Do England Know What Their Best T20 XI Actually Is?

So the Men’s T20 World Cup is well and truly underway and we’ve already had a couple of eyebrow raising results. Roger Moore would’ve been in his element.

Firstly, Namibia absolutely obliterated a shell-shocked Sri Lanka and then Scotland, of all people, beat former champions the West Indies by a large margin, too. It just goes to show how unpredictable the T20 format can be. It’s both it’s strength and, in some ways, its weakness.

Fortunately for England, however, there were no such problems in their warm-up victory against Pakistan. Brooks and Stokes starred with the bat, and Livingston and Curran starred with both bat and ball. Knowing us, we’ll leave the cock-ups for when our World Cup campaign actually starts.

What interested me about the game, however, is just how unusual England’s XI seemed. Yes, I understand that we probably wanted to ‘rest’ certain players – Malan, for example, is already in fantastic form so dropping him down the order made sense – but it did make me wonder what our best XI actually is.

Does anyone actually know? It seems weird that a team fancied by so many experts – we’re one of the favourites in the cricket betting with – isn’t actually as settled as it might be. Or maybe looks are just deceiving me.

The problem, as I see it, is that we have so many players of equal ability. For example, Hales and Buttler would seem like the natural opening pair, but I’ve also been impressed with Phil Salt. One could argue that the latter is the coming man and therefore more likely to catch the opposition off-guard.

Then we come to the middle-order. Is Brook now a shoo-in? One assumes that Malan will play but then where do the others bat? Stokes batted 3 on Monday, but is likely to slide down a spot (or two). And then there’s Livingstone, Moeen, and Curran to consider. Will these guys bat in a particular order or is the plan to be fluid? I was really surprised that Curran strode to the wicket before Moeen against Pakistan. Maybe this was just to give him some more practice?

The bowling also confuses me. We know that the likes of Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan have the most experience but are they necessarily the best options? I’ve never been overwhelmed by either if I’m being honest. They’re solid but hardly world-beaters.

And then we come to the lefties. Reece Topley has performed well when he’s played, and his height should suit Australian pitches, but so many people still seem enamoured with Curran. David Willey rarely lets England down, either. So which guys will get the call? There’s very little between them. The fact that Topley may be returning home with an injury might actually simplify matters.

The only bowlers who should be guaranteed a spot in the XI, in my opinion, are Mark Wood and Adil Rashid. You could make a strong but arguable case for any of the others, although I expect that Moeen is guaranteed a spot because of his batting. 

Overall, my gut tells me that England will start the tournament with this XI: Hales, Buttler, Malan, Stokes, Brook / Livingston, Moeen, Curran, Woakes, Rashid, Wood, Topley (or Jordan if the latter is ruled out).

This means that the four players to miss out would be Salt, Willey, Brook / Livingston and possibly Jordan. But having said that, my XI does look a little light on batting and heavy on bowling; so maybe Curran would miss out for Brook / Livingston?

As someone who doesn’t watch a huge amount of T20 – can you tell? – I’m basically asking for a friend here. I really have no idea what would be best (or what England will actually do). What I can tell you with certainty, however, is I strongly suspect that we’ll do rather well.

And so we bloody well should. The ECB has prioritised white ball cricket at the expense of the 1st class game for years now. So doing well in these events is the least we should expect, whatever XI actually takes the field.

James Morgan


  • “It just goes to show how unpredictable the T20 format can be.” Once one understands all cricketers at this level have good eye to hand coordination and a strong basic skill set then T20 becomes a game of chance rather than skill.

    • The basic skill set for 20-20 is not the same for all. The power play element requires different approaches from batsmen and bowlers alike and some are clearly better than others in that department. There’s also tactics, which is why we won most of our white ball matches with Morgan in charge and do better with Moin than Buttler. You have to think on your feet as captain and preempt things more than in any other format and Buttlers not great at that. You can’t rely on preparation beforehand. Moin made a mediocre Worcester side into cup winners largely through this tactical nous.

      • There’s nothing mediocre about Worcester, my friend. We were born winners 😉 Moeen will be nothing without us when he moves to Warwickshire next summer!

