The end of the English summer is a difficult time for all of us. We pack our kitbags away in the loft or garage – inevitably forgetting to unpack that pair of sweaty socks from the last match – and we start questioning the meaning of life without cricket. This is also the point at which, if you’re a Sky Sports subscriber, it’s traditional to question the value of coughing up £25 quid a month if there’s no daily cricket to look forward to. Bloody Murdoch!
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. One of the benefits of reading TFT is that you get to play blackjack with the careers of international sportsmen. It’s a simple concept. You go through the current England squad and decide whether to retain them or chuck them down the metaphorical waste disposal in the hope of unearthing someone better. So without further ado, let’s indulge in a game of cricketing stick or twist.
Rory Burns – Stick
390 runs at 39 is better than Alastair Cook ever managed in a home Ashes series. And Burns achieved this against the best bowling attack the Aussies have sent to Blighty since 2005. As one of England’s few successes of the Ashes summer, the new coach can ink in Burns’s name at the top of the order for the upcoming tours.
What impressed me was Rory’s determination, bravery, stickability, and his ability to improve against the short ball as the series progressed. Normally when the Aussies detect a weakness they exploit it mercilessly. However, although Burns never looked completely comfortable against the short stuff he was resilient enough to come through the ordeal. He was rarely rattled, and possesses a sound defensive technique. Let’s just hope he can improve against the spinners as time goes on.
Jason Roy – Twist
Well, it was probably worth a go. 110 runs at 14 was a hugely disappointing return and poor Jason looked completely out of his depth. Although it was always a stupid idea to open with Roy, and I was amazed how many so called experts actively campaigned for it, I reluctantly argued that it might be the least worst option England possessed. However, we arguably stuck with him for too long when it became obvious (wasn’t it always?) that his defence wasn’t up to scratch.
Moving forward I’d jettison Roy from the test squad altogether. There seems little point dropping him down the order. He’ll be 30 next summer and I’d rather invest in younger players like Ollie Pope. What’s more, there’s always a danger that messing with Roy’s technique and mindset might affect his white ball form. Think Jonny Bairstow in reverse. Let’s keep Jason as a one-day specialist. It suits him.
Joe Denly – Stick (in the squad)
This was probably the hardest decision of all. Denly is a solid 15. Sure you’d like something nearer 21 (especially in terms of age). But a 15 is a 15. England could do worse.
Although 312 runs at 31 isn’t particularly good, Denly showed improvement as the series went on and his three half centuries were all scored at vital times. Yes he’s not perfect. He plants his front foot in the same place delivery after delivery which makes him poke or waft at balls he should probably leave. However, he can tough it out. And when he does occasionally make contact his scoring shots look crisp and pure.
Personally I wouldn’t start with Denly in an ideal world. However, his ability to bat in numerous positions makes him the ideal tourist. As a veteran / placeholder / utility batsman it makes a lot of sense to keep him in and around the squad. And his ability to bat at 2, 3, and 4 will give Root and the new coach a lot of flexibility.
Joe Root – Stick
I’m not dropping Root that batsman. That would be the most scandalous act of self harm since, I dunno, sacking Kevin Pietersen (ooooh controversial)! However, I would drop the skipper back to 4 where he averages a world class 48 rather than a middling 38. And I might even prefer it if he wasn’t skipper.
I thought Root’s captaincy was generally poor this summer and I don’t think he has a real feel for the art. Yes he may learn. And yes he may improve under a new head coach who isn’t so relaxed and hands-off. However, if England lose in South Africa then it’s time to identify a new leader.
Ben Stokes – Twist, just kidding, Stick.
He was England’s player of the summer by miles. Without Stokes we probably would’ve lost the Ashes 0-4 and we might not have even reached the World Cup knock out stages let alone win the final.
Stokes matured so much as a batsman this year. The improvement was off the charts. His temperament is superb, his technique is sound, and he’s capable of special performances. The only question is where he should bat. And how much he should bowl.
just hope a desire to accommodate Sam Curran doesn’t affect how England utilise Stokes. In an ideal world he should occupy the traditional all-rounders spot: batting 6 and operating as the 4th seamer.
Jonny Bairstow – Twist
The ginger warrior had a terrible test summer. 214 runs at 24 is a poor return for a player so talented and he needs to pull his socks up. However, perhaps we should adjust our expectations for Jonny? Everyone harks on about his golden 2016 when he averaged 59 and scored 3 hundreds and 8 fifties. But if one examines his career it’s the only year that he’s averaged more than 35; therefore 2016 was the aberration not the norm.
If Bairstow is only going to average 30ish then England would be better off with Ben Foakes. However, there’s one thing that would improve Jonny’s prospects: giving up white ball international cricket.
Bairstow changed his technique a couple of years back to open up the offside and win a place in England’s ODI side. He’s done that now. He’s won his World Cup winners medal. So now it’s time to get back to basics and improve his defence again. The problem is that England can’t keep rewarding players who underperform so badly; therefore Jonny might have to make way for now.
