The Lions’ Mane Men

Excuse the headline. It has been a long week. But a least a bad pun is better than a misspelling. I just wanted to quickly discuss the England Lions squad for the winter … and obviously any mention of lions provides plenty of opportunity for cheesy headlines. Be thankful I didn’t roll out the old ‘lions squad to be roaring success’ chestnut.

So what do we make of the squad? The headline inclusions are pretty much as expected really, with one or two notable exceptions. There’s a good blend of experience – or failed test players if one want to be harsh – and promising youngsters … some of whom are fresh out of kindergarten.

The selections of Tom Westley, Keaton Jennings and Mark Wood are possibly the most significant. The theory being that they’ll step up to the Ashes squad in the event of injury or, in Ben Stokes’ case, shameful exile. I doubt too many of you are enthused at the prospect of Westley and Jennings striding out to bat at Brisbane or Perth. Personally I’d prefer Liam Livingstone to be first reserve.

The most interesting names, however, are the younger players who have shown considerable promise in domestic cricket. These guys might not quite be ready for international debuts, but they’re fine prospects who could have long England careers in the future. I’m talking  about Dan Lawrence, Joe Clarke, and possible even Alex Davies too. How refreshing that it was Davies, rather than his Lancashire teammate Jos Buttler, who received the call.

Talking of Buttler, he’ll be focusing on improper cricket this winter after securing a lucrative contract in the Bangladeshi premier league. Ben Duckett, on the other hand, turned down a T20 opportunity to make the Lions tour. Good on ya, Ben.

There’s also a place for Jack Leach, who continues to be the leading spinner in county cricket. I wonder what they’ll find wrong with Leach this time? We’ve already had questions about his bowling action and maturity so my money’s on his teeth or hair cut this time.

Other notable names to make the trip are Somerset’s Dom Bess, a young off spinner who fields like a panther and knows which end of the bat to hold, and Sussex’s George Garton, who might well be the new Tymal Mills … but without the debilitating injuries. There were rumours that Garton might make the full Ashes squad as a pacey wildcard, but I guess James Whitaker played his once-a-decade ‘let’s pick a random teenager’ card last winter instead.

Talking of random teenagers, it was very surprising to see Surrey’s Amar Virdi in the squad. He’s only played 3 first class games and only picked up 6 wickets so far. Apparently he’s a bit of a Saqlain Mushtaq protégé but is that enough to justify his selection ahead of more deserving candidates?

The same goes for 20 year old Saqib Mahmood, who has taken 13 first class wickets. He’s obviously a good seam bowling prospect but why he’s been picked ahead of Worcestershire’s Josh Tongue is anyone’s guess. Tongue took 47 wickets this year alone. His exclusion needs some explaining.

The absence of Rory Burns, who some Surrey fans rate more highly than Mark Stoneman, and Nick Browne is also something of a head scratcher. The absence of Sam Northeast, on the other hand, is easy to explain: he’s Sam Northeast. It’s the James Hildreth rule all over again.

The one lad who’s a bit lucky to make the trip is Nick Gubbins – or Nick Random Paraphernalia as his mates call him. He hardly scored a run this summer but secured a place because he’s impressed Graham Thorpe on previous training camps. My reaction to this approach is ‘fair enough’ although perhaps it says more about the lack of alternative openers than Gubbins’s potential. It’s worth noting that Haseeb Hameed is injured.

The final two players in the squad are Jamie Porter, who took wickets for fun this summer, and Durham’s Paul Coughlin. Although it’s probably a bit misleading to call him Durham’s Paul Coughlin as he’s buggering off to Nottinghamshire.

Let’s just say that Sir Ian Botham, Durham’s chairman, wasn’t too impressed. Well done Beefy for mentioning the words ‘selectors’ and ‘conflict of interest’ in the same sentence. I find it incredible that Mick Newell (and Angus Fraser) are still allowed to be selectors whilst holding down director of cricket roles at Notts and Middlesex respectively. But when does anything about English cricket make sense?

James Morgan


  • I find it incredible, given how poorly we are selecting, that any of the selectors are still in place. But there you go.

