The Wrong Stuff

In the quest to replace Andrew Flintoff and to have a variety of bowling options, there is a possibility of England picking Luke Wright to bat at number seven in the first Test match in South Africa. Although it is understandable that England wants a five-man bowling attack, Wright simply lacks sufficient quality with bat or ball to merit Test selection.

Wright is a destructive and clean-striking hitter of a cricket ball. He is a fine fielder and bowler capable of hitting almost 90mph, so it is easy to see why Wright has been touted for Test honours. It is an appealing idea to have Wright come in at number seven and demoralise bowling attacks in a manner not dissimilar of Flintoff. But such a notion is not ground in reality.

Wright has so far played 28 ODIs, averaging just 22 with the bat, despite being given significant opportunities to open the innings. With the ball, his ten wickets have come at a cost of 47 apiece – so where exactly is the evidence of a man able to make a valuable contribution to the side batting at number seven?

It is first worth considering what England would regard as a good series from their number seven against South Africa. Realistically, Andy Flower may hope he could average 30-35 with the bat, including some momentum-seizing 50s, and claim perhaps 10 wickets at an average of under 40. If he were to perform that task, few could argue he is not worth his place in the side.

But he simply would not. Wright’s technique remains far too flawed for him to score consistently at Tests, especially against pace bowling of the calibre of Dale Steyn. Indeed, he has only ever scored two county championship centuries. His bowling bustles and is improving but a first-class bowling average of 43 doesn’t lie: it tells the story of a man who could not even be trusted to contain, let alone threaten. Revealingly, Paul Collingwood (a shoe-in for the first Test), is entrusted with the ball more in ODIs and has a lower first-class bowling average. Along with Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, that is sufficient bowling to augment the four frontline bowlers.

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Wright has potential, certainly, but his selection, especially for such a challenging series, would wreak of prematurity: this is a man who needs to cement his place in the limited-overs sides and do more for Sussex in the four-day arena before he should be considered a viable Test candidate. His selection would be a throwback to the pre-Flintoff days, when England were so desperate for an all-rounder that they selected men, such as Ronnie Irani, who patently lacked either the batting or bowling quality required.

Having Matt Prior at six and Wright at seven would not inspire confidence. If England beef up their top-order, selecting all six of their specialist batsmen with Prior an ideal number seven, they should be able to regularly compile scores of 400 plus in their first innings. And that, rather than through bits n’ pieces men, is how Test matches are won.