To say the Ashes didn’t quite go to plan would be an understatement to rival the suggestion that Jesse Ryder may enjoy a quiet beer or two from time to time.
The disastrous winter has already seen a change of head coach and there have rarely been as many places in the England team open for debate as there are leading in to this summer’s internationals.
Whether it is a hardened County pro or an armchair fan debating the action in their local pub – everyone has a point of view of which players should be donning the sacred baggy blue cap emblazoned with the three lions.
Sam Robson, Mo Ali and Graham Onions are among the ‘possibles’ being circulated as likely heirs to the throne in their respective positions. As much as I am an admirer of the players mentioned, why can’t we look outside the obvious candidates?
Once the bandwagon is rolling and the TV pundits are in a certain individual’s corner, a surge of opinion can thrust that player into the forefront of the public and the selectors’ thoughts.
With around 360 professional cricketers plying their trade in this country it is highly possible that some are not getting the acclaim they deserve. Some may be inadvertently playing the metaphorical role of the Scarlet Pimpernel –undertaking a huge amount of good, without gaining the appropriate recognition for their quality work.
A group of men that could be said to be playing the role of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel (shielding the treas- ured member) are Warwickshire. They are a team bustling with highly talented cricketers including Rikki Clarke, Chris Woakes, Boyd Rankin, and formerly Darren Maddy and Neil Carter.
All these players are of international pedigree and have achieved considerable domestic success. They have also been inadvertently keeping the limelight from the Warwickshire secret weapon (or the Scarlet Pimpernel) that is Keith Barker.
England have been crying out for a change of angle in their bowling attack since the departure of Ryan Sidebottom. The threat and added benefit of the ball swinging back in to the right hander currently lies dormant in England’s armoury.
When executed precisely, this is an attribute that is feared by even the most surefooted of batsman. As Mitchell Johnson has recently shown, this line of questioning carried out with the added asset of pace and bounce can be extremely difficult to counter.
It is without question that the addition of a potent ‘leftie’ would considerably boost the variety of England’s attack. A consequence of selecting Barker, could also aid whichever spin bowler is entrusted with the red Dukes ball this summer.
The trail of footmarks from a left arm over the wicket bowler can provide a spinner with the debris (and a target) which may accentuate the opportunity to turn the ball sharply into the right handed batsman in the latter days of a Test match.
Without question Barker still has work to do. He came into the first class game at a relatively late age, but his constant improvement has been stark. With his career still in his infancy, after 41 matches Barker’s first class statistics indicate he is a man who can provide a genuine threat with both bat and ball.
To date – Barker has 130 first class wickets at an average of 25.64 with a strike rate of 49.6. Dangerous with the ball certainly, but Barker can also add valuable mid- to-lower order runs. A destructive player with three first class centuries and an average of 28.18 to his name, his batting can and should only improve as his experience and confidence grows.
Barker had a former life as a professional footballer with Rochdale. Given the recent headlines (think KP) regarding the importance of England’s team ethic etc, if England were looking for a reason whether Barker could fit into ‘team England,’ look no further. Barker can add some real value to England’s pre-match five-a- side football.
Barker will have no problem skipping round the likes of James Tredwell or Samit Patel and whipping in crosses for the likes of Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and the other lanky bowlers lurking around the penalty spot. I venture there may be a tad more quality in his left peg than previous England ‘left armers’, Mark Ilott or Ryan Sidebottom.
An outsider for sure, but Barker’s form has not gone wholly unnoticed by the England selectors. He was selected for a two-day game against Australia A last summer, and didn’t disgrace himself by any means. He was (perhaps sur- prisingly) omitted from the ECB Performance Programme and subsequent Lions squads for the winter.
So why the lack of clamour from the cricket king makers for Barker? Simple answer, Chris Woakes. Woakes has been an outstanding performer for Warwickshire for some time now. He has been consistently asking the question of the England selectors to pick him with both bat and ball, culminating in a fleeting appearance in last summer’s Ashes.
Woakes is a fine bowler yes, and perhaps the reason he hasn’t featured more often may be a question mark if his pace is troubling enough for the world’s top batsman. His debut at the Oval may not have answered this query entirely as the wicket was as flat as the cycle paths of Amsterdam but his pace was consistently around the 85 mark, potentially negating this argument.
A fine bowler as yet unproven at Test level yes, but Woakes’ batting statistics are the envy of many a county batsman. Indeed, with eight first class hundreds at (40.27) to supplement 301 first class wickets Woakes may count himself unlucky to have played only one Test thus far.
Barker still has plenty of work to do to usurp the likes of Woakes and Ben Stokes in the all-rounder category. But, should England decide that a change of angle and approach could provide a point of difference and Barker does start the summer strongly, don’t rule out Barker emerging as a ‘leftfield’ selection for this summer.