How Many Chances Is Too Many?
How many chances should a player get to prove his worth at international level?
And how many chances is too many exactly?
At what point do you ‘give up’ up on someone as a Test player?
Two names sure to stoke the this particular fire are Gary Ballance and Samit Patel. Every time. Guaranteed.
Others will occasionally feature if their domestic form dictates, but ultimately the same question rears its head.
At what point do you draw a line under someones international career? Or at least, consign them to a specific format? With Alex Hales perhaps the obvious example here.
For a front line batsmen, which Ballance undoubtedly is, weight of runs is an oft cited example of why a player should be in the England team – this goes both for those finding a place in the side, such as Keaton Jennings in 2016, but also as a stick with which to beat the selectors when consistent scorers like James Hildreth appear to be overlooked.
It also muddies the water on occasions, with Ballance perhaps a perfect example of that long held belief that domestic success should translate to international recognition – with the Yorkshire captain currently boasting 997 first class runs at 83.08 from 15 innings, third behind Joe Denly (1,022 runs at 63.87 from 18 innings (in Division 2, if you’re a cynic)) and the peerless Kumar Sangakkara.
The belief is that, despite this domestic success, Ballance flaws are simply too easily exposed at international level – that the Australians figured him out in 2015 and that was that. His 2016 return a further example of this.Embed from Getty Images
The difficulty here is that the 2016 recall likely came against all sensible logic; Ballance was not in great form when he was thrust back in to the Test spotlight in a fiercely contested (but in a good way) series.
Some will say he should have been able to work through it – that the signs of his international quality should have shone through despite such ‘intangible’ factors like being ‘in good nick’.
This seems like an incredibly tough stance to take. In many ways it would be like recalling a footballer with a calf strain then asking why he failed to perform for England.
The long and the short of it – a player should be given the best possible chance to succeed before being cast aside.
In that respect, one should almost cast aside the questionable 2016 recall. Judge Ballance by what he does this summer, against a talented South Africa side who are wounded following their Lords capitulation.
But the question still remains – what does it take for him to nail down a place? And how much patience should England show? Not just with Ballance, but any player.
No one has an answer to this really.
Take David Boon as an example, a man who went on to become one of Australia’s finest middle order batsmen but also a man who scored just 173 runs in his first five Test matches in 1984/85, taking eleven Tests to register his first hundred (123 vs India at Adelaide).
Some would have had him kicked to the curb rather too quickly; Australia’s faith in the Tasmanian eventually yielding 7,422 tuns at 43.65 in 107 Tests.
Where one man can race out of the blocks, as Ballance perhaps did with three hundreds in his first six Test matches, others take time; and this is what makes the question so hard to answer.
There are those who feel Samit Patel was hard done by last week as England sought a batting spinner, eventually settling on Liam Dawson.Embed from Getty Images
Equally there were others who felt the six Tests he previously had, the last of which came in 2015, were enough to prove he was not a top tier player.
Patel, like Ballance, has scored a healthy number of runs this season (744 at 67.63; though like Denly there will be those who view second Divison runs as ‘less worthy’) and has been at the very least a reliable County spinner throughout his career whilst missing very little time due to injury despite ‘fitness’ concerns.
Again it is worth highlighting that the last of Patel’s Test matches came more than 18 months ago; and it is not as if he has learned nothing since his last outing in Sharjah against Pakistan – with Nottinghamshire coach Pete Moores reaping the rewards of placing greater responsibility on the 32-year-old.
If England wanted someone who could bat and turn his arm over, Patel has a right to feel aggrieved this summer. If England wanted a ‘first choice spinner’, with Moeen’s roll still seen as batsman first and spinner second, then again the question comes back to why they chose Dawson over someone like Rashid, Jack Leach (though that bridge may have already been burnt) or even Mason Crane.
The ins and outs of one selection aside, there will naturally come a point where even the most patient of captains has to draw a line under a certain players Test career.
We may inadvertently have seen the last of Dawson via simple tactical changes as the current Test Series moves to Trent Bridge – with four seamers more likely to feature, especially if Chris Woakes is fit – but does that mean Dawson is categorically done at the highest level?
With slightly modest returns from his two Tests, some would undoubtedly say ‘yes’ and that it was time to move on – others, would say it’s too early to judge.
And thus we come back to our opening question – how many chances should a player get to prove his worth at international level?