TAXI FOR Ed Smith. Why, I’ll even pay for it myself after the decision to leave Jonny Bairstow out of the England Test squad to tour New Zealand.
What are Smith and his fellow selectors playing at?
I’ll rephrase that: do Smith and his fellow selectors have the slightest clue what they are playing at full-stop?
In this case, they have dropped their best wicketkeeper/batsman and replaced him, in Jos Buttler, with an inferior wicketkeeper and an inferior batsman.
It is just one of a number of dubious decisions the selectors have made.
It is not Bairstow who should be axed but Smith and his cronies.Chris Waters
Of course, no has a divine right to a place in the England side.
Bairstow has had a difficult year by his own high standards; he averaged 23.77 in the five Tests against Australia.
But he kept wicket superbly (not least to the searing pace of Jofra Archer), he played an important part in England’s World Cup triumph and, like many of his colleagues, he was kept in check by a high-quality Australia pace attack at the end of a physically and mentally demanding period of cricket, something that needs to be taken into account.
His reward? To be unceremoniously kicked out and patronisingly told by Smith that he has to “reset”, which basically means that he has to force his way back into the team as a batsman alone - a reflection not only of the fact that he is an outstanding batsman but also the lack of talented top-order batsmen in England today, which is another subject entirely.
Bairstow, in fact, is a victim of his own success, of a county system that does not produce enough good batsmen and of a selection panel who seem to want to give the gloves to anyone but him - presumably Ben Foakes in the long-term if his batting comes through.
Incredibly, just three days before discarding him, England awarded Bairstow a Test contract, a classic example of an absence of joined-up thinking.
Yes, you might say that it shows that Bairstow is still part of their thinking, still part of their plans, but not to the extent that the Yorkshireman should be.
If not Bairstow for New Zealand, then why Buttler? After all, Bairstow averaged 23.77 in the Ashes compared with Buttler’s 24.70, hardly a compelling case for Buttler’s elevation if there was to be a change.
Buttler has made only five first-class hundreds in his whole career; Bairstow has made 24 - often brilliant, backs-to-the-wall efforts and always with the best interests of his team at heart.
Bairstow also has the happy knack of inspiring colleagues with momentum-changing performances - not least Ben Stokes during this summer’s Headingley Test, when Stokes came to life once Bairstow joined him at the crease.
There are countless examples of questionable selections: Sam Curran in the West Indies, Craig Overton selected for the Old Trafford Ashes Test even though Chris Woakes has an outstanding record in English conditions, and so on.
Now the selectors have left Overton out of the squad to tour New Zealand and gone for Woakes.
It is as if they are making it up on a whim.
“My prediction,” said Smith after jettisoning Bairstow, “is he comes back stronger and has a very good career in Test cricket for England”.
But Bairstow already has a very good career in Test cricket for England - he is a proven performer at the highest level - and yet is constantly having to prove himself over and over.
He lost the gloves to Foakes last winter before bouncing back; he had to fight an age before becoming a one-day regular and a brilliant one too, and he seems to have his technique picked apart more than most even though his colleagues are hardly models of the MCC coaching manual.
Bairstow has been moved up and down the Test match batting order so often that he must feel like the equivalent of a hotel lift.
It scrambles your head just thinking about it, let alone trying to get your head around it.
Sadly, there are only so many times that anyone can keep going to the well and coming back stronger, only so many times that someone can be kicked in the teeth and expected to prove people wrong.
What England should have done in this case is back Bairstow and recognise the gruelling schedule that he and many of the players have been through, the highs and emotions of the World Cup and so on, and the fact that he is doubtless out on his feet.
Surely he has enough credit in the bank to withstand the odd poor series with the bat, a slight drop-off in returns, the credit that comes from 173 international appearances in all formats?
Instead, and despite these and other mitigating circumstances, England have dropped their best wicketkeeper/batsman and messed him around for the umpteenth time.
It is not Bairstow who should be axed but Smith and his cronies.