In ninety one days’ time England return to test cricket, against Sri Lanka at Lord’s. But who on earth will be in the team? Never before – except after a world war, perhaps – have the selectors faced such an extensive task of rebuilding and reconstruction.
Luckily, we have an awesome trio in charge, in the shape of James Whitaker, Angus Fraser, and Ashley Giles. So daunting is the scale of the challenge, though, that even these three powerhouses of charisma and creativity may struggle to identify an XI which will not only find the right blend of youth and experience, but more importantly, win test matches.
That last point deserves emphasis. We have only won five of our last fifteen test matches. So it’s absolutely vital that the ‘new’ England team very quickly develop a winning habit. They need to remember what victory feels like. It’s the only way that a side with so many rookies, and led by a captain with such fragile confidence as Alastair Cook, can begin to forge a recovery.
As I’ve said, picking the team to achieve that – with the players now available – is one hell of a job. So here at The Full Toss we thought we’d lend a hand. Here is the XI I would pick for the Lord’s test on 12th June. I’ve tried to be strict with myself, and forbid any fudges, either/ors, or even a twelfth man. And as ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts: who would you have picked?
1. Alastair Cook
Almost unbelievably, the skipper has now become a symbol of controversy and conflict. Personally, I will never forgive Cook for the cowardice and selfishness he displayed over Pietersen-gate, but even if you are more generously disposed towards him, no one can deny that his captaincy is now on the line. He brings nothing to the role except runs, and unfortunately there haven’t been enough of those for quite a while.
In the year since his last test century, against New Zealand in Dunedin in March 2013, Cook has scored 587 runs in twenty three innings, at only 25.5. True, his hefty career aggregate entitles him to the odd fallow period, but he seems to have too many of those, and this current one must continue no longer.
Cook makes my team, through gritted teeth, because there is no sensible alternative. And as he likes batting against Asian bowlers, this summer he needs to fill his boots.
2. Michael Carberry
I know what you’re going to say. 1 – he seems unable to kick on and make a score. 2 – he’s too long in the tooth to flourish at test level. And 3 – he has a a weird helmet. But Carberry remains a better option – and a finer player – than Nick Compton, his main rival to the second opening berth. It remains a worry that during the Ashes he couldn’t consolidate his starts into big innings, but we should make a few allowances for the situation. He was a rookie, trying to find his feet in test cricket in the most torrid and chaotic circumstances imaginable.
What’s more, we can only cut our coat according to our cloth, and while Carberry is unlikely to go on and make 10,000 test runs, his composure and maturity will come in very useful during this delicate process of rebuilding the side. If nothing else, he probably dealt with Australia’s attack better than any of his team-mates. Carberry seems to have lots of time to play the ball, and against Johnson and Harris he certainly looked more in control and better organised than Cook.
3. Ian Bell
This is admittedly far from ideal. I have always argued against the persistent clamour to elevate Bell to three; he is too erratic and muddled. In Australia, all Bell’s bad habits seemed to return under pressure, including his tendency to panic, and a career-long predilection for dinking his first ball into the hands of mid-off for no apparent reason. But all of that said, he now has to bat three – because there’s simply no one else who could possibly do it.
4. Eoin Morgan
Filling Pietersen’s boots is a tall order whomever you pick, and if replacing KP with Morgan feels like swapping a magnum of Moet and Cordon for a bottle of Sainsbury’s cava – well, someone should have thought about that before we dropped our best player.
The Irishman is not in Kevin’s class, of course, but at least he’s a cavalier, not a roundhead, and you need at least a couple of those to make a decent team. As Pink Floyd once said, “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” – and that’s as true of our cricket as anything. Maybe it’s why we often fall short. Morgan may be far from the finished article, but not only is he the the finest striker of a cricket ball still eligible for England, he’s the one man who can inject some genuine energy, fun, and brio. He plays with verve and ambition, and could potentially evolve into that more precious of cricketing assets – a player who acutely discommodes the opposition.
