Belfast Telegraph

Snubbing Boyd Rankin was the wrong call

By Steven Beacom

Cricket pundits and commentators. They've always been my favourites.

Most sports have had their stars behind microphones like Peter Alliss in golf, Bill McLaren in rugby and Ron Pickering in athletics. More recently I've enjoyed tuning in to hear John McEnroe's no holds barred views on tennis and Gary Neville's thoughts on football.

Nobody does it better though than those who talk about leather on willow.

Growing up I'd listen to Test Match Special on the radio with the incomparable Brian Johnston, Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Trevor Bailey, Don Mosey and the gruff tones of Fred Trueman transporting you to Lord's, Trent Bridge or Old Trafford.

On the telly there was the wonderful Richie Benaud, aided and abetted by the waspish Geoffrey Boycott, and more latterly the Sky Sports coverage has been superb with David Gower, Shane Warne, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain giving fascinating insights into the game.

Also in Sky's ranks is Ian Botham, the greatest England cricketer of all time, who continues to tell it like it is.

Over the past few weeks I've sat up to ridiculous o'clock just to hear the candid, cutting and considered comments from Beefy and the boys on England's pitiful attempts to retain the Ashes in Australia.

Ahead of the third Test and trailing 2-0 in the Series, Botham came up with a solution for England's woes.

Fast bowler Boyd Rankin, the big Ulsterman.

Unlike when, before the Tour, Ian tipped England to win with ease Down Under, he was on the money.

Looking like little boys lost who had never held a bat, let alone face a 90mph delivery, the England players were bullied by Aussie quick Mitchell Johnson in the opening two Tests and Botham wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine.

He saw Rankin as the one to do it.

Beefy declared: "I'd like to see Boyd Rankin given a go, because he bowls with more pace and aggression than any of our other guys. I want to bombard the Aussie batsmen with pace and see how they like it. Give him a go."

Did they give him a go?

Well, no. Result? Another stroll for the Aussies in the third Test and an easy victory to reclaim the Ashes.

It's bad enough for England to be 3-0 down, but even worse is that they haven't put up anything resembling a fight. They have been hammered in every match.

They lost by 381 runs in the first Test, 218 runs in the second and 150 in the third in Perth. It's been a total humiliation for Alastair Cook and his team who have been outplayed in every department.

Would Rankin have changed the course of history had he been selected for the most recent Test? We'll never know, but what we do know is that despite being a gentle giant off the pitch, he would have brought enough fire, pace and bounce on it to give the Aussies something to think and worry about.

Boyd was never going to play in the first two Test matches with England preferring to opt for experience and those who been there, done it, spanked the Aussies and lifted the urn.

Fair enough.

I always felt though, and I reckon he did too, that he had a chance of taking part at the WACA where traditionally the pitch favours bowlers of his type.

And this would have been even if things were going well for England.

When the Series was going so badly, surely he should have been given the call.

Rankin could have roared in and tickled the ribs of the Aussie batsmen and played them some chin music with the ball whistling past to make them feel uncomfortable for the first time since England landed in Oz.

Instead, England coach Andy Flower and the selectors chose Tim Bresnan, coming back from injury and nowhere near up to full speed.

Sure, Bresnan can bat a bit, but he was never going to rip through the top order of Australia which Rankin, with a head of steam built up, was capable of doing.

Selecting young Ben Stokes to come in at six was a gutsy call, and look what he produced... a stunning ton, never taking a step back despite all the Aussie intimidation.

Unlike many of his team-mates like Kevin Pietersen, who must have thought every day was Christmas Day because he kept giving his wicket away, Stokes looked hungry and was up for the fight.

Rankin, desperate to make his mark in the Ashes, would have been the same.

Belfast Telegraph

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