing three quicks, (Graeme) Swann and a left-arm spinning all-rounder or indeed he could be the fifth bowler in a two-and-two attack like we had here,’ said Flower.
‘He will be competing with Ravi at No 6.’
The biggest surprise in the 16-man party was the inclusion of Kent off-spinner James Tredwell ahead of young spinning bucks like Danny Briggs, Scott Borthwick and Adil Rashid, but it is a pragmatic selection that gives England the security of an experienced, solid operator who will provide cover for Swann.
Tredwell, 30, took six wickets on his only Test appearance against Bangladesh and was last seen performing commendably in the World Cup this time last year. He would let nobody down if he was called upon in Galle or Colombo.
‘I’m pretty sure Sri Lanka will provide spinning conditions for us and we think the off-spinning position is a very important one,’ said Flower.
Another string: All-rounder Samit Patel will give England options
‘Tredwell will be there in case Swann goes down with injury or illness but it is unlikely both will play.’
England’s biggest test will come again in their efforts against spin in the sub-continent and they signalled their intention not to get caught cold this time by confirming that seven of their players will fly to Colombo on March 5, five days ahead of the rest of the squad, for a training camp to combat spin.
Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell, Steven Davies, Patel, Matt Prior, Monty Panesar and Tredwell will all travel early under the supervision of new full-time batting coach Graham Gooch.
Their success against the slower men — and Sri Lanka post-Murali do not provide the threat of Saeed Ajmal and Pakistan — will go a long way towards deciding whether England can hit back after their 3-0 thrashing here and preserve their status as the best Test team in the world.
Ravi v Samit – the battle to take Eoin Morgan’s place in England’s side
Strengths: One of the most naturally talented batsmen in England but in danger of becoming the Mark Ramprakash of his generation by not fulfilling his immense ability. Bopara once scored three Test hundreds in consecutive innings but was battered during the 2009 Ashes and has not been a first choice Test batsman since. Can wobble the seam around and get a bit of reverse swing and could fuflil the role of fifth bowler vacated by Paul Collingwood.
Weaknesses: The suspicion remains that he has a questionable temperament and Andy Flower never seems to have been totally convinced by him. The forgetful Bopara has not helped his cause by being late and leaving his passport at home ahead of a bonding trip but he reckons the puchase of an iPad has helped him organize his life – as long as he remembers to charge it up.
Under watch: Bopara (left) appears not to have fully convinced Andy Flower about his temperament while question marks remain about Patel's fitness
Strengths: Classy, wristy batsman who, as long ago as 2008, was considered good enough to play as a Test-batsman alone by the then captain Kevin Pietersen. Patel should thrive on the sub-continent while his left-arm spin, while not being good enough to be a frontline attacking option in Test cricket, is good enough for him to be considered a genuine fifth bowler in a balanced attack.
Weaknesses: The perennial question of his fitness levels and bulge has never really gone away even though he has looked trimmer and more athletic in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The question remains as to whether Patel, something of an individual, is properly accepted within the team – Graeme Swann is not exactly a bosom buddy for one but the England environment should be able to include and embrace the odd maverick.
Verdict: Bopara should start, not least because he was the spare Test batsman here and never got a chance, but it will not take much for Patel to start breathing down his neck. It is Ravi’s place to lose and Samit’s to win.