Do not adjust your browser. The headline actually makes sense. It’s Afrikaans for ‘a look at the England performance squad’. I know this because I’m the ECB’s new interpreter – a position recently created to translate all communications into multiple languages; a move designed to reflect the racial diversity of the England cricket team. In case you were wondering, that’s why test match tickets for Lords are going to cost a whopping £85 this year (something’s got to pay for my salary, after all). However, as the budget of the Full Toss is somewhat lower than that of the ECB, the rest of this article will appear in boring old English. I apologise for the inconvenience – but you can’t afford me. Hopefully, however, you might find this preview of the English summer rather more candid than formal ECB communiqués; although I must remind readers that my loyalty to my primary paymasters (that’s the ECB, not the paying public) means I’ve put a positive spin on the cultural enrichment of the England squad. Besides, our influx of foreign talent actually gives us a chance of winning the Ashes you know.
So let’s cast a critical eye over the brave ‘Englishmen’ selected to represent our proud nation this summer. Although half the squad was born in South Africa, with a sprinkling of Irish and second/third generation Asians, we must remember that immigration into the UK has reached approximately 140,000 souls every year (yes, I have been watching the general election beauty pageants). Therefore, surely it is fitting that our national team is now as cosmopolitan as old London(istan) town itself … which is, incidentally, also hosting the first of Pakistan’s ‘home’ test matches against Ricky Ponting’s canary yellow army in July. So let’s put aside the fact that our top five in one-day internationals could now consist of six foreign born players (Strauss, Kieswetter, Pietersen, Morgan and Lumb) and embrace a new era of tolerance and integration … that’s tolerance, of course, of everybody except Australians.
Initial digestion of the 27-man performance squad is always difficult because the selectors insist on presenting the names in alphabetical order (thus making it impossible to fathom how many batsmen and bowlers have been included). Therefore, to make things easier, we’ve analysed the squad by category … so we know exactly where the strengths and weakness of the broader squad lie. Every England fan knows what’s right and wrong with the best XI itself, but what of the players waiting in the wings? The tour of Bangladesh might have served up turgid, attritional cricket, but at least we caught a glimpse of the next generation of England players – and overall we quite like what we saw.
Openers: Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Michael Carberry, Joe Denly
Now that our well-spoken and media-friendly vice captain has rediscovered how to play straight and move his feet, we are looking pretty solid at the top of the order. Michael Carberry looks unlikely to rip up trees in the event of an injury, but in Joe Denly the selectors have identified a young player with a big future … even if he looks a bit wet behind the ears to make the step up this year. Overall, we are looking solid, if unspectacular, when it comes to opening batsmen.
Middle-order batsmen: Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Michael Lumb, Owais Shah
The number three spot is still obviously a concern, but if Bell or Trott can make the position their own this summer, then we can head to Australia will a fair amount of confidence. Pietersen is still our only world class middle-order player, but Collingwood is still reliable, and there must be a chance that someone as outrageously talented as Eoin Morgan will make the grade at test level if he gets the chance to shine. The reserve batsmen look weak however. Bopara has tried but failed to make an impact against quality opposition – and the same can be said for Shah, whose inclusion seems nonsensical after he was seemingly jettisoned for good last year. The selection of Lumb is interesting, but the suspicion lingers that he is too flashy and too ambitious to succeed in anything other than T20. To summarise, the first XI looks strong enough but we lack strength in depth.
Keepers: Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter
It has got to be a good thing that Matt Prior has some competition. His keeping has improved but his batting has declined slightly in the last twelve months. He still looks like a highly talented and stylish batsman, but he needs to get some big scores to cemet his place. Kieswetter is highly rated by the selectors, and there will be a clamour to include him in the test side if he scores heavily in the one-day internationals. With Steven Davies also waiting in the wings, and James Foster regarded by some to be the finest keeper in the world, England have an embarrassment of riches behind the stumps.
All-rounders: Luke Wright, Michael Yardy
For ‘all-rounders’ read ‘bits and pieces players’. Luke Wright has something about him, but Flower and Strauss seem reluctant to give him a go in the test team – despite his continuing presence in the squad. Maybe he makes a great cuppa? Michael Yardy has been given a call up, but it’s hard to see him playing any matches outside of the T20s, where his left arm darts keep the runs down but rarely take wickets.
The Spinners: Graeme Swann, Adil Rashid, James Tredwell
The rankings say that England have the number one spinner in the world – and who are we to disagree! Graham Swann is now the team’s talisman and he’s a major reason why results have improved. James Tredwell looks to be an adequate deputy, but England fans will hope that Adil Rashid continues to develop in country cricket. If Rashid can find his feet at international level, we will be set for spinners for the next few years. However, at the moment it’s hard to escape the feeling that the team may struggle if Swann gets injured.
Fast Bowlers: Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Graham Onions, Steven Finn, Ajmal Shahzad, Ryan Sidebottom, Liam Plunkett
Twelve months ago the cupboard looked pretty bare. Harmy, Hoggy and Fred had retired, Sidebottom was/is always injured, and James Anderson and Stuart Broad looked like they had lots to learn. However, 2009 was a great year for our young pacemen. Anderson became more consistent, Broad found an extra yard of pace, and Graham Onions exceeded expectations in the Ashes (he looks like an excellent line bowler). Meanwhile, the emergence of Steven Finn looks really exciting. He didn’t take many wickets in Bangladesh, but he looks capable of generating good pace and could be the missing link in our attack – providing the cutting edge we’ve lacked since Harmison’s younger years. Tim Bresnan has also improved, and his batting could help us to field a balanced side come the Ashes. It was also encouraging to see the aggressive Ajmal Shahzad get a chance in England colours. Although the Yorkshireman has work to do, he looks like a decent prospect and won’t let anybody down. Overall, we now have a promising battery of fast bowlers (… and Liam Plunkett). They aren’t exactly in the Curtly Ambrose or Glenn McGrath class, but the days of the great fast bowlers are seemingly over – and England have as good a seam attack as anybody.
Finale gedagtes (final thoughts)
So there we have it. We reckon that England are in good shape coming into the summer. If Strauss can continue to score runs, and KP can rediscover his best form, there is no reason why England can’t compete with the best sides in the world. Although we could do with other batsman climbing the world rankings, the bowling attack looks solid with a number of promising youngsters competing for limited places. If we are being honest, not too many teams will fear England; however, no single team is dominating international cricket at the moment and, as England fans, we have nobody to fear ourselves. Enjoy the summer.