The top order conundrum
With the opening Test match of the summer just a few weeks away, there is one burning question for the selectors: what is the make up of our top five?
Usually, if you've just beaten Australia and South Africa the team picks itself. James Taylor's unfortunate retirement has meant one place is up for grabs, but with neither Alex Hales or Nick Compton cementing their places in the winter, three of the top five places are up for grabs - such a window of opportunity has not existed since the pre-Michael Vaughan era.
This opportunity has put a real spark into the early rounds of this year's county championship. Sam Robson has already hit a double century for Middlesex, while Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, James Vince and Ian Bell have all scored runs. In fact, the players who have yet to hit their strapes this season are Alex Hales and Nick Compton!
It'll be an interesting selectors meeting.
With my selectors hat on, I put some thought to how I would go for the opening Test match against my Sri Lanka and my view has changed in recent months!
Alex Hales - I think Hales is too good a talent to cast aside so soon. He's had four Test matches, away from home, against South Africa. I hear that Trevor Bayliss is someone that would rather give a player one too many Tests, than one too few. After the Test series in South Africa, Hales bounced back with an outstanding ODI series, that showed he has a lot of character. I think he deserves the Sri Lanka series to show whether he's learnt from the Test series in South Africa and made the necessary adjustments to his game to succeed at the highest level. If he fails against Sri Lanka, then I'd be looking at bringing back Sam Robson or Adam Lyth for the Pakistan series, if either of them can continue their impressive early season form.
Nick Compton - Now here's the big dilemma! Compton got off to an excellent start in South Africa with a gutsy innings in that 1st Test, but after that I felt his performances went backwards. When he was dropped before, people talked about his low scoring rate and the 'intenseness' in his game; these were certainly evident in the final three Tests in South Africa. Jonathan Trott was the perfect number three, he could adapt his game to the match situation. He had the ability to score at a quick rate by manoeuvring the ball around the field. He didn't have to score boundaries as he was always able to rotate the strike. With Compton it feels like he has one way to play and cannot adjust his game. Sad to say it, particularly as I'm a Middlesex fan, but Compton at three hasn't worked.
So with Hales in and Compton out of my eleven, who comes in at three and five?
Number three - Gary Ballance. This where I expect a ton of messages from Midnight, which will no doubt will be full of expletives!! But here's my rationale... In his first year of Test cricket, Ballance was a revelation at number three. He scored runs all round the wicket and could adjust his game to the match situation. I thought it was impressive how he could come in, blunt the attack and then accelerate his innings. Anyone that averages 47 in Test cricket with four Test centuries in his first 15 Tests must have something about him. The mistake the selectors made with Ballance was selecting him, at the last minute, for the 2015 World Cup. With hardly any ODI games in the build up to that competition and being thrown in at the last minute, he failed. And failed badly. His confidence was zapped away and that lack of confidence carried through into his Test appearances - although his innings was critical to us winning that first Ashes Test in Cardiff. I felt he got some unfair criticism. People started talking of his lack of footwork. But the lack of footwork was ok to get a Test average of 47 from his opening 15 Tests. It was lack of confidence from that ODI World Cup debacle that was responsible for his drop off in form. It's amazing what a lack of confidence can do. With a year or so away from international cricket, I think he deserves a second chance, with confidence restored, to build on the excellent start he made to his Test career. Let's just leave him to Test cricket, he's not a one day player, that's become clear. And for the argument of no footwork, Marcus Trescothick had no footwork, and he hasn't had a bad career! He's worth another go before put on the scrap heap for good.
Number five - James Vince. At number five I'd give James Vince a go. The lad has been getting some rave reviews and people liken him to Michael Vaughan. He definitely has put in the performances to be the next cab off the rank.
So a top order of Cook, Hales, Ballance, Root and Vince, with Stokes, Bairstow and Moeen coming in after that; Broad, Anderson and Finn to make up the bowling attack. I think that would be an exciting team for the summer and one that will be well equipped for the sub continent challenges this winter.
What are your thoughts?