Looking Ahead: England’s Team For The 1st Test

26

With the championship well and truly underway, several players will be pushing for England selection against South Africa at Lord’s in July. It might seem a long way away – especially as we’ve got the Champions Trophy before then – but it’s funny how time creeps by. Ten weeks will disappear faster than Monty Lynch’s international career.

Many test hopefuls will be thinking that now is the time to make an impression. Guys who start the season well seem to stay in the public consciousness for a long time. Just look at Scott Borthwick last year. Because he started the season like a train, people were still calling for his inclusion in the test side in August – even though he hardly scored a run after his early purple patch.

Last May and June were particularly interesting because quite a few places seemed up for grabs. Every opener worth his salt was pressing for inclusion at the expense of Alex Hales who struggled badly in South Africa. Robson, Gubbins, and Lyth all made runs. And then there was Ian Bell. Many thought a prolific start to the season might see him quickly restored to the England side.

In the end the selectors’ conservative decision to stick with Hales seemed like something of an anti-climax. And when Gary Balance also won a recall mid-summer, despite scoring less runs than there are hairs on Kim Barnett’s head, county form seemed irrelevant in the end.

It will be interesting to see what happens this year. There are still questions to answer. Most people still don’t trust Moeen Ali to bat in the top six, and few agree where Jonny Bairstow or Joe Root should bat. And who is next in the pecking order? After Duckett failed in India there’s a perceived lack of alternatives.

The likely composition of the test side is also complicated by the fact that our all-rounders (guys like Stokes, Moeen, Bairstow and Woakes) have all looked more comfortable at the crease than the so called specialist batsmen we’ve tried. England didn’t pick six bowlers in India because we needed them; in my opinion they did so in order to field the strongest batting line-up.

Today I’d like to discuss which XI you’d like to see us at Lord’s. South Africa will present a huge challenge and England can’t afford to lose if we want to build momentum ahead of the winter’s Ashes series. We need to cement a reliable batting line-up now – one that can cope with fearsome pace bowling.

South Africa will be an excellent barometer. Morkel, Philander and Rabada (with the possibility of a fit Dale Steyn too) make up a formidable attack. My personal view is that players like Moeen and Jos Buttler might get exposed – even though they looked solid enough against India’s spinners in very different conditions.

I’d prefer England to identify a solid looking batting unit now. If they persist entirely with the players employed this winter, I think they’ll struggle this summer and we’ll be forced to blood a couple of rookies down under – a situation which is far from ideal.

The problem is, which batsmen currently outside the squad are good enough to come in and make a difference?

One option would be to play both Hameed and Jennings (with Root moving down to four). I’m not completely opposed to this idea. A top four of Cook, Hameed, Jennings and Root looks reasonable enough.

I’d bat them in this order because (a) England need Cook’s experience at the top in Australia, and (b) I prefer a right-hand and left-hand opening combination – even though some might argue that the Cook-Hameed axis is a little one-paced.

It’s hard to see any alternative top-order players breaking into this group. Having ignored Gubbins last year, and tried just about everyone else in the past, Hameed and Jennings will probably get some breathing space – particularly as both of them made promising starts in India.

However, settling the rest of the line-up isn’t straightforward. Who’s going to bat at 5 – Bairstow? Moeen? Stokes? With Jonny keeping wicket, and Stokes and Mo presumably bowling quite a few overs, five is probably one spot too high for all of them.

So what are the options? Liam Livingston is one. Sam Northeast is another. Or maybe the selectors take a punt on Dawid Malan or Tom Westley?

The problem then, of course, is fitting in all of England’s excellent all-rounders into the XI. With Stokes a shoo-in, Mo our ‘best’ spinner, Woakes a revelation last year, Broad an automatic pick, and Anderson our leading wicket-taker, there’s suddenly no room for our fastest bowler, Mark Wood, or a frontline spinner like Rashid.

The question therefore becomes this: are Northeast or Westley really going to score significantly more runs than Woakes (or perhaps even Rashid)? After all, Woakes averages pretty much the same as them in first class cricket anyway. And suddenly, before you know it, England will be picking six bowlers again.

The pragmatist in me thinks that the selectors and management (although they often seem to have different views!) will ultimately pick the extra batsman – if only because the side will look lopsided otherwise. Can you imagine the XI below playing at Lord’s?

Cook

Hameed

Jennings

Root

Stokes

Bairstow

Moeen

Woakes

Rashid / Wood

Broad

Anderson

It would seem more traditional to pick the following XI, which avoids selecting six bowlers and the howls of derision that will surely follow.

Cook

Hameed

Jennings

Root

Malan / Livingston / Westley / Northeast / Uncle Tom Cobley

Stokes

Bairstow

Moeen

Woakes

Broad

Anderson

The choice will therefore probably come down to Woakes versus Wood (or possibly Rashid).

My personal view is that England need to find a space for Wood, who is our fastest bowler and the guy most likely to rough up the Australian batsmen (which is surely what their bowlers will try to do to us). His ability to reverse swing the ball could also be key. However, I’d feel really uncomfortable about dropping Woakes, who is such a fine cricketer.

Who would you pick? The management will have to make some very tough calls in the next nine months.

James Morgan

26 Comments

  1. Cook

    Hameed

    Jennings

    Root *

    Northeast

    Ali

    Bairstow +

    Stokes

    Woakes

    Broad

    Anderson

    Anderson will be rotated leaving room for Wood.