Morgan seemed naive and poorly organised when he first played test cricket, but since then he has matured and developed. He is now a more substantial cricketer, and deserves a second chance.
5. Gary Ballance
Instead of Joe Root. Listen, I want Rooty to prosper as much as the next man, but we have to be realistic and accept that for now at least, it’s just not working out. We all fell in love with the idea of Root, but that love blinded us to the facts. Far from emerging from his chrysalis as the new Len Hutton, he has gone backwards, in a manner which has destabilised our entire top order. During the ten Ashes tests, it seemed as if he was at the heart of every collapse.
So while Root goes back to Yorkshire to consolidate his game, Ballance is the next cab off the rank, and his excellent reputation in county cricket is enough to cement his place for the time being. He may not have scored many runs in the Sydney test – neither did anyone else – but he looked composed and self-assured. I liked the cut of his jib.
6. Ben Stokes
A no-brainer, of course, but with a health-check attached. Please, please, please – let’s keep our expectations for Stokes at realistic levels for the time being. He’s made a really nice start but is still very raw – and inevitably there will be hiccups and setbacks along the way.
Stokes is made of the right stuff. The only question is whether the England management can nurture and develop him properly. Too often of late, they’ve ruined every young player who’s passed through the dressing room.
7. Jos Buttler
If Paul Downton’s statement about KP meant anything at all of substance, its message was this: we need to clear out all the crap from the England team and virtually start again. What Downton probably also meant to say was “…apart from Alastair Cook’s mates”. But if we take his words at face value, the only logical conclusion is that Matt Prior must go – at least for the time being.
Prior’s trough of form has been long and deep. It’s not acceptable merely to drop him for two tests and them almost immediately bring him back for no good reason. He has to demonstrate a return to form by scoring runs heavily for Sussex over a sustained period, and prove that he’s still the best wicket-keeper-batsman in England.
Any other approach is unfair to the team. It also corrupts the entire rationale of selection, because it means leaving out Buttler on the spurious grounds that Prior’s past form and reputation make him a better bet.
To my eye, Buttler has something special about him – not just a superb eye and purity of stroke, but a sense of irresistibility. In his case, quality outweighs the risks of inexperience. Let’s throw caution to the wind.
8. Stuart Broad
He was the only senior player to emerge from the Ashes with his reputation intact – perhaps even enhanced. By the time we next play Australia, will he be captain?
9. James Anderson
Has Ando run out of puff? He’s looked increasingly knackered ever since the Trent Bridge test match last year, and the truth is that England have flogged him in to the ground. Anderson is the classic English case of the Rolls Royce used for the school run and trips to Asda, an asset depreciated by overuse.
But pound for pound, he is still our best bowler – so we’ll just have to hope he can recharge himself with enough energy and freshness to remain effective in tests until the end of next summer. To that end, I hope he is retired from all limited overs international cricket. Stuff the world cup: Anderson no longer has the legs for both formats, and the overwhelming priority is his role in the 2015 Ashes.
10. Graham Onions
Tim Bresnan is past it. Steve Finn has been destroyed by David Saker. Boyd Rankin is a non-starter. So who else but Onions is a viable option as third seamer?
I contemplated both Tymal Mills and Chris Jordan for the role, but soon thought better of it. Now is hardly the time to blood an vulnerable young apprentice in the England team environment. It’s too dangerous. The management ruin every bowler they lay their hands on. Wiser for the moment to play safe and pick a seasoned pro who’s better equipped to fend off the ECB wrecking ball.
Besides, Onions – who took 73 first class wickets at 18.93 last summer – will do a good job, and of all the available bowlers, is the one most likely to help us win test matches. That’s a valuable enough asset in itself.
11. Monty Panesar
You got any better ideas?
I suspect not. However, let me explain my rationale, which might look confused: picking glamorous rookie batsmen on the principle we need to clean-slate, while selecting hoary old has-beens for the bowling. In fact, the two cases are very different, because there are genuine options among the batting ranks but almost none among the bowlers.
