Just some quick thoughts about England’s Test squad for the New Zealand series. What did you make of the squad? At first glance I was pretty happy. Every single one of the players selected deserves their place. But when I started thinking about the makeup of the final XI, the concerns crept in.
The problem, of course, is how on earth England are going to field a balanced XI from the 15 names selected by the Ed Smithless braintrust. It’s not really their fault, as it’s incredibly difficult to replace Ben Stokes, but it did strike me that we’ve suddenly gone from a team packed full of all-rounders to no all-rounders at all.
This isn’t a moan at anyone in particular. It is what it is. Both James Bracey and Ollie Robinson deserve their places on merit. Craig Overton will never be a world class operator but he’s never let England down either. Plus, although he’s no Stokes or indeed a Chris Woakes, he can actually handle the willow competently. Maybe the scouts and Silverwood thought he was the best of the imperfect options available?
However, none of this changes the fact that England won’t be able to take the field with a truly balanced XI come the first Test. We’ll either be a seamer short, a batsman short, missing a spinner, or be forced to field a one-paced attack. After all, I can’t see them selecting either Wood or Stone if only 4 specialist bowlers play. It would be riskier than coating one’s private parts in nectar and standing next to a bee hive.
So what will England do? I expect the batting will look solid enough with Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Lawrence and Pope forming a reasonable top 6. Then I expect Foakes to get the nod over Bracey as keeper at 7. But then what do we do? There’s only room for 4 bowlers now. And none of them can bat as well as Woakes.
If one assumes that Anderson and Broad will play, that leaves a shoot out between Overton, Robinson and Leach for the final spot. If they pick Overton (primarily to strengthen the batting) and Leach then the attack will look very once paced. It will look even more one-dimensional if they leave out Leach and opt for both Overton and Robinson – not forgetting that the latter can bat a bit too.
Given Silverwood’s worrying track record – he’s inexplicably fielded a 5-man seam attack twice in the past – my best bet is that England will pick a 4-man (and one paced) all seam attack and leave out Leach. Word will then be passed to the groundsman to leave some grass on the surface. The problem is that New Zealand will be licking their lips too if England go down this route. Their seamers are more than capable of exploiting movement off the pitch.
England’s other option will be to leave out Lawrence or Pope (one suspects it will be the former) and go into the match a batsman short. They might opt for Bracey over Foakes in these circumstances as Bracey might be considered the better batsman at 6. However, this would leave the side with a porous lower-middle order occupied by the likes of Overton and 7 and maybe Robinson at 8. That’s probably a slot too high for all of them. However, at least this route would enable them to field Wood or Stone and inject a little pace into the side.
One has to admit that this is the mother of all conundrums. And I’m not precisely sure what I’d do. However, I do know one thing with 100% certainty. Somewhere an incredulous Ed Smith will be chuntering at the back of a room chanting the words ‘”total cricket, total cricket, why did nobody ever listen to me”? I won’t answer that one, Ed.
England squad: Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Pope, Lawrence, Bracey, Foakes, Overton, Robinson, Leach, Broad, Anderson, Wood, Stone.