Willey, Won’t He?

The three finest cricketing minds in the land (ahem), will meet this evening* to finalise which 15 cricketers will no doubt receive World Cup winners medals in just over a month’s time (big ahem). Most players are assured a place. But three or four of them will be waiting anxiously for a call.

The big question mark seems to be David Willey, who has been a real stalwart over the last two or three years. If Willey misses out he can consider himself extremely unlucky indeed.

His problem is that England have many bowlers of a similar caliber. Therefore someone is going to be left out so that someone who isn’t any better can stay in the squad. I’m glad I don’t have to make this decision to be honest. It’s a real toughie.

After Chris Woakes’s 5-fer in yesterday’s 5th ODI, the Warwickshire man is probably safe. It’s only right he should stay in the squad too. Ben Stokes often seems to pick up niggles, and Woakes is the only bowler who could move up the order and play as a genuine all-rounder should the worst happen. It’s not that others can’t bat; it’s just that they’re not as experienced or talented as Woakes with the willow.

The other man who’s vulnerable is Tom Curran. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes down to a straight choice between Curran and Willey. This one is so difficult to call.

Although I’ve never been Willey’s greatest fan as a bowler, I think he’s done pretty well in recent matches. I’m also a big fan of his batting. He’d probably bat 8 in some international sides. Plus there’s the variation he brings with this left-arm angle. And as we all know variation is really important in modern white ball cricket.

Curran is obviously a different kind of cricketer. He’s young, full of enthusiasm, and makes things happen. I doubt he’ll ever be a good bowler at test level, but he’s got some skills and seems to relish high-pressure situations. It suits him when batsmen are trying to bash boundaries. He’s not one to get flustered.

What’s more, Curran’s batting is improving all the time, and he’s shown he can play sensibly and support an established player at the other end. Basically, Curran is a cricketer with both brains and balls. And I like brains and balls.

Because I’d be extremely reluctant to leave out either Willey or Curran, the man I’d actually leave out is Liam Plunkett. However, I’m not sure how likely this is. The management seem very fond of the lovable man-bear, and he’s something of an imposing presence on a cricket field. He’s also highly experienced.

Although Plunkett does a good job in the middle-overs, and his height is still a useful attribute even if his pace has diminished somewhat, I expect that Jofra Archer will bowl some of his allocation mid-innings. And with Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali bound to bowl plenty of overs outside of the powerplays too, I’m not sure there’s much need for a mid-innings specialist.

Plunkett’s other problem is that his batting and fielding aren’t quite up to the same standard as Willey and Curran. He’s no slouch, and can hit a long ball, but he’s not quite as accomplished as the other two.

Although batting and fielding shouldn’t really be a factor when deciding which bowlers to choose – normally I’d just say “pick the best bowler” – I think they’re all very similar in terms of bowling skill; therefore I’ve reluctantly gone for batting and fielding as a tiebreaker. It’s better than picking names out of a hat, which is how England used to do it for so many years.

At this point you’re probably wondering who else England should leave out. It’s the man-bear and …. who?

I think it’s pretty obvious who this should be. Joe Denly was something of a controversial pick anyway, and he simply hasn’t done enough to keep his place. It’s a tough decision, as he hasn’t really had much opportunity, but as I explained above 17 just doesn’t go into 15. Someone’s got to miss out.

It’s a shame for Denly but personally I think he’s a better red ball cricketer. His batting is elegant and orthodox, and his leg-spin comes into the ‘occasionally to buy a wicket’ rather than the ‘dead cert to bowl his full allocation’ category. Consequently I’m not sure what he offers in the current ODI squad. Personally, I think Liam Dawson should be higher in the pecking order. But there’s probably no room for him either!

So those are my thoughts on England’s selection conundrum. In my humble opinion they should drop Plunkett but I expect they’ll drop Willey. However, it’s so close that I won’t have an issue whoever they pick – unless it’s a last minute call up for Jade Dernbach of course. Denly should and will be the other man to miss out.

I may not have time to react to the final squad selected tomorrow, so please feel free to use this thread to express your anger / disillusionment / apathy. Maybe Morgan will surprise us all by doing a Dermott Reeve i.e. he’ll unexpectedly drop himself? Stranger things have happened.

James Morgan

* Why on earth are the selectors meeting this evening? Don’t they know that the Game Of Thrones finale is on? One can only assume that Ed Smith actually stayed up until 2am last night to catch the premier instead – no doubt reciting Dothraki poetry as he wiled away the early hours. Anyone posting spoilers in the comments below will receive a lifetime ban from TFT by the way.


    • I thought it was good! The all action episode is normally the penultimate one, so it was pretty much as I expected.

  • I agree that, of the bowlers, Plunkett should miss out for all the reasons you cite. Willey being a leftie may well prove useful in one or two matches if the conditions change, plethora of left handed batters, etc. Curran has cemented his place with the bat ironically. They still have not named a replacement for Hales either – Do they have to reduce the squad to fourteen by tomorrow?

