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Stand by your man

Nasser Hussain - Nasser Hussain Posted 4th January 2008 view comments

The one real surprise from the England squads to tour New Zealand next month is the Matt Prior omission; I think everyone presumed that he would be given another chance.

But the selectors obviously felt that enough's enough - and to be fair he's dropped enough chances. Matt can't feel too hard done by because his main job as wicketkeeper is to catch the ball!

He dropped eight chances off Ryan Sidebottom in Sri Lanka and he seems to have struggled keeping to the left-armer which is surprising because he's kept to Jason Lewry at Sussex.

Graveney: decided to omit Prior in favour of Ambrose

Graveney: decided to omit Prior in favour of Ambrose

If you keep dropping the ball as a wicketkeeper unfortunately the selectors - and also the bowlers - will eventually want to see a change made. So Tim Ambrose is given his chance as David Graveney and co have again opted for a wicket-keeper-batsman.

With the make-up of this England side, if you look at what they're trying to build, the bowlers don't particularly bat that well.

When you look at who's been picked and who's been left out, you can see there are some very good players about and when you look at this England side on paper this is a fantastic side.

Nasser Hussain
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And then next summer when hopefully Andrew Flintoff comes back into the team, he will bat at six - and he hasn't really progressed as a batsman as well as the selectors would have liked.

And if you have a keeper at seven, followed by Sidebottom at eight, [Matthew] Hoggard, [Steve] Harmison and [Monty] Panesar - that's a very long tail.

There are many people, including myself, who believe that a keeper's primary job is to keep wicket. My Sky Sports colleagues Michael Holding and Bob Willis are also of that view.

But in the make up of the present England side they will need their wicketkeeper to get runs. So Tim Ambrose probably nipped in ahead of someone like James Foster, who from what I've seen in the last couple of years has been the best gloveman in the country.

Moores went with his boy in Prior and unfortunately for both of them it didn't pay off. I am disappointed for Matt Prior as he burst on the scene against the West Indies, keeping well and scoring runs. And he is the type of cricketer that you want in your side so hopefully he will work out these problems with the gloves and can come again.

I think the selectors have just gone for Ambrose on his record - he scored a weight of runs last season for Warwickshire and he is a wicket-keeper-batsman. There are a lot of good wicketkeepers out there - Foster, Chris Read, Geraint Jones, Ambrose, Prior, Phil Mustard - but one of them has to stand out from the pack and be better than good.

They need to take their opportunity and the selectors need to show faith in them so that England can finally move on from Alec Stewart. We've had a lot of men behind the stumps since Alec and we can't keep going round in circles.

The selectors need to earmark one player and stick by him - I know that player has to perform, but my point is that right at this moment they still are not sure who is their best wicketkeeper. Listening to David Graveney when he announced the squads he still isn't 100 per cent certain who was better out of Ambrose and Mustard. It was a little bit of a 'wait and see' situation which is not ideal.

Consistency

England were successful between 2001-2005 because of consistency in selection and the selectors knowing who their best players were. Even when those players weren't in form at times - Flintoff, Harmison etc - they knew who their best players were, they stuck with them and that led to success.

Inconsistencies in selection have crept back in; Andrew Strauss is a prime example. By leaving him out of the Sri Lanka tour he was third best to Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah. And now, within three Test matches, it seems like it has gone full circle with Strauss back in favour, then Shah and then Bopara.

My gut feeling is though that England need Strauss back in the side, if anything for his mental application; he is quite a mature person and is a leader rather than a follower. I'm a Strauss fan and I believe he will get the best out of this batting line-up, which is under-achieving at the moment.

No one likes to be dropped, it affects everyone and you have to feel that Bopara has been a little bit hard done by - three Test matches and he's left out, and the last Test he played with a broken finger.

The problem for a young player on tour now in a three Test series is that there are no games in between Tests so if you do get out of form and you don't get any runs there is no chance for you to go off and find form.

Tough

I think it's very tough now for a young batsman going on any tour and you could see at the end of the Sri Lanka tour that Bopara's brain was scrambled. And to do so poorly in back-to-back Tests, I don't think the selectors had any other choice but to drop him really. But he is a good player and he will come again.

Shah would have been disappointed not to have featured in Sri Lanka, but you can't play them all. He just has to get his head down and score runs in the warm-up games in New Zealand.

In the last couple of years, 2005 and 2007 in particular, along with Mark Ramprakash, Shah has been the highest scoring English batsman in county cricket. And he has also done well when he has played for England so he deserves his chance.

When you look at who's been picked and who's been left out, you can see there are some very good players about and when you look at this England side on paper this is a fantastic side, they just need to fulfil their potential really and start putting in some mature performances.

I think they will win in New Zealand as the Black Caps are a weak Test side - the one-dayers will be more difficult - but let's hope England can start playing consistently.

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