Selection is easy in hindsight, claimed Joe Root in the wake of England’s 381-drubbing in the first Test against West Indies. But rarely has a line-up been made to look quite so wrong-headed as in Barbados. ESPNcricinfo looks back on five other selection shockers that came back to rue the brains trust.
Arguably the most scandalous selection of England’s tour of India in 1992-93 occurred before a ball was bowled: David Gower’s and Jack Russell’s omissions outraged MCC to such an extent that a special general meeting was convened in protest. But even if those two causes célèbres had been picked, there’s no chance on earth that it could have made a difference in the series opener at Eden Gardens – thanks to the catastrophic line-up that Graham Gooch took the field with him.
The facts of the contest speak for themselves. England picked four frontline quicks (combined figures: 6 for 321), with the legspin of Ian Salisbury elevated ahead of John Emburey and Phil Tufnell on account of his greater rhythm in the nets. India, on the other hand, opted for three frontline spinners – Venkatapathy Raju, Anil Kumble and Rajesh Chauhan – who claimed 17 for 354 between them.
Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar (both allrounders) bowled just a handful of seam-up in either innings, while England’s only threat came from the part-time offspin of Graeme Hick (5 for 28 in the match). Mohammad Azharuddin (182) outscored England (163) in their first innings, and the tone for the series had been set.
On his day, Andrew Caddick was as awkward a seam bowler as England have selected in a generation – but it was his awkwardness as a character that seemed to count against him on far too many occasions. His non-selection for the 1998-99 Ashes tour was self-defeatingly dim-witted – he proved his point by taking 10 wickets at Sydney four years later – but a harbinger of that call had come at Headingley in the fourth Test of England’s home Ashes campaign in 1997. The series was locked at 1-1 but, after being stung into action by England’s incredible win at Edgbaston, Australia were the team on the march. They were denied by rain at Lord’s before Steve Waugh duked a dogfight at Old Trafford.
But then came Headingley, a traditional seamers’ paradise – and what did England choose to do? In their infinite wisdom, they decided the time was ripe to ditch Caddick, their leading hit-the-deck exponent, and choose instead a debutant left-arm swing bowler. I mean, who’d do such a thing?
With Australia wobbling at 50 for 4 in their first innings, legend has it that the series turned when Matthew Elliott, who made 199, was dropped by Graham Thorpe on 29 off the debutant Mike Smith. And yet that narrative ignores the fact that Smith never again came so close to claiming that elusive maiden wicket.
Caddick, on the other hand, still went on to glean 24 wickets at 26.41 in the other five Tests of the series – comfortably England’s outstanding performer.
For all that they have been the pre-eminent Test team of the past couple of years, India’s selection has let them down on more than a few occasions – particularly in South Africa and England in 2018, where they slumped to hard-fought series losses that looked more comprehensive on paper than they actually had been in reality.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s omission at Edgbaston was a case in point, but nothing was more self-defeating that their absurd team balance for the second Test at Lord’s. The left-arm wristspin of Kuldeep Yadav had been a sensation in the one-day leg of the England tour, so the urge to include him at some stage of the series was overwhelming.
But, given that the whole of the first day of the second Test had been washed out by rain, and that the second dawned dank and overcast too, the inclusion of Kuldeep, alongside a second spinner in R Ashwin and instead of the seamer Umesh Yadav, beggared belief.
Sure enough, James Anderson claimed 5 for 20 to rout India for 107, and in reply, Kuldeep was called upon for just nine flaky overs as England pounded out 396 for 7 declared to set up a thumping innings win, and a 2-0 series lead.
One of the weirdest selections of all time, and that’s saying something given England’s reputation for pinning donkeys onto their tails. There was something distinctly amiss about the latter months of Michael Vaughan’s England reign – the team was in transition and Graeme Smith’s South Africa (after finding their feet in a towering rearguard at Lord’s) were suddenly itching to outgun them on home soil.
But when Ryan Sidebottom, one of the few stalwarts of that mini-era, went lame on the eve of the match, the selectors decided to replace him with an Australian roof-tiler, two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, whom Vaughan admitted at the toss he knew next to nothing about – Darren Pattinson.
Apart from anything else, the decision was a final kick in the teeth for the hard-toiling Matthew Hoggard, who had been dumped unceremoniously during the winter tour of New Zealand, and who now wasn’t even trusted for an emergency encore on his Yorkshire home ground. England were duly stuffed by 10 wickets, and though Pattinson was an all-too-easy scapegoat, Vaughan admitted afterwards that the bizarre circumstances of his selection had left the dressing room baffled and unsettled.
Unsurprisingly, he never played again, though his brother James went on to play in the 2013 Ashes … for Australia.
Long before Nathan Lyon rocked up to provide Australia with their most reliable spin option since the mighty Shane Warne, Nathan Hauritz had been plugging away on a diligent line and length, fulfilling an unglamorous role with as much skill and professionalism as he could muster. He was, in short, an easy player to overlook.
But by doing just that, Australia squandered arguably their best chance of an Ashes win in England in nigh on two decades. Hauritz had picked off ten wickets in the first three Tests of the series when he was justifiably omitted for the fourth at Headingley – an extraordinary contest in which England were blitzed inside three days to draw the series level at 1-1 and leave everything hanging on the decider at The Oval.
But flushed with familiar Aussie confidence, and reassured that their pace attack had the measure of an England team that had seemed to be living on its wits for much of the summer, they failed to pay heed to a suspiciously dry Oval deck. And though Stuart Broad set up the win with the first of his now familiar Ashes rampages, the sight of Marcus North claiming four second-innings wickets was an indication to Australia of what they might have overlooked.
Sure enough, England’s own spinner Graeme Swann sealed a nervy victory with four scalps of his own, just when it seemed that a target of 546 might not be completely out of the question.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket
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