  • I agree with you, James – I’ve never really rated Plunkett, though he seems to have been more effective recently, Archer would be more effective at his “pace” job (as would Wood, judging be his recent pace). Denly was a left-field inclusion in the first place. Curran has done enough, as has Willey, but I’m not sure the latter would get into the starting 11, though.

    (Congratulations on the rare correct spelling of “wiled away”!)

  • I thought it was 15-man squads, not 14, James. And that when we were talking about leaving out two players, it was two from the 16 man shortlist made up of original 15 less Hales plus Archer and Dawson.

    In which case, I’d be leaving out Denly and Dawson. All those fast bowlers have ended their places. And if Moeen or Rashid has to miss a game, I’d rather be bringing in someone like a Plunkett, Willey or Curran than Dawson.

    • I would go with Dawson as I think 2 spinners is a must, and we’re light if Mo or Rashid picks up an injury. I’m just not sure the selectors will pick him.

      I’m not sure there’s room for Willey, Curran, and Plunkett in the squad. I’m sure one will miss out but could be wrong. One can have too many bowlers in the low 80s. I think we’ll pick guys who offer something a bit different, which is why I expect both Archer and Wood to make the cut. Apologies I should’ve mentioned the latter in the article.

  • On England’s bowling, the stat de jour (see Lawrence Booth as principal offender) is that Adil Rashid has taken most ODI wickets since the last WC. This is true but not the whole truth – and much as I like Rashid, I like honesty in the use of evidence more.

    Rashid has most wickets (129) – but he’s also played by far the most games.The second and third placed bowlers (Rashid Khan with 125 and Trent Boult with 107 wickets) have played 25 and 29 fewer matches respectively. Every other bowler in the top ten has a better average and everyone bar Liam Plunkett has a lower average.

    Rashid doesn’t need puffing up with selctive stat-mining.

  • Well Curran is better than Willey a much better finisher of an innings and almost as good a bat. Dawson rather than Denly any day. To be frank I don’t rate our bowling much anyway but it’s adequate providing we can hit 350 plus. Pray for flat tracks. Still don’t think we’ll win it.

    • It’s clearly going to be a batsmans World Cup, so on flat slow tracks who has the bowling line up to trouble our depth of batting? The Aussies look the best unit of a pretty ordinary bunch and will clearly relish upsetting the odds prior to the Test series, but really who is a major threat? Obviously in white ball cricket on the day a lot of teams can lift their game to be good enough,but who has shown that over a period of time better than us? To me it’s a question of whether expectation proves to be pressure too far. I can’t see complacency entering into it with Morgan in charge. Hopefully he stays fit, as I don’t rate Butler as captain or keeper. We’ve seen enough in his series to expose his limitations. With at least two spinners operating you can’t afford to miss chances. Not a great fan of Bairstow as a keeper either, but he is a better option.

  • I think the problem with Willey is that he is really a specialist opening bowler. His lack of pace means he is a hit me bowler if he can’t swing the ball. Therefore he won’t bowl his full allocation. Curran is more flexible here so I would go for him.

    I take your point on Plunkett but the selectors clearly like him.

    I suspect Vince will replace Hales though I wouldn’t have him in the team. All style and no substance.

    • People said that about Gower, but we persevered and it paid off. To me Vince is the obvious replacement for Hales and just needs a bit of luck, the sort of breaks Roy’s had in spades this series. Once he has the confidence of a decent score behind him he’ll be fine. He’s obviously in good nick and providing us with decent starts.

  • Don’t get the impression that there is that much excitement in the WC here?

    • There isn’t much full stop. I’m sure with every sport if England get to the semi or final every man, woman and child will suddenly be a supporter (happen sin footy, golf (Ryder cup) , tennis (Wimbledon), London olymipcs Etc Etc

      Just flash in the pan support

  • I don’t think the selectors thought hard enough about the Hales replacement. We may have a glut of good hard to select bowlers but mysteriously we have Vince and Denly in the batting mix neither of whom are that good or have any kind of track record. Vince is a very good stroke playing batsman who has obvious flaws and too much reliance on the cover drive. Denly should be nowhere near the side and is merely a whim selection by Ed Smith. Nepotism at its worst just before a World Cup. Better at red ball cricket averaging 36 in County Cricket? How come he has this reputation? He averaged 34 last year btw. While this kind of selection exists we have a right to worry. I can’t believe there isn’t a better one day player in County cricket with more fire power to replace Hales. Let’s hope he doesn’t make the final cut. If either Roy or Bairstow is injured we will need a better batsman than either Denly or Vince to step up. It might mean a shuffle up the order for someone. Why didn’t we trial Root opening or Buttler or Stokes to see who could cope in an emergency. The complacency of wasting matches on Denly is staggering. He wasn’t trusted to bowl nor bat. I think that says what the captain thinks about the selection. Both Willey and Plunkett have a knack of taking wickets. It’s a difficult call. Either would do a good job. If the wickets are roads for batsmen – seems to be the English way these days – then stamina might be a consideration. Personally I think it’s a tragedy for 50 over cricket that the excitement of bowling has been ignored in the equation of what makes cricket exciting. If I hear the word “entertainment” used about cricket I fear the worst. I have tickets for England versus New Zealand at Durham and hope Durham still delivers a more challenging pitch than say Trent Bridge.