Here’s another factor: taking a punt on a bowler involves a risk twice as great as with a batsman. If a batsman fails, he is simply out, and the innings moves on. But if a bowler proves to be completely dreadful, not only has he delivered poor spells and conceded many runs. The captain can no longer meaningfully bowl him, so the other bowlers have to deliver his overs as well as their own, and in turn the entire attack suffers.
As an example, think about what happened with Simon Kerrigan at the Oval last August, which also demonstrated how the problem becomes especially acute when the misfiring bowler is a spinner. An inadequate and inexperienced spinner – and Scott Borthwick must rank in that category at present – can very quickly unravel into a terrible spinner when put under pressure. And right now that is a situation we can ill afford.
So Monty it must be, and no bad thing. I’d argue that overall he bowled perfectly well at Adelaide and Melbourne, given the circumstances. If nothing else, he keeps it tight – and in that respect at least partially fills the vast hole left by Graeme Swann.
Over to you
So there’s my XI for the first test. Who’s in yours?
No spinner is good enough, so we might as well pick someone who will contribute most to the team overall. Hence my left-field Robin Petersen type selection below. My rationale is to look to the future, and most importantly make the team hard to beat. To of that, I’ve packed the side with batting while including more than enough bowling options. Root is in my side, because Australia’s win over the Cricketboks has put his recent performances into perspective, and Onions misses out because, quite simply, he isn’t the bowler everyone remembers from 2009. Sorry, but it’s true.
1. Cook (through very gritted teeth)
2. Robson (lions form rewarded)
7. Prior (Buttler can’t play the short ball)
8. Mooen Ali
9. Woakes (Bresnan but better)
10. Broad (best no10 in cricket?!)
What the team above really lacks is pace, but until Finn recovers, Overton matures, and Mills learns to move the ball, we don’t have anyone.
Honourable mention: Liam Plunkett. Don’t laugh, he’s still relatively young and was a solid performer for the Lions. Keep an eye out for him.
2. Sam Robson
7. Moeen Ali
That looks terrible. Quite possibly the greenest team imaginable. No way will that team get picked.
3. Trott (Still our best no. 3 by miles IF he starts the season well at Warks)
8. Borthwick (Monty, seriously? 3-33 in 6 overs last time out)
9. Bres (I’d like to say Finn though, fingers crossed)
*maybe I’m being naive here and this is my opinion, but I’m not sure what it is which is so ‘Unforgivable’, as far as I’m aware he hasn’t publicly given his account of events and doesn’t take cheap shots on twitter which is therefore bizarrely interrupted as some kind of admission of guilt, blaming Cook (at this point) seems like a cheap shot at someone who can’t defend themselves.
Honourable mention – James Taylor, I’d put him ahead of Ballance and Bairstow
Well after Trott’s revelation I don’t think he should be included in any Eng XI ever again. To abandon his team mates and pretend to have a serious illness (and to allow Warner to be torn apart by sanctimonious commentators) only to later insult mentally ill people… that kind of coward shouldn’t be allowed back in the side.
‘that kind of coward’, says the anonymous keyboard hero.
1 cook *
6 moeen ali
Glad someone has picked Davies. He thoroughly deserves a test cap. Did little wrong in his last couple of ODIs and is extremely gifted. He hasn’t been given a single opportunity since announcing he’s gay. I certainly hope this is coincidence.
6 Moeen Ali
Somehow Joe and Moeen are going to have to pick up the spinning option big-style. No over-rated Prior, jaded Trotty or fat medium Brezzer. They don’t look like world beaters, but something to work with, maybe.
1 Cook – Rough patch but we should really persist with him. By the end of his career he will presumably have the most test centuries of any England batsman, and is still a great player in my view. I don’t think the captaincy, or the merry go round of opening partners, has helped.