  2. We are talking about test cricket so the first five (or even six) need to have good technique and the ability to concentrate for long periods. If they build a base the all rounders will quickly turn that base into big scores. If we pick front line batsman with suspect technique they will be exposed by the South African pace attack and leave the all rounders to try and hit our way out of trouble…great when it happens, miserable when it doesn’t.

  3. “Morkel, Philander and Rabada (with the possibility of a fit Dale Steyn too) make up a formidable attack”.

    Steyn has already been ruled out of the CT and he hasn’t got through two full consecutive Tests since January 2015. I’d love him to play – but it really is wishful thinking.

    Philander has also been struggling with a groin injury at Sussex but I’m not sure how serious it is. Parnell would probably be next cab-off-the rank (I’ve seen him bowl occasional brilliant spells but he’s maddeningly inconsistent and injury-prone).

    • James Morgan on

      He’s aiming for Lord’s but we’ll see how that goes. I think it will be interesting to see whether he ever recovers his old pace. Shoulder injuries can be very serious and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are long term effects.

  4. It might vary according to the ground. For a flat deck like Lord’s, I might be inclined to go with 6 bowlers. For a ground with more swing (Trent Bridge), 5 might be enough. Also a lot depends on how long Jimmy Anderson wants to continue. He wasn’t (as I recall) particularly effective in the last Ashes Down Under (to be fair, he wasn’t alone in that), and might decide to quit touring. Chris Woakes is a natural swing bowling successor. I don’t think you can pick someone purely on the basis of a good run of form, particularly in Division 2: as you know, form is temporary, class is permanent (I see Sanga is still hitting big hundreds). The South African bowling attack is not like a county attack.

  5. Totally off the wall (in terms of England cricket) but Misbah and Younis are starting their final series (assuming neither reverses their decision!) against West Indies today. Misbah has been an excellent captain for Pakistan, and Younis is one of the most underrated batsmen of this century so far. Will you do a piece on them?

  6. I don’t like the idea of three comparative rooky batters in the top five. I would therefore go for the six bowlers option with Mo, Stokes, Bairstow and Woakes at 5,6,7 and 8.

  7. Stokes is a shoo in? Only because is reputation is greater than his achievements. His batting looks completely over promoted at 5 or 6. He has a halfway acceptable average only because of that 258 – and we cannot afford a top 6 bat who will perform from time to time. Having said that I would select him because I agree with James analysis that the all rounders are likely to score as many as the alternatives to play as specialist bats. I would definitely bat Bairstow ahead of Stokes and probably Ali as well.

    • Yes they look a better team with him in, people forget he is only 25 years old. In the Last 12 Months which doesn’t include the 258 he has averaged 34.60 with the bat and 25.13 with the ball so if anything he has been a bowling all rounder where as Moeen Ali have been a batting all rounder.

      He will need careful management, he has earned a life changing amount of money at the IPL but it will leave with without much break before the fullest England summer I have ever seen and an away Ashes tour. Will have to be rested at times this summer and I will be interested to see the reaction from the UK paying public

  8. Personally I would like to end the Moeen Ali primary spinner experiment its coming up on three years since his debut and what have we learned? He can bat well at 6 or 7 and can bowl some not ever economical or threatening offspin. He was out bowled by Rashid in India not that either covered themselves in glory. England need to give a specialist a go and they have had all winter to look at options in the subcontinent with the Lions.

    As James points out its is the ‘all rounders’ of Stokes, Bairstow and Moeen Ali who have bailed out and inconsistent middle order so it would be unfair to drop Moeen so I would ask him to bat at 5 and leave Bairstow with the gloves.

  9. I’m rather concerened about the situation. Hameed and Jennings are, by any definition, rookies.

    Interesting how every selection debate starts at the top. Maybe, since England are short of established test batsmen, we could do it the other way round:

    Broad and Anderson, of course. Wood (as a fast bowler is extremely handy).

    A spinner, I believe, to give the quickies a rest and provide variety.

    A wicket keeper – England have long preferred a batsman who knows which way round the keeper’s pads go so I’ll never agree with them.

    That leaves six places. Cook is of course our best opener, Root is captain and brilliant bat.

    An all rounder is very useful.

    Three places left. An opener and two batsmen. Now I give up and I’m rather worried. It shouldn’t be this difficult.

  10. Root is doing his best to demonstrate that county form is no guide to selection by scoring ten runs in two innings against Hampshire, and Bairstow doing no better in the first innings…. while the likely unselected Ballance gets a brace of centuries.

  11. Elizabeth Ammon reporting that the ECB have the votes for the new T20 (official announcement on Wednesday).

    There’s also an ICC board meeting on Wednesday with a new revenue arrangement and the Test Championship again on the agenda.

  12. The guys I’m looking at expecting / hoping they’ll make the step up this year are Livingstone, Lawrence, the Currans, and Mason Crane. Any thoughts on these from anyone? I notice the latter has barely played… frustrating when England are crying out for spinners!

    Also very impressed at the start from Ben Coad who seems to have come out of nowhere.

    Finally a word on Ballance – he was rightly dropped after an abysmal period but people forget he started his England career very well. If he continues this he form he must come back into the equation at least?

  13. If the ECB had their way, and clone technology was used on humans, England would look like this,

    Ballance*
    Ballance
    Ballance
    Ballance
    Ballance
    Ballance
    Ballance+
    Finn
    Finn
    Finn
    Finn

Leave A Reply