Jos Buttler – Stick (just)
I’m really torn on this one. When Buttler was recalled by Ed Smith last year I argued that he’d probably succeed against mediocre bowling but would struggle against the top class stuff. And statistically that’s what happened. The Aussies sent Jos packing at home in 2015 and they pretty much did the same this time too. Shouldn’t England be looking for players who can score runs against the best?
However, although Buttler’s 247 runs at 25 looks very poor on paper, I don’t think it tells the whole story. For starters Jos was often batting down at 7 – a ridiculous state of affairs that left him little opportunity to build proper test innings. What’s more, he did improve as the series progressed and looked far more comfortable towards the end.
Because I can’t see too much wrong with Jos’s technique, and he’s shown the ability to knuckle down when needed, I would actually persevere with him for now. It’s also worth pointing out that he’s a very good player of spin, and there will be tours overseas when this trait is invaluable.
The problem is how to fit him into the side? England can not afford a luxury player at 7; therefore Jos has to play as a specialist batsman at 5 or 6 (depending on where Stokes bats). This puts him into direct competition with Ollie Pope. I’d pick them both in the winter squads and let them fight it out for a place.
Chris Woakes – Twist
10 wickets at 33, and 120 runs at 20, was not the summer the Mighty Woakes had in mind. Maybe that niggling knee injury that held him back, but he just didn’t look effective with the ball after Lord’s? And worryingly it didn’t look like Root trusted him.
Woakes has always been a cricketer who delivers at home but struggles overseas. He’s fortunate that England will be touring New Zealand this winter where he might get some swing. However, I’m not sure how effective he’ll be thereafter, particularly in South Africa where he took just two wickets at an average of 98 back in 2015/16.
I’ve often supported Chris in recent years, and I rate him highly as a cricketer, but he’ll be 31 next summer and I’m not sure if he’ll recover that vital ‘nip’ unless he can get himself 100% fit. Consequently it might be better for England to invest in Sam Curran rather than the unfortunate Woakes this winter.
Sam Curran – Stick
I’m not sure if he’ll win a place in the starting XI but Curran is obviously a promising cricketer with a long-term future. He might have to bide his time behind Ben Stokes for a while (unless injury to one of the other bowlers creates a vacancy) but his left arm angle and ability to swing the ball back into the right handers provides invaluable variety.
I was encouraged that Sam seemed to find an extra half a yard of pace at The Oval. Speed obviously isn’t everything but it certainly helps. If he can ultimately operate in the mid 80s rather than the high 70s then he suddenly becomes a viable fourth seamer rather than a part-timer.
Craig Overton – Twist
England love his temperament. I love his temperament too. But he’s just not quite good enough for test cricket unless the pitch helps him. That means he’ll likely be a passenger overseas.
Although his batting is courageous and pretty organised, I just don’t see the point of investing in Overton. He’s a good wholehearted cricketer but I don’t think he’s quite as good as Tim Bresnan (the closest comparison I can think of).
Stuart Broad – Stick
Why gamble when you’re in possession of a solid 19? Broad rolled back the years this summer and looked as good as ever. He’ll be effective in both New Zealand and South Africa and provides both leadership and experience.
Jimmy Anderson – Stick
Dropping Anderson would be like flushing a diamond necklace down the toilet. You just don’t do it. You treasure it. I would give him every chance to prove his fitness for the winter tours. Yes he’s long in the tooth but he was bowling just as well as he’s ever bowled before his injury.
Jofra Archer – Stick
When you’ve got a world class fast bowler capable of reaching speeds of 95mph it’s best to just ignore him. Why risk upsetting a settled dressing room? Shoehorning an outsider into the squad – even when he’s considerably better than the incumbents – is frankly immoral.
Yes. A few idiots actually said exactly this at the start of the summer. And they look like even bigger idiots now.
Archer is already world class and it won’t be long before he’s competing with Pat Cummins at the top of the bowling rankings. But before you make him a fixture for the next decade, just think of the culture, just think of the culture. And then sod the culture and pick him anyway.
Moeen Ali – Twist
Goodbyes are difficult sometimes. I love Mo. We all love Mo. But Jack Leach is better. He’s more reliable. And to be honest I was getting a little sick of discussing Moeen’s confidence and mental state every time England travelled overseas.
I really hope that Mo can come back and play for England again. He’s certainly good enough to. We can’t just write off his 98 test wickets at 32 in England. And we can’t just write off his 5 test hundreds. However, neither can we ignore his poor record overseas, where his wickets have cost 41.
Jack Leach – Stick
Leach is already a cult hero for his glasses and bald head, but what people should really be talking about is his bowling. His test record to date is quality: 32 wickets at 26 with an economy rate of 2.8. When was the last time an England spinner began his career (both at home and overseas) so promisingly?
Leach took 12 wickets at just 26 in the Ashes and one could argue that he out-bowled Nathan Lyon (who’s wickets cost over 30). Although Jack still has some learning to do he looks like a spinner England can rely on. If he’s not taking wickets then he provides control. And that’s exactly what we’ve lacked since Graeme Swann’s elbow went on strike back in 2013.