NASSER HUSSAIN: Joe Root is right to stick with Chris Woakes IF the pitch says so


NASSER HUSSAIN: England have consistency got selections wrong over the past couple of years… but Joe Root is right to stick with Chris Woakes for the series decider in Grenada IF the pitch says so

  • England have consistently struggled with choosing teams over the last few years
  • Matt Parkinson for Chris Woakes might have made sense in the right conditions
  • One positive to emerge from last game was the performance of Saqib Mahmood 

One area England have consistently struggled with over the last couple of years has been selection — and I just hope they have got it right for the final Test against West Indies in Grenada.

There was plenty of chat during and after the draw in Barbados about what England got wrong, with one common solution to pick the leg-spinner Matt Parkinson and drop Chris Woakes.

But my problem with the way England have gone about things is that they have either selected teams too far in advance, or picked the side they should have chosen for the last game.

England’s Chris Woakes shouldn’t be ditched for third Test simply because of his past record

Yes, Parkinson for Woakes might have made sense. But only if conditions in Grenada called for it. Too often, England haven’t picked a side based on the pitch that is staring them in the face.

Think back to Ahmedabad last year, when they selected four seamers on a turning pitch and lost inside two days. Or Brisbane, where they chose Jack Leach on a greentop and left out Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Or the next Test at Adelaide, where they left Leach out and it turned — and Ollie Robinson ended up bowling off-breaks.

Whatever new structure England put in place in time for the summer, they have got to make sure they get the selection right. And if that means going back to a national selector, so be it.

Ed Smith didn’t get everything right: Broad was dropped and Sam Curran ended up opening the bowling in Barbados. But he was independent and challenged the dressing room.

Joe Root has assessed what¿s in front of him and decided that Chris Woakes is still his man

Joe Root has assessed what’s in front of him and decided that Chris Woakes is still his man

One thing I would say about this series in the Caribbean is that the pitches in Antigua and Barbados did not make for good cricket. England could have picked Broad and Anderson and still failed to take 20 wickets. The conditions have made for a turgid series.

But that’s where I don’t quite get the continued selection of Woakes on unhelpful pitches overseas. In England, he would be the first name on my teamsheet. He averages 22 with the ball, 35 with the bat and is a great team man. He’s the full package.

Overseas, it’s a different matter. In this series, he’s taken two wickets at 86 apiece, and his 33 Test wickets abroad have cost 54 each. Whether he bowls the wrong length, or needs the ball to do more off the seam, it’s not working for him.

But I repeat: if Grenada looks like it’s got grass on it, and England are worried about their batting, Woakes shouldn’t be ditched simply because of his past record. Clearly, Joe Root has assessed what’s in front of him and decided that Woakes is his man once more.

On the flipside, if it looked like it was going to be another flat one, then Parkinson had to come into consideration. English cricket has always had a mistrust of leg-spin, but what’s the point of having him on tour if you’re not going to pick him in conditions that cry out for something a bit different?

In Barbados, it was clear the pitch was another belter for batting, but England went in with four right-arm fast-medium seamers and a finger spinner. They all tried their heart out. But can they honestly say it was the right selection?

One positive to emerge from the second Test was the performance of bowler Saqib Mahmood

One positive to emerge from the second Test was the performance of bowler Saqib Mahmood

We’ve all got it wrong at times. I can’t pretend I didn’t when I was captain. But this England team seem to get it wrong more than they should. That has to change.

One positive to emerge from the last game was the performance of Saqib Mahmood. I’ve always liked the look of him.

I just hope we don’t go down the path of saying he’s a specialist for overseas pitches, because in English conditions with the Dukes ball this guy can be a real handful — as we saw when Mahmood opened the bowling in the Covid-hit one-day series against Pakistan last summer.

But in terms of finding a bowling attack that can thrive in any conditions — and that’s a big part of what this red-ball reset is about — Mahmood is ticking boxes.

Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone will all hopefully be available at some point too. There is plenty to be excited about.

In the meantime, I just hope England use a bit more common sense when it comes to choosing their teams.



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