    • The only difference between Roy and Vince in this current Pakistan series is that Roy has had all the luck and Vince has had none. To me it’s just a matter of time before he makes good. Most batsmen have a favourite side and stroke, it’s not a weakness. Vince is quality and just needs a break or two like most. Whilst in with Roy or Bairstow he’s looked the more impressive, getting into line and moving his feet. What are his obvious flaws? They’re not obvious to bowlers as he gets out playing different shots. Once he has the confidence of a big score behind him I believe you’ll see what he’s capable of. We’re still getting off to decent starts with him. Comparing him with poor old Denly is a travesty.

  • Amazingly every newspaper got the squad selection excatly right last night!

    If Ed Smith was a duck, he’d sink.

  • Some more bowling stats “since the last WC” (min. 50 wicket qualification):

    1) Best average: highest England 18th (Plunkett). Woakes is 19th, Rashid 21st, Willey 34th, Ali 36th (at 52, the worst average of anyone who qualifies). There are 3 Indians and 3 Australians in the top ten
    2) Best ER: no England bowler in the top twenty. Ali is 24th, Woakes 26th, Rashid 29th, Willey 33rd and Plunkett 35th. (This stat may be somewhat misleading as there are quite a few bowlers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ireland and Zimbabwe high up in this list and it probably reflects who these teams play against as much as the bowlers).

    Now of course one might say these figures reflect the conditions England have generally been playing ODIs in and there’s almost certainly a good deal of truth in that. However if the media are going around quoting stats, like England’s ODI bowling since the last WC, then there should be some awareness of the full picture and not cherry-picked nonsense that’s been hitched up to the wagon of a narrative.

    • Another interesting one from Cricbuzz that someone tweeted (it seems too complicated to check on Statsguru): Tom Curran has the worst economy rate in the last ten overs of an innings of all the England bowlers, since (iirc) the Champions Trophy in 2017. And the best? David Willey.

      I can see why they picked Curran–particularly his attitude–but I wonder if all this stuff about him being a death-bowling specialist and Willey being only a new-ball bowler is more perception than grounded in any actual experience.

  • Read Robert Kitson’s article ‘Major unions must work together to ensure Test rugby has a future’ to see how rugby union is facing some familiar issues.

    Concentrating on our own individual sport is blinding us to the looming destruction of international sport generally. The way this happens to dovetail with a globalist agenda is of course just a coincidence….

    • Please expand on ‘the looming destruction of international sport generally’. Don’t understand.

  • Am a great fan of Plunkett, but feel at this moment, both Willey and Curran are more likely to have an impact. Agree with Dawson’s selection to cover bases on the variety front, but is he good enough, even in white ball, to take key wickets or score crucial runs. Denly must go, feel sorry for him as all he’s done is confirm what we all knew, that the management had no confidence in giving him real responsibity. Would have been better trying out ‘one for the future’ like Hain.

  • Tim Wigmore has pointed out that Matt Henry played in the SF and Final of the last WC and he was not in NZ’s squad. As this tournament has even more matches than the last one, the chances of injury call-ups are quite strong.

    BTW, a look at SRs since the last WC shows that while England’s batting is indeed very good it isn’t quite as overwhelming as some commentary is suggesting. With a minimum 500 run qualification, 2 of the top ten are English (Buttler and Bairstow) and 4 of the top twenty, which also happens to be the number with an SR over a 100 (Roy and Ali). Raising the qualification to 1000 runs would increase the English presence but may also reflect that England have played more games and selected the same core of batsmen more often.

    BTW2, there is a bit of a myth grown up that England lost the CT SF in 2017 because of a poor pitch. Pakistan scored 215/2 in 37.1 overs so the pitch was hardly that bad. It’s also worth remembering that England lost only one wicket to spin that day. The key issue was that Pakistan’s bowlers bowled the right length (unlike NZ’s bowlers on the same ground a few days earlier who bowled way too short).

  • So there’s a film coming out about when England topped the rankings in all three formats (TM)?

    Some quotes from their twitter page:

    “Not only was he the finest cricketer ever to play for Zimbabwe, Andy Flower coached the greatest English Test team of all time”.

    “Introducing: David Saker 🏏 Saker’s determination both as a player and a coach was a catalyst to his success. A true contributor to the legend that is the 2010/11 Ashes”.

    “Wait until you hear some of the outrageous stories from @jimmy9, @Swannyg66 and the rest of them!”

    Sounds unmissable – I expect Mike Selvey will find time in his busy schedule to make this one cricket film he will watch.

    (Seriously, on that first one, Dobell calls them the finest England time of his lifetime. That’s fair enough – and is it that difficult to use a wording along those lines? The England team of the 1950s were probably the greatest and the team 1968-72 at least as good as the early 2010s. There are others with claims as well).


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