England’s selectors tend to avoid the unexpected. It is as if the present lot are making up for their predecessors in the previous hundred years or so, when it was only a surprise if there were no surprises.
Consistency is their watchword, continuity their mantra. The choice of Ravi Bopara in the squad for the Champions Trophy seems to have a foot in both camps.
It was unpredictable in that Bopara was omitted for the entire winter operations, but on the other hand a surefire bet given the selectors’ preferred perspective. They are not letting him go into the county sunset without giving him an opportunity to drink the last-chance saloon dry.
Bopara, 28 this weekend, has appeared in 83 one-day internationals for England out of the 141 they have played since he made his debut in 2007. He has never quite either nailed down his place or wholly convinced that this is where he belongs.
His recall for a tournament which England have genuine prospects of winning is predicated on several factors. The absence through injury of Kevin Pietersen left a vacant place for a batsman who also bowls and with such experience, Bopara had an obvious advantage. He is also always good to have around.Doubtless it helps too that Andy Flower, England’s coach, has always had a soft spot for Bopara and that Alastair Cook, the captain, grew up with him at Essex.
Flower no longer has direct responsibility for England’s limited-overs sides but he remains a selector for all teams. Naturally, he will have brought objectivity to bear but when you have played with a man, as Flower did in 109 matches for Essex, and when you have shared a partnership of 339, as Flower and Bopara did at Cardiff in 2006, it perhaps lends a different aspect to proceedings. Flower knows intimately what Bopara can do.
Bopara has been preferred in the 15-man squad ahead of Samit Patel, who can consider himself a shade unfortunate. Patel has never been allowed the run of opportunity as a batsman by England that he might have deserved but his slow left-arm bowling is not quite up to the mark often enough.
The rest of the squad is completely as expected. Both Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann are back following elbow operations, Jos Buttler is retained as wicketkeeper after taking over from his Somerset colleague Craig Kieswetter in India in January, James Tredwell is given the second spinner’s berth having proved himself as worthy and reliable, Joe Root’s meteoric rise continues unabated.
Root was probably the last subject of a selection surprise when he was named in the team for the fourth Test against India in Nagpur in December having spent much of the tour carrying drinks, having nets and thumb twiddling. He made 73 and has never looked back.
From the look of it, Root will form the first-choice middle order with Jonathan Trott, Eoin Morgan and Buttler. The bowling will consist of Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn, Stuart Broad, Bresnan or Chris Woakes and Swann.
England have failed too often before in major one-day tournaments for there to be any complacency about their prospects. Ten World Cups, six Champions Trophies, four finals, no victories, spell a tale of doom, gloom, poor planning and misguided strategy.
Last time the Champions Trophy was held in England in 2004, the hosts were defeated in the final after having West Indies apparently down and out. This squad looks properly assembled. Of the 15 players, seven are 26 or under, four are 30 or over. It has modernity on its side and in England next month that will count for plenty.
ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THE CHAMPIONS TROPHY…
A N Cook (Essex; capt) Age 28 Caps 64
J M Anderson (Lancs) 30 167
J M Bairstow (Yorks) 23 7
I R Bell (Warks) 31 127
R S Bopara (Essex) 28 83
T T Bresnan (Yorks) 28 69
S C J Broad (Notts) 26 96
J C Buttler (Somerset) 22 6
S T Finn (Midds) 24 33
E J G Morgan (Midds) 26 94
J E Root (Yorks) 22 8
G P Swann (Nottts) 34 76
J C Tredwell (Kent) 31 14
I J L Trott (Warks) 32 57
C R Woakes (Warks) 24 11