When Joe Root was appointed the new England captain in January, Tom Harrison the chief executive of the ECB called for style over substance a fair few eyebrows were raised.
And even Root himself may have been surprised said that for him “winning was most important”- whilst that comment about style being important by Harrison was perhaps a little brash but nonetheless Root had suggested he would instigate a new style anyway: “I’d be very instinctive and not be afraid to go with my gut at times” adding that he would only be “slightly defensive” when he was first interviewed after taking the job on from Alastair Cook.
It all seemed very promising, Root would take England on and instigate a fresh approach, perhaps a more positive one. However it isn’t what England actually needed. More steel was required to strengthen the batting as was a need for more adaptability when the surface isn’t to the team’s liking.
Which is exactly what happened in the 2nd Test. The pitch needed a patient approach and England were found wanting. Highlighted by the utter capitulation where England’s two innings lasted just 96.1 overs (one less ball than South Africa first innings) and their combined score produced just 338 runs- the worst total since the 2005 defeat to Australia at Lords.
The batting was frail and flawed in method but it ultimately stemmed from the moment that Root and the selectors selected his first test squad. It wasn’t the exciting squad that many expected or indeed hoped, in fact it was a real let down and was a stale, boring selection.
The re-introduction of Gary Ballance which Root insisted on was hopeful at best, he had scored heavily in the Championship for Yorkshire but clearly against the better bowling of Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel the same technical shortcomings that had apparently been fixed still remain from his first two cracks at Test cricket.
Whilst that selection was hopeful, the selection of Liam Dawson is quite hard to fathom, he hasn’t looked like a good fit in either test so far. He is a bits and pieces all-rounder and those don’t last very long in Test cricket.
From all the talk following his selection, it seemed as though he had been picked as the first choice spinner to take the pressure off of Moeen Ali as the spinner, so the off-spinner can focus on being a batsman at no. 7 who bowls a bit.
But that as a reason for his selection is weak, Dawson is in the team to bat at no. 8 and offer a few late order runs and provide a solid option with the ball, much like the role Ashley Giles performed for England.
But Dawson hasn’t really done either, it is not to say that he is a bad cricketer. He performs a good role for Hampshire, however he isn’t Test class and shouldn’t have been picked for either Test. He will be a likely fall guy from the Trent Bridge debacle as the balance of the side is addressed.
But what his selection has shown was that Root was trying to play things safe and not take a risk with any new debutants like Mason Crane or Mark Stoneman and ultimately it has come to cost him in the end.
The win at Lords did mask over a few cracks in the side in the mean time, the failing top 3 barring Cook, and the over reliance on Root was apparent and the defeat at Trent Bridge has just merely made what was quite clear, blindly obvious now.
The lack of risk with selection initially didn’t suggest a brave new era, it had nodded towards a meek start which has played out. The mistakes in selection is likely to be rectified heading to the Oval where it looks likely England will select Stoneman to replace Dawson. With Keaton Jennings slipping down to no. 3.
Ballance in a no. 5 could work out too, but nonetheless Root will be hoping the second big selections of his campaign will prove more inspiring than his first attempt.