Injuries to Haseeb Hameed and Zafar Ansari have forced England to reshuffle their squad for their last two Tests in India. The men to get a call up are Keaton Jennings of Durham and Liam Dawson of Hampshire. Neither man getting a go in the England team does much to alleviate the disappointment of Hameed having to go home.
England cricketers have an issue to deal with that isn’t quite the same for a player from any other Test playing nation. Fans and journalists that follow England often get carried away when they see a new player emerge. There have been so many “new” Ian Bothams, Andrew Flintoffs and Alastair Cooks over the last 30 years that it is difficult to keep track. Excitement based on potential rather than achievement never makes a huge amount of sense.
At the other end of the opinion spectrum there are supporters of other teams who find giving England any credit anathema. There are even corners of the cricketing Twittersphere that don’t rate James Anderson.
So with England fans giving their players too much credit and everyone else refusing to give them enough, the middle ground is sparsely populated. Every now and then a player comes along that everyone can agree is the real deal. You have to concede that there is something special about Haseeb Hameed. India’s captain saw this, and Virat Kohli took the time to seek out the 19-year-old opening batsman and chat with him, speaking in gushing terms about his potential.
Hameed’s 59 not out in England’s second innings at Mohali was a performance full of skill, patience and guts, the three qualities most likely to see you succeed at the Test level. Yes, we English folks do get over excited about players, but this time it feels different. Walking into the highest pressure overseas tour outside a trip to Australia and facing 640 balls and making two half centuries as a teenager is fantastic; to score the second of those fifties with a broken hand is downright amazing. This time the hype may not be enough. Perhaps there should be some sort of open top bus parade and an MBE. After all, Paul Collingwood got that for scoring 17 runs in a drawn match at the Oval.
But Hameed’s tour is over. He is flying home to have a plate put in his broken hand and he will not be available for the rest of this series. England’s next Test cricket assignment will be in July, 2017. By then you would hope that Hameed will have had the time to recover and to bash out a few more hundreds for Lancashire before he is needed again.
While Hameed may be heading home dreaming of a summer playing South Africa and the West Indies, England still have two more Test matches against India to get through before Christmas. They are short an opening batsman, and have replaced Hameed with Durham’s Keaton Jennings, who had his best ever season in first-class cricket this summer. Jennings’ previous best season was in 2013 where he made 822 runs at 31.61. In 2016, he scored 1602 runs at an average of 64.08 included seven hundreds.
If England are looking for the next best opener in England, then Jennings is a fair bet. The son of former South Africa coach Ray Jennings, he made his first-class debut in South Africa in 2011. A former South Africa under-19s captain, Jennings decided to make his way in England after a successful season for Durham’s academy in 2011 and played his first game for the county at the end of the 2012 season. Jennings’ mother is from the North East, but he had to serve a four year qualification spell before he could picked for England, something that came to an end this summer.
There is no one that doubts his talents, and he was perhaps unlucky not to have made the original squad when it was announced in September, but now he has his chance. He is going to captain the England Lions in a match in the UAE, before flying to meet up with England in Mumbai next week.
Jennings will become Alastair Cook’s 11th opening partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, and he will have to play very well to push himself ahead of Hameed for next summer. It will be a tough ask for him. Jennings has never played a first-class match in Asia, his position as not yet qualified player meant he was not selected on Lions tours in the past. Expecting him to arrive in India and succeed straight away is perhaps wanting more from him than he can give.
And then there is Liam Dawson, a man that the England management clearly admire. Speaking about Dawson after an underwhelming ODI debut against Pakistan in September, England’s coach Trevor Bayliss expressed his admiration for him.
“He's a guy who's got something about him. He bats, bowls and he's a pretty good fielder as well. But it's his game sense [that's impressive] - he knows how to play the game, almost knows what's going to happen before it happens.”
This sounds great, but Dawson’s 20 wickets at 43.85 in the County Championship in 2016 are not numbers that get the blood racing. Chances are he won’t get a game, and if he does, there is little to suggest that at this point in his career he will have any more success than Ansari and Gareth Batty have on this tour to date. Three spinners seems one to many and barring injury, England aren’t going to drop Moeen Ali or Adil Rashid.
What England need is another batsman. Ben Duckett and Gary Ballance are on the tour, but both have been dropped and are unlikely to return. From a man management point of view neither of them can be sent home, but with Ansari departing there was a chance to bring in someone to bolster the batting. You may then end up with that man batting at eight behind Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, but with England failing to get past 300 in their last four innings, that would be no bad thing. Liam Dawson has an OK record in first-class cricket as a batsman, but there are many better candidates in that regard. While Dawson may be just the kind of character England are looking for, it is doubtful that he is the right kind of cricketer.
Some may argue that Jack Leach was unlucky not to get a call-up, but if England are looking at his long term development, he will get far more out of playing in the UAE than from carrying beverages in India. The solution to England’s problems is not another spinner, be that Dawson or Leach.
Before the Mohali Test there was some serious questions about what England’s best team would be. After these two new additions to the squad they have only increased.