  • When you’ve got an embarrassment of riches it’s difficult to be sure, like Pep with Man City. Personally I think they’ve got it about right. The selectors may not be as reliable in their red ball approach but they’ve been the best around in white ball for some time. There’s no reason not to trust their judgement here. They know better than most what it takes to succeed and who they can best rely on to make that happen.

    • Turns out they played Brooks and Livingstone which was much more sensible.

      Seems in T20, there seems an over emphasis on having lots of bowling options with the result being a front line bowler bowls one or two overs. Generally batsmen win you T20 games. Doesnt make sense to leave out Brooks or Livingstone who can both win you a game just for another option with the ball.

  • I think Willey will play. They like having at two lefties in the side and he can swing the new ball replacing topley who is out now sadly.

    Even as a lancashire fan i am not entirely convinced by livingstone and it seems unlikely they will bowl much spin. I would pick Brook.

  • I’m not so sure it’s “Scotland of all people…”, nor that the only reason for their victory over WI is the unpredictability of T20s. Scotland are the team who beat then 50-over world no. 1s England in an ODI four years ago, who came within an umpiring howler and a rainstorm of removing WI from the World Cup finals three years ago, and who beat a Full Member in the same competition last year to get into the Super 12s. West Indies, in contrast, as I’ve posted before, are a batting accident waiting to happen in all formats including T20: they’re simply too one-dimensional. They were lucky today that their bowlers bailed out their batters again, otherwise Zimbabwe would have dumped them out of the WC at preliminary round stage.

    On England: Curran deserves a place in the starting XI to me: he’s bowled cannily and long-handled successfully in the recent games. England’s mistake–if they make it–will be to draw any inferences at all about Curran as a test prospect from this competition. The Livingstone-Brook question conceals a deeper selection question I think: that the most superfluous player in your seven named players is actually Ali. Even at T20, in international cricket he’s rather fading into a poor person’s version of Livingstone, who’s a much better batter and–at least now–probably pretty much an equally good bowler (his international record is strikingly similar). It’s confused by the fact that Ali is vice-captain and clearly a senior leadership figure in the team, but if they really want to play their strongest teasm they need to leave him out and play both Livingstone and Brook.

    The other factor queering the pitch is that they don’t really know what Stokes’s role is. he’s there as a kind of talisman, “might-do-anything-on-his-day” player, a kind of SuperCurran. But is he a middle-order batter, a top-order batter, an opening bowler, a death bowler, a middle-order enforcer, all of the above? Paradoxically this conundrum might be solved partly by Topley’s injury, because (assuming they don’t replace him with Willey) then one thing they’re potentially short of is a second opening bowler…so maybe England’s tactics in the last week have been very prescient! Who’s the team clairvoyant?!

  • “Knowing your best team” – when did that become a thing? Under Flower, when everything had to be pre-planned? Strength in depth used to be considered a plus.

    England look a strong combo and probable finalists (especially with Bumrah injured and India’s generally poor ICC record away from home). The death bowling looks the biggest potential weakness followed by spin (Rashid has looked a lesser bowler post shoulder op).

    I’ve not looked at the schedule – which grounds do England play most on or have crucial games at? The SCG or Adelaide are very different to the MCG or the Gabba.

    • BTW England’s T20 WC under Flower was not pre-planned but involved stumbling upon an opening partnership that worked at the last minute. Oh, and having the Player of the Tournament….

    • I would have thought that every sports coach ever has had some idea of their best team–it seems a rather odd question to me. Sure, you may change it for a number of unenforced reasons, but you’ll have a general idea of what it is, just to avoid the instability of chopping and changing every match. It’s why teams don’t generally use 20+ players in a test series. It’s nothing to do with Flower.

      • The problem with this WC is because it’s hidden behind the Sky Pay Wall most people don’t know it’s on, well only if they catch a one minute summary in the Sports News. It’s yet another ECB/ICC muck up of course.
        As for team selection, well in my rather uninterested view, the ability to hit (slog) most sixes has to be top of the list. There’s little time to think of much else in 20 overs.

      • You need to ne able to do something other than just belt the cover off the ball. That in a nutshell is why WI couldn’t even get this far: their batting is totally one-dimensional. That matters, even in T20.


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