All eyes are obviously on the World T20 at the moment. But if England lose to Sri Lanka on Saturday, Matthew Mott and his team’s attention will immediately turn to 50-over cricket again. With that in mind, Rob Stephenson discusses how things are shaping up ahead of our World Cup defence in India next year. The side has, after all, lost both its inspirational skipper and the man-of-the-match in that memorable Lord’s final against New Zealand in 2019…
Bizarrely, even for the ECB, England have a short one-day series starting just days after the T20 World Cup final. Many governing bodies would have chosen to give their players a rest, especially considering the imminent Test series against Pakistan, but obviously the ECB knew better.
England, of course, are still 50-over World Cup champions, but it seems increasingly as if both players and fans regard the 50-over format as obsolescent, with Moeen Ali referring to it as the “long boring” format, and Ben Stokes retiring from the format altogether to focus on T20 and Test matches. The upcoming World Cup may, therefore, prove to be a final rodeo for some of England’s one-day side, many of whom are into their 30s, albeit still fit and firing.
Series such as this, meaningless though they are in themselves, do provide the opportunity to look at some fringe players. The makeup of England’s 50-over side is rather up in the air, with Stokes and Morgan in retirement, and Jason Roy totally out of form – although it seems likely Buttler will want him back as opener, more in hope than expectation given his recent form. Although Alex Hales has been recalled in the T20 it seems that Roy will be preferred for this series, and is likely to open with Phil Salt, the proverbial next cab of the rank. Will Jacks would have been another option to open but may be left to work on his off spin with the Test side. Maybe Tom Banton might be in with a shout?
Presuming that Buttler will bat at 6, and Joe Root will be left to focus on the Test side, Dawid Malan and James Vince may have a chance to bat at 3 and 4. Ben Duckett would be a potential replacement for Morgan at 5, although as he is in the Test squad to Pakistan, they may choose to look at other options. Sam Hain of Warwickshire, with a formidable 50-over record, is one potential pick. Clearly though, a left handed option will be needed in the middle order unless Moeen moves up to bat at 5.
The attack presumably will feature Messrs Woakes, Curran and Willey, fitness permitting, with Rashid and Moeen as the spin options, and Olly Stone potentially bringing some genuine pace to the party. Luke Wood, a fringe T20 player who has played few 50-over games in common with most of the younger generation, also provides a brisk left arm option. Craig Overton may also be brought in with Brydon Carse still injured at the current time.
In the general scheme of things, therefore, perhaps the potential selections with the most to benefit from this series are Jason Roy, if he can prove he is still worth his place, and James Vince. Many words have been written about Vince. As one of the most elegant players of his generation, why has he never really established himself in any format? Now in his early 30s, and with a first international hundred in his last one-day appearance against Pakistan in 2021, can he finally merit a prolonged run in the side (in this format at least)? He has many admirers in the county game, and his fans would argue that it is high time for him to nail down a spot in one of England’s XIs.
Sam Hain, for me, is one of the most curious of modern players: a master of 50-over cricket despite the fact that the format could be in its death throes. His problem appears to be that there will only be room in the modern game for one batsman to play the anchor role, and in Joe Root, England have one of their finest ever. That said, given the volume of games and the fact that the selectors may eventually decide they want him to focus on Tests only, Hain may belated get his opportunity. His range of shot and placement would make him an attractive alternative if England do decide to look at another more conventional player in the top 4.
It seems strange to be writing about England’s 50-over side when the 20-over World Cup is in progress, but such is international cricket these days. For the first time in a number of years, places are up for grabs, and it will be intriguing to see what direction Jos Buttler’s takes his side. Bringing some younger players into the XI, including alternative spin options, should be on his agenda as we approach next year’s World Cup. It is, after all, less than eleven months away.