Chris Waters: Alex Hales and Nick Compton fortunate to be in the Headingley mix

AFTER all the hype and hullabaloo, after all the talk that the early weeks of the Championship season would be a rare chance for players to stake their Test claims, the squad for the first Test at Headingley next week was anti-climactic to say the least.
Middlesex's Nick Compton (Picture: Jed Leicester/PA Wire).Middlesex's Nick Compton (Picture: Jed Leicester/PA Wire).
Middlesex's Nick Compton (Picture: Jed Leicester/PA Wire).

The only change to the batting line-up was the selection of James Vince in place of the unfortunate James Taylor, who was forced to retire with a heart condition, and the expected inclusion of pace bowler Jake Ball, who could potentially – although by no means certainly – take the third seamer’s position ahead of Steven Finn.

Other than that, England opted for continuity or conservatism, depending on your viewpoint, as they retained under-fire batsmen Alex Hales and Nick Compton despite what might be called flimsy evidence.

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Selection decisions are never easy, but was this a case of indecision is final?

First things first, fair play to Vince.

Anyone who can make a hundred against the Yorkshire attack must have something about them, and stylistic comparisons with Michael Vaughan are not the worst thing to have on a batsman’s CV.

The Hampshire captain has impressed in white-ball cricket, and England coach Trevor Bayliss is a firm admirer.

In addition, Vince has successfully captained the England Lions, an important pathway into the senior side.

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Vince, indeed, has been knocking on the door for some time, and when he scored 119 against Yorkshire at Headingley the other day, he practically removed that door from its hinges.

From that moment, his position in the top-five to face Sri Lanka at Leeds from next Thursday seemed all-but guaranteed.

Fair play, too, to Jake Ball.

He has been a wrecking ball for Notts this season, and another good individual showing against Yorkshire, in the match at Trent Bridge, was an obvious feather in his cap.

However, it is difficult to see what Hales and Compton have done to retain their places, with neither boasting a convincing Test record nor compelling form in this year’s Championship.

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Hales has scored 143 runs in three innings for Notts – not a bad return, granted, but hardly an earth-shattering one – and Compton has made 100 runs in six innings for Middlesex.

Indeed, if you were to take a straw-poll of cricket fans in this country, and particularly those who keep tabs on county and Test cricket, I would be surprised if Hales and Compton featured prominently in their first-choice Test line-ups.

Neither man did enough in the last series in South Africa to warrant another go, and although it could be argued that some players have not done enough in county cricket to usurp them, the Yorkshire pair of Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance have the feel of better long-term bets.

Hales appears to be in the team because England think they need a David Warner-type player at the top of the order as opposed to just a reliable Test batsman, while Compton seems a curious pick in Bayliss’s brave new world.

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Compton, indeed, will be returning to the Headingley ground where he lost his place after making seven from 45 balls against New Zealand three years ago when quick runs were wanted.

Whether he ends up batting at No 3 at Headingley and Hales opens, or vice-versa, may make little difference.