There goes the neighbourhood.
Since the announcement of The Hundred, not a week has gone by without outrage thrown in the ECB’s direction. Perhaps though, that’s been part of the plan: adequate conditioning for an almighty backlash. Well, it might not be what they had in mind, but here it is. Welcome to Hot Take City. Population: Adil Rashid.
Despite turning his back on red-ball cricket in February, Rashid will be one of 13 competing for selection for the first Test against India next week. If selected, it will be his first Test on home soil. If selected, the dissent in some quarters will be deafening. It’s pretty loud already truth be told.
The seed was sown by Ed Smith prior to the first India ODI at Nottingham about whether Rashid would entertain a return to the Test side. “At no stage did I give him any assurances about selection even if he was available,” England’s selection Tsar said. “It became clear he was open to returning.”
Further conversations followed between Smith, Test captain Joe Root and head coach Trevor Bayliss as to whether they would fancy the opportunity to pick Rashid. Given the form he was showing in the ODIs, both responded positively. And so, Smith returned to Rashid with something more concrete.
“I spoke to Adil again and said what is your availability, what is your level of interest and passion in playing Test cricket? He said he was available all summer and all winter. I said ‘good to hear’.”
By now, we are on the eve of Yorkshire’s Championship match against Lancashire in the most recent round of the County Championship, completed on Wednesday. It’s the day before this squad was announced. This is where things get a tad messy. Smith asked if Rashid would consider playing in the match. All the while, Yorkshire were being kept abreast of those conversations only by Smith. Rashid declined. One wonders if the rebuttal came because, by this point, Rashid was pretty certain he’d be considered as a Test starter regardless? A digression for another day.
Smith, to his credit, did his utmost to keep everyone in the loop. And, if anything, he has exposed a glitch in the system – that you can only be selected for England if you have a county contract, never mind the format you are or aren’t playing – that will now be rectified. To paraphrase Jay-Z: Ed Smith didn’t invent the game – he’s just rolling the dice, trying to get some change. “I am tasked to put the best available squad together to give to the captain and the coach to pick the XI on the day. That’s the extent of my job.” Despite his new romantic leanings, Smith refutes the idea that selecting heads were turned by Rashid’s outrageous dismissal of Virat Kohli in the third and final India ODI.
His sentiments were not shared by Yorkshire, who will now be without Rashid for the bulk of their T20 Blast campaign having not had the benefit of his presence in their Championship side. Director of cricket Martyn Moxon said it bluntly: “We are pretty disappointed with both the ECB’s and Adil’s decision.” Chief executive Mark Arthur had stronger words again: “I hope that England know what they’re doing to Adil, and the county game.” To Adil, not with. Draw your own conclusions there.
Some argue Rashid is lucky. Others might say it’s a stroke of fortune he has deserved. The statements aren’t mutually exclusive. Remember, the decision for him to opt for a white-ball-only contract was made with no intention of playing red-ball cricket, including Tests. It was a door that Rashid himself had closed when he approached Yorkshire earlier this year with that arrangement in mind. It opened him up to honing his skills ahead of the 2019 World Cup, while also offering him the chance to explore other opportunities. Had he been picked up in the IPL, he would have played a full part in the competition, making him a more attractive prospect than his countrymen with Test commitments.
He’s also fortunate that a thumb injury and concussion has limited Jack Leach to 100.4 overs this summer with just 37 of those since May. “We all felt it would not be fair on England or Jack to put him into a Test match against India,” said Smith. Amid the bluster around Rashid, this is a welcome change of tact. England have not always approached selection meetings with considerations of what is right for the wellbeing of individuals.
It’s also worth looking at the events leading up to Rashid’s decision to neglect the red ball to get a fuller sense of the bigger picture. He was dropped after a series in India during which he looked to have stepped up a level in the first three Tests, before falling away at the back end of a long tour. He returned 23 wickets – no other Englishman took more than 10 – and an economy rate of 3.70.
At the start of the next home summer, Liam Dawson was picked ahead of him as the second spinner in the series against South Africa. Rashid was then spurned for the Ashes as England’s management instead plumped for an untried and untested Mason Crane as their dedicated leg-spinner. On his Test debut, Crane returned figures of 1 for 193. The collective response? “Well Shane Warne only took 1 for 150 on his debut!” Oddly, you didn’t hear much of that when Rashid’s first go in Tests nought for 163 against Pakistan. Perhaps he took the hint?
So then, what does this mean for the County Championship? Smith, who describes himself as an England player for two minutes and a county cricketer for life, sees no slight: “In no way is there any sense that I would do anything to damage county cricket. However, in these circumstances where the context pre-dated my involvement as England selector, the panel unanimously felt that the right selection was Adil Rashid in the squad.”
It is arguable that picking Jamie Porter – who has 234 first-class wickets since the start of 2015, 89 coming in Essex’s Championship winning 2017 – does more to reinforce county cricket than Rashid’s inclusion diminishes it. So, too, the insistence from Smith to Rashid that if he wishes to play Test cricket into 2019 season, he must have a contract that includes playing four-day cricket. It’s safe to say that whatever new deal the 30-year-old strikes, it will be away from Headingley.
There is a sadness here, even if both parties may be keener than ever to part ways. Rashid is a Yorkshire-born boy, introduced to the game by his father, Abdul, who moved to Bradford from Pakistan and honed Adil’s early promise on the artificial surface of a hockey pitch just up the road. Now, Abdul will act as one of Adil’s representatives in showdown talks with Yorkshire. Even if you do not buy into their “Your Yorkshire” bumper-sticker slogan, it is hard not to feel a tinge of dismay that a county and set of fans that pride themselves on England call-ups are in such apoplexy over one.
At the start of 2016, when it looked like Rashid’s days as a Test cricketer were numbered, one of the varied criticisms levelled at him was that he was too aloof. But with all the white noise around him right now, set to continue one way or another as the story develops over the next month, shutting off could quickly become one of his most valuable strengths.
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