Aug 13 2012 By Jon batham
IS IT time to take a punt on Adam Rossington?
The young batsman/wicketkeeper should be one of the players occupying the minds of Angus Fraser and his fellow Middlesex selectors ahead of a crucial trip to the Oval to face arch rivals Surrey this week.
Fraser’s team would have led the County Championship standings prior to the break for the Twenty/20 competition, but just 20 points from four games since has left them looking nervously over their shoulders prior to the trip to south London.
At the heart of their form slump is an increasingly fragile looking batting line-up in which the middle-order has looked particularly brittle, with the role of batsman/wicketkeeper coming under increasing scrutiny.
Present incumbent John Simpson has endured a torrid time in recent weeks.
The Lancashire-born left-hander has been an ever present behind the stumps in the four-day for the Lord’s tenants since 2010 when he ousted the popular Ben Scott from the wicketkeeper’s berth.
The faith in his talent brought reward with Simpson averaging almost 43 in Championship cricket last season with a century and six 50s.
Few will forget his memorable partnership with Chris Rogers to save the game against Northants, a match which ultimately made the difference between being champions and also-rans.
However, on the fruity wickets of 2012 something has gone wrong with the 24-year-old yet to pass 50 and averaging less than 15 in the four-day game. He has just 33 runs in his last seven first-class innings and is beginning to exhibit the body language of a man walking out to bat expecting a ball with his name on it sooner rather than later.
Fraser is a man known for his loyalty and insisted only recently ‘You have to believe in your players.’
No –one doubts this is admirable sentiment or that Simpson is an undoubted talent worthy of such belief.
However, just as a talented young boxer caught in a flurry of punches may need his trainer to throw in the towel and save his charge for a better day ahead, perhaps the compassionate thing to do would be to pull Simpson from the firing line – which brings us to Rossington.
Let us be honest and say from the off, picking the 19-year-old in such a high-profile clash definitely would represent something of a gamble.
The right-hander failed twice on his first-class debut against the Sri Lankan tourists last season and did not set the world alight in the Panthers T20 campaign this time – but then again what Middlesex batsman did.
There’s the argument the second XI has had little cricket this year because of the appalling weather, but in what action there has been Rossington has shown up well.
Others will raise questions about his wicket-keeping, wondering if it is up to the rigours of Championship cricket, but there are numerous responses to such a stance.
How do we know unless we take a punt? Will any runs conceded be made up by those Rossington makes with the willow? We are after all talking about a lad who made a century for England U19s against Sri Lanka’s best young spinners on a turning wicket in Galle early in 2011.
And besides, since when has ability behind the stumps been the main criteria in an era where the emphasis is on batsman/wicketkeeper rather than wicketkeeper/batsman?
Let us not forget Simpson ousted Scott on the pretext he had greater potential to make runs.
Simpson will undoubtedly emerge a stronger player from this current crisis of confidence – he has too much talent to do otherwise.
However, to overlook Rossington now may send wrong signals to both Simpson and his understudy. Immunity in the name of belief is a difficult line to walk.
This may be a moment not to keep the faith, but instead to roll the dice.