Pringle: Late call-ups can certainly work out
There are those who argue selection is an art, rather than a science, and that England’s selectors should be paid as much as its coaches. But what happens when a player like Keaton Jennings triumphs? Do they get a bonus for being bold or hand some money back, Jennings’ arrival in India being down to happenstance rather than shrewd judgment?
As masters of off-field spin, the selectors will say that Jennings owed his chance to Haseeb Hameed’s injury.
Others might argue that an alternative opener, Ben Duckett, was already in the squad and that, as an original pick, he should have replaced Hameed for the Mumbai Test.
But then again, overlooking Duckett, whose technique against quality spin is flawed, and thrusting a relative unknown into a pivotal Test at the Wankhede stadium, takes chutzpah, so it could be six plaudits for and half a dozen brickbats against, depending on your point of view.
Jennings is not the first player to arrive unbidden and play the hero. Alastair Cook did something similar in India on his debut ten years ago.
Jetting into Nagpur from the West Indies where he was touring with England Lions, following injury to Michael Vaughan and an emotional breakdown to Marcus Trescothick, Cook opened in Nagpur and scored 60 and an unbeaten 104. England drew that Test so Jennings can get one over his captain should they manage to prevail this time in Mumbai.
Chris Lewis also responded to a late call-up for England, this time from Grade Cricket in Adelaide during the 1994/5 Ashes tour. A back injury to Graeme Hick gave Lewis his first Test action in almost a year and he responded with six wickets, four of them in Australia’s second innings, as England went on to win by 106 runs.
With the Ashes already gone it was something of a pyrrhic victory though not for Lewis, who went on to play another six Tests on the back of his unexpected renaissance.
Unlike Cook and Jennings, Lewis was an established Test player at that stage, albeit one dogged by inconsistency.
Psychologists will tell you that one of the reasons players thrust unexpectedly into the cauldron often do well is that there is little weight of expectation on them. I can recall Bob Willis saying that his first England captain, Ray Illingworth, told him that he’d had a good Test debut after he’d taken one for 27 against the Aussies in Sydney.
Parameters change, though, and neither Cook nor Jennings seems the kind of person happy to settle for anything less than a fifty, even on debut.
If Cook’s flowering in Nagpur was impressive, Jennings’ probably pips it, providing we disregard the dropped catch when he was on nought. The main reason for rating his knock more highly is because the ball turned sharply and he would never have encountered a spinner as classy as Ravichandran Ashwin in such helpful conditions. Under those circumstances it was a bravura performance.
Such excellence is rare among novices. Generally, sudden late arrivals respond like the afterthoughts they are, even when they have bags of experience to call upon. England were getting blitzed by Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson when Colin Cowdrey was called up to bolster a team bruised and battered after just one Test. Aged 41 at the time, Cowdrey was thrust into the 2nd Test at the WACA with scarcely a sighter before facing some of the most fearsome fast bowling ever seen in an age before helmets. Those present say he did not shy from the challenge and was not overwhelmed either. Indeed, his bravery ensured he played in the remaining four Tests after Perth despite averaging only 18.3 and with a top score of 41. If the current trend for late replacements is that they go on to have decent Test careers, there are also those who have been strictly one-offs, stop-gaps in the right place at the right time when injury or illness has struck the squad proper. It is a category to which Sussex’s Tony Pigott belongs, a whole-hearted performer famous for tearing in to bowl at breakneck speed, though not always with the ball reaching a corresponding velocity. Pigott was playing club cricket in New Zealand when Willis, England captain at the time, broke Neil Foster’s toe in the nets with a yorker. Quite why England did not have enough cover is one of those mysteries that nobody seems able to recall. Going into the Test series, Graham Dilley had been leading wicket-taker in the warm-up games only to be rebuffed when the important cricket came around.
England lost the first Test in Wellington, in which Foster played, then picked Pigott for the second, his local knowledge apparently being the clincher.
According to Graeme Fowler, who played in the match, England’s plan was to bang it in short and bounce New Zealand out. Trouble was, it was a ropey pitch on which a full length was even more hazardous, as Richard Hadlee revealed with eight for 44.
Anyway, Pigott, presumably bowling to order, took two for 75 in a humbling defeat and never played for England again. A fairly philosophical fellow, Pigott would probably settle for his lot as compared to Ricardo Ellcock, picked for England’s 1990 tour of the West Indies.
A bustling fast bowler, Ellcock bowled just six balls in the nets on that trip before returning home with a back problem.
Although he recovered to return to county duty with Middlesex, he never played for England – living proof second chances can elude main squad members as well as late replacements like Pigott.
Psychologists will tell you that one of the reasons players thrust unexpectedly into the cauldron often do well is there is little expectation
Back with a bang: Chris Lewis made a successful return after a late call-up for England in Australia
Dream debut: Alastair Cook scored a ton in India