Morris – fitness matters

Thursday 5th March 2009

By Charles Randall in Christchurch

THE rejection of Samit Patel by England was a cruel blow to his career as the Lions tour moves on to Christchurch, because the all-rounder hit a sparkling 101 against New Zealand A in the drawn first Test at Queenstown this week.

The England management announced that Patel’s fitness — by implication caused by his diet — had not reached an acceptable standard in South Island. Instead his Lions colleague Gareth Batty makes the trip to the Caribbean with a chance of playing in the one-day series.

Hugh Morris, the England Cricket managing director, said: "Samit Patel is a talented cricketer but he, like every other player who joins the senior England team, must be aware of the strict fitness criteria that will be set.

"It is extremely frustrating that Samit has not heeded the warnings of his county, Nottinghamshire, and the England national selector Geoff Miller as well as the England management and strength and conditioning team. In the circumstances we had no option but to de-select him from the tour."

Patel“s fitness was monitored after touring with the England one-day side in India last November. He had two fitness assessments since the start of the year and on both occasions, the ECB said, the results were unsatisfactory.

While Patel, 24, is almost certainly a better cricketer than Batty, the rules on fitness have been tightened by the ECB, though there is a valid argument that if a player performs exceptionally well, questions about fitness become theoretical.

Batty flies to Trinidad to replace Graeme Swann, who is due to return home after the Test match at Port of Spain for an operation on his right elbow.

The ECB have sprung another surprise this week with the call-up of Graham Napier to Rob Key’s England Lions squad. The selectors do not really know what to make of the Essex all-rounder, but they have decided to call him up for the New Zealand tour.

Napier, now 29 and yet to appear in one-day or Test cricket for England, will always be remembered in Essex for his undefeated 152 off 55 balls in a Twenty20 Cup match last summer. He has been playing New Zealand over the winter and he headed the most valuable provincial player list at the halfway stage for his exploits with Wellington, mainly through his seam-bowling.

The ECB have confirmed he will join the tour in South Island before the second four-day Test against New Zealand A at Christchurch, starting on Saturday.

Napier is not likely to play until next week’s two one-dayers against New Zealand at Palmerston North, near Wellington, and the Twenty20 at New Plymouth, but Nhe starts with a glowing reputation.

His Wellington team-mate James Franklin, on New Zealand A duty against the Lions, said: "Graham has been bowling beautifully. By his own standards he probably didn’t quite reach what he wanted to with the bat, but he showed glimpses of it, and I’ll put money on the fact that when he joins the Lions boys he will probably belt us all round the park. He’s a quality player and we’ve enjoyed having him at Wellington."

The dashing Napier hit 16 sixes during his 152 against Sussex at Chelmsford, an innings that contained 16 sixes.

Franklin added: "He had a major role with us, opening the bowling in the one-dayers and Twenty20 and bowling at the death. He played four four-day games for us before Christmas and got through a lot of overs and took quite a number of wickets."

Napier commented on his website that he was relishing another chance to impress the England selectors five years after his first England Lions tour to Malaysia and India in 2004.

“Not many players would get a second opportunity at this stage in their career," he said, "but I think the whole reason I have got to this point again has been that I“ve not given England much thought over the last couple of years. Perhaps the thought of wanting to break into the full England side began to distract me a few years back, so I decided to just relax and have fun in the middle. It“s got me back to this point so now it“s up to me to make the most of this second chance.”

Picture courtesy of Getty Images