While all eyes, well most eyes, have been on England’s warm-up games against Pakistan, the English players who remained at the IPL have become somewhat forgotten men.
One of these young men was Sam Curran, who not long ago was the darling of English cricket. However, he’s had a bit of a tricky six months since the end of last summer.
Although Sam is still a young player of immense talent and potential, he struggled slightly with the ball on England’s winter tours because the conditions didn’t suit him. This shouldn’t have been a surprise though, and I expect his bowling to remain very useful this summer when the dukes ball is swinging around.
Curran has also had a mixed time at the IPL. He’s certainly had his moments – a fantastic hat-trick against the Delhi Capitals and a sparkling 55no against the Kolkata Knight Riders in which he took apart Harry Gurney – but otherwise he’s struggled to make an impact.
Sam’s next highest score in eight outings was 20, and he only took 10 wickets at an average of 32 with an economy rate of nearly 10. That’s not nearly enough to justify his lofty £800,000 price tag.
What’s more, Curran’s team the Kings XI Punjab were unable to qualify for the latter stages in what has actually been a pretty entertaining IPL. The final is on Sunday so if you fancy watching it, and you don’t have the necessary channel, give BT Sport customer services a ring to subscribe.
The other problem for young Sam is that Jofra Archer now seems to be the new darling of English cricket. One can see why. Archer has looked potent with the ball and seems to be exactly what the England test team has lacked over the years: an out-and-out quick.
The good thing about genuine pace is that it’s effective all over the world. 90mph yorkers tend to take the pitch out of the equation.
I’m also encouraged by Archer’s action as his pace seems so effortless. It all comes from his fast arm (a bit like Malcolm Marshall or Wasim Akram) so he’s not putting his body under too much strain. One hopes, therefore, that longevity and fitness won’t be too much of an issue.
But where does Archer’s emergence leave Sam Curran? Stuart Broad has already suggested that Jofra is a shoo-in for the test team:
I can’t see a way that Jofra doesn’t play some sort of role in that Ashes series … he has the rhythm, the style, the pace. He generates pace with ease … he has everything you would want in a fast bowler to succeed at the top level.
With Broad himself and Anderson guaranteed two of the bowling spots, especially now that the ECB has decided to use the Dukes ball from last summer which offers more movement than the 2019 version, this doesn’t leave a lot of room for other bowlers.
Ben Stokes will be the third / fourth seamer, so there’s probably only room for one of Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, anyone else you’d like to throw into the mix plus, of course, Sam Curran. I know who’s going to worry the Aussies most out of that group. And it’s not even close.
Even if England re-jig the balance of their side, which is always a possibility with Mr Funky in charge, I can’t see how Curran gets a game. There’s the possibility that England might pick four seamers plus Stokes, but I think this would be daft considering the weaknesses in our batting line-up.
The bottom line is that four seamers plus Moeen should be more than enough bowling in home conditions. And if the pitch is dry then there’s always Adil Rashid or Jack Leach to consider. And what about Ben Foakes? There’s always value in playing the best pure keeper available.
Basically Archer’s emergence is as bad for Curran as it has been for the likes of Liam Plunkett and David Willey in the ODI squad. A good cricketer is going to miss out because someone better – a cricketer who fits a specific need too – has become available.
There is one glimmer of hope for young Sam, however. England are looking for batting depth and many observers (me included) believe Curran the younger has more talent with the bat than the ball. Perhaps he can force his way in as a batsman and very occasional bowler?
Whereas England’s test cupboard is suddenly looking stacked when it comes to fast bowling – don’t forget that Mark Wood is an excellent option when fully fit like he was in the Caribbean – the batting cupboard looks as bare as Doug Bollinger’s pre-Advanced Hair Hats head. There are vacancies galore.
The only hitch is that these vacancies tend to be at the top from 1-3. The middle-order is as strong as it’s ever been with Buttler, Bairstow, Stokes, and Moeen all suited to the 5-7 slots. Can Sam be a long-term option at 3?
Personally I think it would be a huge ask for Curran to bat this high against Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, Pattinson and Co. However, it will be a huge ask for any of the available options, whether that’s Joe Denly, Dawid Malan, Sam Hain, Ben Duckett, Geoff Boycott’s gran, or the ghost of WG Grace.
My advice to Sam, therefore, would be to give Ed Smith a ring and argue he’s the best young batsman available in the absence of Ollie Pope and Joe Clarke. And if Big Ed is unmoved, try to argue that he’d be the funkiest, daring, and cleverest pick at 3. The latter might actually work.
Written in collaboration with Contact Numbers UK