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?