Player A is 26 years old and averages 42.67 across 86 career matches. This season he is averaging 60.92.
Player B is 30 years old and averages 34.63 across 145 career matches. This season he is averaging 58.54.
Who are England more likely to select?
The answer is Player B. The one with the career average -8.04 runs per innings compared to Player A despite being 59 innings more experienced.
Player A is Surrey’s Rory Burns. Player B is his opening partner Mark Stoneman.
Another example that I’ve touched upon previously regarding an in-form selection is that of Ed Smith for England. Smith’s First Class average finished at 41.79. He was selected for the national side having made six hundreds in as many matches in the early part of the 2003 county season. He made 64 on Test debut but made only 23 runs in his next four innings before being jettisoned. Ultimately Smith’s sample size is too small to judge but here’s a stat: Smith averaged 2.61 centuries per season during a thirteen year First Class career. For the record, Ed Smith is one of my favourite pundits.
What I’m getting at though is that form often clouds the judgement of selectors as well as pundits and fans when consistency is a better indicator of a player’s ability. If you pick a player when their peaking then the only way is down.
Returning to Burns and Stoneman, The Caveman appears unruffled and phlegmatic at the crease. He may now at the age of thirty be applying all that he has learned over a decade long First Class career (As well as playing on a better wicket) and be primed to succeed at the highest level but if national sides are to select players purely on domestic form then there’ll be selecting a different team every week. It shouldn’t be about form but about whether or not that player is good enough for international cricket. What makes the Burns/Stoneman career comparison even more interesting is that Burns is actually averaging more than the much called for Stoneman this season. Burns’ average is elevated by one big score. His season best 219 not out is his sole century alongside six fifties (Consistency?). Stoneman has three hundreds but only one other fifty. He made 144 not out in the One-Day Cup final but was dropped early in the piece.
In the third Test against South Africa, England debutant Tom Westley has recorded debut scores of 25 and 59 but former national captain Nasser Hussain thinks that his game might get picked apart in Australia in the same way that John Crawley’s was.
Shall we drop Westley then?
Westley hasn’t been selected purely on form. His season stats are an average of 53.11 with two hundreds and as many fifties. Westley however has performed well for the England Lions and consistently delivered when playing for Essex against touring Test teams. Another England batsman, opener Keaton Jennings has made 0 and 48 in the same match. By all accounts it wasn’t pretty and he had some luck but if England opt to drop him then what happens if Stoneman comes in and registers scores of 0 and 48 on debut or 15 and 31 for that matter? Will he immediately be dropped?
It is the responsibility of the England selectors to see beyond form and identify true Test calibre. It is also their responsibility not to have their convictions swayed by just one or two low scores. Form shouldn’t cloud judgement.
Please forgive me for repeating some things that I have said in previous posts but I thought these observations and comparisons merited a write-up of their own… or maybe my judgement was clouded!