Ed Smith's bold selection vindicated by England's resounding victory at Headingley

Felix Keith
England & Pakistan Net Sessions
Ed Smith was made England selector on 20 April (Source: Getty)

As Joe Root clung onto the catch in the slip cordon which sealed England’s resounding win over Pakistan on Sunday, there were smiles all round.

But while the players congratulated each other on the field and previously under-pressure coach Trevor Bayliss grinned on the balcony, away from the television cameras there was another man inside Headingley giving himself a pat on the back.

Ed Smith started the series with a statement. England’s new selector picked an exciting side to mark a brave new era after hugely disappointing series defeats in Australia and New Zealand.

Read more: England are grappling with a Trevor Bayliss conundrum

After the nine-wicket trouncing at Lord’s in the first Test he must have briefly questioned if he’d got it all horribly wrong. Yet, as England have frequently shown before, they are more than capable of pulling out a performance to follow a disappointment.

In this case it came much to Smith’s agreement, as every call he made bore fruit. Jos Buttler lived up to his billing, hitting a series-high unbeaten 80; Dom Bess took 3-33, scored an accomplished 49 and took a stunning catch; Sam Curran offered variety with the ball and showed promise with the bat; and recalled opener Keaton Jennings proved he’d worked on his flaws.

With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to underplay Smith’s decisions, but it’s worth remembering the reaction to Buttler’s selection in particular. A pre-series Test average of 31 and a lack of a red-ball focus were both obvious points against him – and yet Smith trusted his gut.

"Jos playing his way has the potential to be a real positive force in Test cricket. Knowing what he can do and the skill, the decision-making ability, the batting ability he has all round, not just power, but touch and finesse,” he explained on 15 May. “I think him playing as he can play in Test cricket is something we are very excited by.”

England v Pakistan: 2nd Test - Day Two
Jos Buttler hit 11 fours and two sixes in his innings at Headingley (Source: Getty)

All of those attributes were on display in Leeds on Sunday morning. Buttler’s 80 off 101 balls doesn’t tell the full story. He switched gears seamlessly, reading the situation and changing his style accordingly.

Having started conventionally, and benefited from a dropped catch on four, he went to fifty with a top-edged six and, as wickets fell around him, he moved into full Twenty20 mode, bludgeoning 35 from his final 11 deliveries. A six off Faheem Ashraf sailed over the half-built Football Stand and was followed by a cheeky smile.

As the TV cameras zoomed in during a drinks break they focused on Buttler’s bat handle, where a simple approach was written: “F*** it”. It’s not a new credo – it has been written on his bat since 2015 – but it underlined the 27-year-old’s carefree approach.

“It is great to be back, a great opportunity and I wanted to make the most of it. I did enjoy being able to slog a few out there, but it is all about trying to play situations,” Buttler said post-match, before giving Smith a mention. “I’m lucky, I guess, for someone to take a punt on me and say ‘there is a Test player in there somewhere’ despite not playing county cricket. It gives me great confidence.”

With the opening bowling partnership of James Anderson and Stuart Broad back on song, taking 10 wickets between them, and Chris Woakes also contributing nicely with four wickets, it was a reassuring win all round for England.

Of course one victory doesn’t brush under the carpet other concerns. Root is still struggling to turn fifties into centuries, Jonny Bairstow’s promotion to No5 is far from certain and Bayliss’s role as Test coach remains under scrutiny.

But what the Headingley win does do is provide a fresh batch of positive questions. Bess or Jack Leach as the specialist spinner? Woakes or Mark Wood as third seamer? Can Curran deputise for Ben Stokes in the future?

Thankfully, none of those have to be answered just yet. There are 58 days until the next Test match against India on 1 August, leaving Smith plenty of time to ponder.

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