2 Compton – I don’t think he was given an adequate opportunity first time out.
3 Trott – This one’s conditional on form with Warks, but when we’re struggling this much for top order batsmen…
4 Root – Has hit good form in the position in ODIs.
5 Bell – Completely dominated Sri Lankans and Indians last time they toured.
6 Stokes – Like the article says, no brainer but exercise caution.
7 Buttler – I have my reservations, but my team probably needs a bit of dynamite, and there’s not a lot of that above.
8 Woakes – To some extent, he’s here to strengthen the batting. Also because his recent exploits with the Lions deserve recognition.
9 Broad – He might just be our best player at this point.
10 Anderson – I hope he’s had a nice rest.
11 Panesar – We’ve tried a couple of younger spinners lately, and they haven’t worked out. Now that we have batsmen coming who are used to playing spin on tracks that spin more than English ones, now might be the wrong time to try another newbie.
Thanks for all your suggested XIs – a really interesting debate. Re my comments on Cook – I don’t see how he can’t defend himself. What’s stopped him from explaining himself in public?
I don’t think anyone has ‘explained themselves’ in public, Pietersen included, I suspect the ‘severance package’ ensured this, leaving us the public with cryptic and carefully worded statements, a general vague disgruntlement from KP allied with sensationalist claims from Piers Morgan.
Cook as a captain however remains a serious doubt for me, some of his on field decisions (or lack of) have hamstrung the team at times… I just think you have to be careful not to question his character and integrity so readily, especially given his track record and universal respect within the game.
Looking forward to your take on Trotty :-)
You’re right that no one has explained themselves. But that is not an acceptable situation. As captain, the buck stops with Cook, and he should have manned up and explained his rationale to the English cricketing public instead of hiding behind evasive press releases.
I still suspect that the reason we’ve never been told the reasons for KP’s sacking is very simple – they didn’t have any. They just didn’t like him.
What we know of Cook’s character and integrity is that he is a very competent batsman who keeps his head down and avoids confrontation. I did not suggest that he is in any way corrupt. Instead, rather than use gumption, guts and nous to resolve any difficulties with Pietersen, he ran off crying to Mummy in the form of Paul Downton.
That was a cowardly and selfish act – suggesting as it does that he thinks team selection should revolve around his lack of man-management skills – compounded by his subsequent failure to front up in public.
If I’m wrong, and Alastair Cook wants to put me right – I’m all ears.
Love to see Morgan back in the team, he just looks too gifted to not succeed eventually if given time.
Agree with the person who mentioned Davies, though I suspect Prior will come back in. The team needs experienced heads.
I’d leave Trott out till he’s well and truly got his head right as some of the stuff he’s said in interviews doesn’t sound like a man with much control over his perspective on the ups and downs of top level sport.
1. Cook – last chance as a captain I’d say. Talented, but weak. Might find the going a bit easier without big personalities like KP and Swann hovering
2. Robson – they probably won’t, but he is a tough young man and showed his enormous talent in the Lions. If he was playing for any other country, he would defo get picked.
3. Root – nothing since Lords, so I guess this is the last roll for him, for now.
4. Bell – due some good form, but he is the best bat in the team.
5. Morgan – probably too high for him for now, but he has had enough exposure and cuddles to not fit in. Man up or play the short game.
6. Ballance – adds a bit and a good head on top
7. Buttler – potentially he could be the X factor KP was (not on the same level as a batsman, just the wow bit!). Prior is done.
8. Stokes – as you said, a “no brainer” – quite literally he has no brainer after punching the door and missing the T20WC. Anyway, each team has a resident bonehead so I guess he’s the best of that lot.
9. Borthwick – I’d give the little fella another go, as he has a bit of guts about him as well.
10. Broad – in good form, but suspect he is close to a big injury. Niggles are creeping in.
11. Anderson – nearly done, another ordinary series post 30 odd per wicket should see Jimmy boy out to pasture. A good bowler, not great and never will be, but there is absolutely no one else knocking on the stumps.
