The England ODI side to face New Zealand in one Twenty20 International and five ODI’s is announced later on today. It is rumoured that there is to be a surprise or two. After reviewing the Friends Provident Trophy matches so far this season, I have tried to identify who is deserving of a place in the side.
The first surprise is that Andrew Strauss is being considered for a recall. Whilst Strauss has clearly worked hard to reinvent himself and is deservedly reaping the benefits, there is no doubt that he is not what England need in the ODI arena, especially given the rise of whiz bang cricket and ever higher run rates. Strauss would be best left to focus on Test cricket and constructing solid innings as in the last Test match. He plays best when he isn’t under pressure to score. From this readers could be forgiven for assuming that Alistair Cook would be my pick at the top. Sorry again. Whilst Strauss isn’t going to be taking Cook’s place, somebody else will! Alistair Cook, very much like Strauss, plays best when not under pressure to score. Neither are Marcus Trescothick and playing them in the hope that they one day will be is sheer foolishness. And a Trescothick is exactly what England need up at the top of the order. Cook tried initially, but looked unnatural and kept on getting out attempting to hit over the top. Then he played his way, which brought more runs, but did nothing for the run rate in comparative terms. His first ODI hundred against India at The Rose Bowl was indicative of Cook’s problem. Whilst he did compile a brilliant innings, England could have unleashed the fury much earlier in the match, but Cook was seemingly unable to do so. Indeed, Ian Bell, his partner in crime, was able to do so to a greater extent. Once again England fell short of the mammoth score which they should have made. Of course, it wasn’t a problem in that particular game, but it could well be in the future.
England have also tried to replace Trescothick, most recently with Phil Mustard, who has also taken over the wicket keeping duties, with limited success. Mustard came to prominence during Durham’s run to the Friends Provident Final last season, which ultimately culminated in them winning their first trophy. His exciting brand of cricket was compared to Adam Gilchrist, always the bench mark for a wicket keeper it seems, no matter how unfair. At international level though, and I say this after his limited appearances, he doesn’t appear to be able to convert starts in to the bigger fifties and hundreds which win matches and are the backbone of any limited overs side. His form in domestic cricket this year has also been far from impressive, as those of us with him in our fantasy sides can testify! Jeremy Coney, after his first sighting of Mustard, described him as a leg side bully. It is hard to disagree at times, although he clearly has more to his game than this. Ultimately though, after ten matches, he is averaging 23.30, with only a solitary fifty to his name.
The change which I therefore wish to see and which looks increasingly likely, is the recall of Matt Prior to the ODI side. Whether this be as wicket keeper or not doesn’t really bother me. He clearly has the ability with the bat to cope as a top six batsmen. Whilst he too only averages 22.90 after his return to the side last year, scoring the one fifty, he is without doubt a better batsman than Mustard. He averages 40.14 in Test cricket and is so far the leading scorer in First Class cricket this season, with 473 runs at an average of 67. He has only failed to pass fifty once in fact and in Sussex’s most recent game scored both a hundred and fifty, whilst nobody else was able to even get past forty. His efforts won the game. That record clearly deserves rewarding. What of his wicket keeping though? Well, it is often the unreported facet of the game. Without being there it is hard to judge. Some reports suggest improvement and this would be understandable, away from the scrutiny and pressure of the international arena. In his favour is that he played well as the keeper for England in limited overs cricket and did not make the same volume of mistakes as in Test match cricket, mistakes for which he was rightly dropped. His keeping will need to be at a much higher level before he returns to Test cricket. However, a return to the ODI side will enable him to ease his way back in, set about keeping successfully through fifty overs, rather than two hundred or more over five days.
If Prior is to come in for Mustard, then I may well bat him down the order, where he operates so well for Sussex. He could also open of course, a position he has yet to convince in at international level. Vikram Solanki is the only other real candidate for the opening role, yet he has been in and out of the side over so many years that I doubt he will be selected, despite his excellent limited overs form. My definite opener would be Ian Bell as I feel he is the player England should look to, to bat through the innings. His best ODI innings for my mind was against Australia when he opened. His promotion would allow Kevin Pietersen to bat at number three, where he could better dictate the game for England. This could be the fresh change with Pietersen needs in order to reinvigorate his own game and focus on his strength, being positive. At four would come Owais Shah, as I believe that too much of his ability against spin is lost down at number six, plus England now have better options down the order. Usman Afzaal and Samit Patel could also be in contention for this position in the future, given their impressive allround performances for their counties in the FP Trophy thus far this season.
Five would be the captain, Paul Collingwood, in his familiar role. At six I would have Ravi Bopara who is enjoying a good start to the season. At seven would be Luke Wright (if Prior were to open, it may be worth swapping the two around at some point), as he has so far played his best cricket for England at the death. Eight would be Andrew Flintoff when he returns, until then Dimi Mascarenhas would be a sound choice and the only near replacement which England really have. Nine would be the ever improving Stuart Broad, who looks more at home in the ODI side than the Test team. Ten would be the ever reliable Ryan Sidebottom.
The batting depth of this side would allow England to play Monty Panesar at number eleven should he develop more variety. It can be argued though that he needs the experience of playing in order to develop that variety. His rivals are Graeme Swann, Adil Rahsid and James Tredwell, all of whom could comfortably bat at number nine, or possibly higher if required. For me, building for the next World Cup and given his success against New Zealand thus far, I would choose Panesar, with Rashid as the second spinner.
James Anderson would be the standby seamer and could also play instead of Mascarenhas until Flintoff’s return if deemed necessary. He is still far too inconsistent though and that is why he does not make the final XI. Even in Test match cricket he still bowls a lot of four balls and doesn’t seem to be able to maintain consistent pressure on the batsmen.
I believe that England are working their way towards building a successful and positive limited overs side. The introduction of more positive players has led to an improvement and will continue to do so.
Matt Prior (wk)
Paul Collingwood (c)
Andrew Flintoff (Mascarenhas)
Ryan Sidebottom (Anderson)