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James Hildreth – England’s No 4?

Sometimes I find I want to write something for The Incider and it just won’t come. I’ve been like that about James Hildreth, after all, what more is there to say. But there is no doubt in my mind that James Hildreth who deserves a huge amount of continued credit from Somerset fans but without doubt international recognition.

And then a couple of things happen which means it all comes together in my head, and I have to write it before its lost. And on that rare occasion, it just flows. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

TMS was the source of the inspiration in this case. Twice, once at the start of the test and once at the end. Let’s start with the last first!

Michael Vaughan, in the immediate aftermath of England’s first test win, mentioned the possibility of replacing Dawid Malan with a right-hander at 4. When I heard that I shouted YES at the radio! Malan is by all accounts a very likeable individual, and I mean this as no personal knock on him, but he has had enough opportunity now and has not proved to anyone that he has what it takes at international level.

Malan’s confidence appears shot. His poor return with the bat seems to be affecting his fielding. His drop of Virat on day 2 very nearly cost England the game, although you could argue that by shelling that chance he contributed more than most to make this a test for the ages!

The current England selection set up seems more prone to going with hunches. Ed Smith has, in his short tenure at the helm of selection turned to Jos Buttler and Dom Bess with considerable reward.

Equally, he wasn’t afraid to pick Adil Rashid (I know but that’s a debate for another day, I’m working on it), so why not go back to Somerset a third time and summon Hildy to Lords next week?

There are many who say that 33 James Hildreth is beyond the age where he can be a success at international level. And that’s where the second TMS piece comes in.

If you weren’t listening on Thursday lunchtime you need to find and catch up on Jonathan Agnew’s interview with David Steele.

Steele was at the time a very rare thing, a selectorial hunch that paid off. Tony Greig was adamant that Steele was the man having canvassed widely on the county circuit for someone who would cope with the fearsome bowling attacks England were scheduled to face in the summers of 1975 and 1976 in the form of Australia and West Indies respectively.

Steele went on to play 4 tests against Australia in 1975 and another 4 the following summer against West Indies averaging 42. Steele had made his first-class debut 12 years before he was called up at the age of 34. He was a solid, consistent, county player who never set the championship alight as a career average of 32 testifies. But he was tough, fearless and talented.

Steele won BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year in 1975 (only three other cricketers have been awarded that honour) a tribute to the success he achieved and the way he achieved it.

I am not in any way comparing Somerset’s number 4 with “The Bank Clerk Who Went to War”. Without wishing to demean Steele, Hildreth is a class above. In his 15-year first-class career Hildy averages 43.58 having scored 43 centuries. At 33 though, like Steele, he must feel his chance has gone.  That is a travesty for a man who has consistently been one of the very best on the County circuit.

So, Ed Smith, time to show us all that you are worthy of the role of lead selector. Show us that you do value County Cricket as a proving ground for international cricket and select Somerset’s James Hildreth for the second test at Lords.

Tony Greig said that when he presented Steele with his England cap before his first test there was a tear in the Northamptonshire’s batsman’s eye (something Steele denies). I tell you what, if James does get what he deserves on Thursday I won’t be alone among Somerset supporters shedding a tear of joy.