Onions maybe, Jordan perhaps, Ali a chance – depends on what the young Saffa’s plying their trade in County cricket decide to do, play for England or SA. Crompton might be there, Davies won’t let England down, Trott no chance.
Agree totally with Prince’s comments. Cook’s onfield captaincy has looked limited and average so far, but to effectively accuse him of being a ‘selfish coward’ is just plain unfounded. Especially as we aren’t even close to being in possession of all the facts! Am gutted about the whole KP saga and still can’t quite believe that it’s actually come to this, but don’t see the point in bagging on our captain, based on assumptions.
For my two cents:
*Cook (last chance/season as skipper, has to get better)
Robson (deserves a shot after Lions and first class form)
JT (either Trott or Taylor depending on form and fitness)
Bell. (best batsman bats @ 4)
Ballance (superb county record, more potential than Morgan?)
Root / Ali ( top 6 batsman who can provide spin cover in England)
Prior (hoping he can rediscover mojo, his experience and leadership is needed)
Stokes / Woakes (fast bowling all rounder spot – Stokes needs to sort his head out)
Broad (going well, future bowling leader)
Finn (IF he gets back on track, Jordan if not)
Anderson (still plenty of good cricket left in this bloke)
Not sure how they would fare overseas but reckon they could be a match in our early season conditions. Harsh on Onions, who would be a good replacement were the experienced Anderson unavailable. Lack of credible frontline spin options has to be a worry…
See my response above. There is every reason to bang on about this – he’s the captain for goodness’ sake, and he’s been party to an unprecedented and bizarre decision with huge implications for the team, but remained in hiding.
Thanks to all of you for your XIs – it’s made for a very interesting debate. Let’s hope there’s a half-decent team in there somewhere.
1. Cook- last chance saloon as captain.
2. Robson- time to blood some young talent and surely we have to reward the prolific form he has shown in the lions squad. Test the boy out!
3. Bell- Our most classy player, let’s see him to step up to the plate and deliver consistently with some responsibility on his shoulders.
4. Moeen Ali- He gets in as he offers a bit of a spin option and I want to see Joe Root go back to Yorkshire this summer and get back into the form he showed to get selected in the first place. Let’s not forget Ali looks a talented player too! (averaged 62.50 last summer) Maybe the beard of doom can rack up some runs at test level.
5. Balance- another player who had a fine first class season last year. Gave him a chance at Sydney so let’s give him a fair crack of the whip.
6.Ben Stokes- absolute no brainer. Aggressive player, keen to get after the bowlers and move our pedestrian scoring rate forward. Perfect at number 6. Very useful fourth seamer as well!
7. Prior- The toughest spot in the team to pick by a mile. I’m sure everyone agrees Bairstow does not cut it at test level. So that leaves only really two keepers on Englands radar, Buttler and Prior. I really wanted to pick the energetic Jos Buttler but on reflection, it has to be Prior. With so much change likely to be in the side, an old head would be useful in this role. It’s not just about batting, but keeping too. Jos needs a season of keeping regularly for Lancashire before we can consider him for test cricket.
8. Borthwick- Not convinced he is good enough but seems very harsh to give the young lad the axe after a 3 for on debut. He could useful runs, more than what can be said about his nearest rival Monty. Give him a go and you never know. PS- still think Kerrigan will bounce back and hopefully return to test cricket soon!
9. Broad- Shoe in to take the new ball
10. Anderson- hopefully there is some life in the old dog yet!
11. Overton- Tall lad, hits the pitch hard with a yard of pace. Hopefully we don’t ruin this one like we have Steven Finn.
Root (spin option)
Moeen Ali (Spin)
Got ballance pushing bopara, but think hes had a decent time recently and he can pick up wickets. Would say stokes is a bit too vulnerable at 6 despite the 100.
Give cook a brake and let him try get his form back!