  • I wonder what is the objective, it doesn’t look like it is to collect England’s 2nd XI and reserves together and assess them for the order in which they could progress to the first team. An area that England have been very poor for a while now, no batsmen since Root has come in and not been dropped within the first 15 games.

    With plenty of holes in the Test side I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone is selected to debut next summer who wasn’t on this trip (Stoneman, Malan didn’t play the red ball games in Sri Lanka) which won’t reflect well on this side of England’s player development spending

    Some players who could be there are not because they have signed T20 deals, the ECB won’t interfere with players not selected for the main squad playing in T20 comps so that explains the likes of Buttler, Rashid who have played Test Cricket in the last 12 months and Tom Curran

    Its fine to pick younger players who might be 2 or 3 years from selection while the team is stable which it is for white ball cricket. With the average age of the current white ball team it would be better to spend resources on the those in their early 20s so is this squad another sign of the white ball focus?

    • I think the Lions are playing one first class match against one of the Aussie state sides, and then three T20s! Other than that it’s just a training camp. That might go some way to answering your question at the end ;-)

      The main tour is the Windies in the new year apparently.

  • Strange squad. Doesn’t appear to be any clear thinking really. I suppose there is the usual mix of failed (for now) test players and youngsters. However, of those that have done well this summer, many have been left out. What is the purpose of this squad? Options: (a) to provide back up for the ashes squad; (b) to produce test players of the future; (c) to appease some of those that missed out on an ashes spot; (d) to continue a transparent selection process that has reaped dividends of late; (e) to reward those that have had great seasons in the CC; (f) none of the above.

  • Whittaker took over the role from Miller three years ago and now we don’t have a settled number 2, 3 or 5. I’d call that failure so any squads selected, that don’t make sense, come as no surprise.

    • I agree, of course, about 2, 3 and 5, but I would be interested to hear your proposed solution to the problem. (Mine has been torpedoed by the probable – and apparently deserved (though I have heard some mitigating rumours) – of Stokes.)

      • sorry – “absence of Stokes”. (I must try to write less parenthetic constructions.)

      • The solution was to make the best opening batsman in England, one Joe Root, stay as opener. Sadly that ship has sailed, so now we are stuck with Root in the middle order, and quality batsmen like Livingson, Lawrence, Northeast and even Balance (who might work as a 5) fighting for one or, at best 2, spots.

        There’s also a question of why a test batsman of the quality of Ali is batting at 8, with someone as limited as Malan batting at 5.

        Root, Stoneman, Cook, Livingson, Lawrence (or NE), Ali, Bairstow, Woakes, 3 bowlers (quick/quick/spinner or quick/quick/quick) looks fine.

        In future maybe Nick Browne to open with Stoneman.

  • As results matter litttle on Lions tours, it being more about testing potential under the eyes of experienced test pros like Thorpe, picking with this in mind had to be the order of the day. The team will spend more of their time at training camps than playing meaningful cricket, till they tour the Windies in the new year. So for this particular ‘tour’ picking a bunch of untried youngsters, underpinned by potential convenient call ups like Wood and Westley, seems to make sense. I would be surprised if the same bunch went to the Caribbean.
    I would go along with selectors needing to prove themselves by making judgements that improve team performance over time. If this doesn’t work they should be replaced at the end of fixed term contracts.
    Maybe a better selection procedure would be to have coaches from each county meet at the beginning and end of each season to discuss relative international potential. From that the England management make their selections. That way there can be no accusations of county bias. Scouts can be appointed, like in soccer, who have no selection authority, merely recommendation, to go and watch certain players without their knowledge and give them a rating.

  • The one omission I cannot understand is Olly Stone. He is picked out for praise by the England bowling coach and needs a winter of cricket after recovering from a bad injury. And he is one of very few English bowlers able to go over 90 mph consistently (topped out at 94 mph in the T20 finals, what could he do when fully match sharp?). There seems little point in the England bowling coach having an opinion if it is to be so comprehensively ignored.

  • Just returned from a wasted evening at our local watching the footie. Puts our cricketers problems into perspective.
    If they were that ineffectual we would really have something to moan about.
    At least we have a chance in Oz, unlike our bloated soccer ‘stars’ in Russia.


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