Managers tend to pick a strategy that is the least likely to fail, rather then to pick a strategy that is most efficient. The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move.Moneyball (2003)
In the last 35 years England have had just 15 batsmen who averaged more than 40 over their career. Expectations should shift: aspire to players averaging 40; accept batsmen averaging 35.
The chart below may surprise you – it surprised me. How could barely any recent English batsman reach the benchmark set for them? Averaging 40 (at least in my head) was a minimum, not an elite average.
The data speaks for itself- 45 isn’t the new 40. 35 is the benchmark, and has been for a long time.
We, the red ball loving hordes (and our journalist generals) need to help the selectors by having realistic expectations.
The selectors should return the favour: stick with players that are good enough, even if they aren’t stars, and even if pundits are piling on the pressure.
Next time someone is 10 tests into their career, averaging 34 and with the data saying they would average 35 long term, let’s not call for a change because they aren’t scoring enough. Only remove them if a better prospect comes along – not someone with similar numbers who we might want to gamble on.
There’s a great case study: Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, and received wisdom is that he is yet to be replaced as an opener. We wanted the next Strauss. We should have been looking for the next Rob Key (15 tests averaging 31 between 2003-2005 while we waited for the next star batsman to come along).
Instead Cook was partnered by Compton (average 31) – Root (42) – Carberry (28) – Robson (31) – Trott (12) – Lyth (20) – Ali (14) – Hales (27) – Duckett (23) – Hameed (32) – Jennings (27) – Stoneman (28) – Jennings
Remember who Carberry got his runs against? An away Ashes series in 2013: Harris, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon, Watson. Those 281 runs were well earned.
With hindsight, pretty much every pick between Robson and Jennings was an error. England had viable alternatives for Strauss 3 times: Compton, Carberry and Robson. Having rejected them, playing people out of position (Trott / Ali) and gambling on youth (Duckett / Hameed) as the next cabs off the rank as England moved ever further down the list of possibles.
England chose weaker options because they weren’t willing to settle for a batsman averaging in the low-30s. That cost England runs- and since the selectors’ are employed to pick the best team possible, this is a failure. One they don’t get criticised enough for. Fear not, dear reader, we know England’s best batting options– and will collectively tut if the selectors deviate from them!
Conclusion: England should hold their nerve, even if Burns and Jennings are only averaging 33 coming into the Ashes.