Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Players moving up, England moving forward

For those of you who are regular readers you will be all too familiar with my musings over the years about the England One Day International side. Finally we seem to be making some progress.

Firstly, Alistair Cook is no longer opening the innings, fabulous. He is undoubtedly a fantastically talented Test match cricketer, albeit slightly out of form at present, but he is just not a modern day limited overs batsman. Ian Bell has at last been elevated to the role of opener, one he has enjoyed success in before. His innings against the Australians at the last World Cup demonstrated that he could score quickly, through a vast array of strokes. Notably he has the ability to use his feet and hit over the top, something Cook patently struggles with.

Secondly, and I want to scream hallelujah here, England’s best batsmen, Kevin Pietersen, has finally been elevated to number three! Many of us have only been looking for this change for the past two and a half years, but better late than never as they say. From number three Pietersen can dictate the innings for England and spend the maximum amount of time at the crease (other than if he opened of course!). The best player in a side regularly bats at number three and it is of major importance in limited overs cricket.

Luke Wright has been re-elevated to the role of opener, a role he has yet to really succeed in for England (though his brisk fifty today is a good start). He has enjoyed success down the order coming in against the old ball, should he be left down there to do what he does best? It is a difficult question to answer. Undoubtedly he should be given the rest of this series to readjust to opening. One thing for sure is that he should be in the side. His fielding and surprisingly effective death bowling certainly add to a developing unit. We must hope that he can succeed as an opener as the alternatives are limited and once Andrew Flintoff returns, there will still be plenty of power down the order.

The lack of an aggressive opener has been the failing of the England side over the last few years. Often the wicket keeper opens as the aggressor. However, it can’t be Tim Ambrose, as he has neither the technique nor the experience for the role. Whilst on the subject of Ambrose, I wonder how effective he will prove to be so low down the order, as he plays higher up for Warwickshire and does not seem to have the game to come in late and provide a brisk cameo. His performances will be under review no doubt. As Ambrose is the current incumbent keeper, it doesn’t appear as though the aggressive opener will be Phil Mustard, especially given his woeful recent form and limited stroke play at the highest level. Matt Prior, for all his runs, does not currently have the glove work to back them up and he is having to serve more time in county cricket for the time being. Steven Davies and Craig Kieswetter, two young wicket keepers, could yet be tried in the role, but their debuts are unlikely for a few years yet.

Other than Wright that leaves only specialist batsmen. Of them, Owais Shah, Jonathon Trott, Vikram Solanki, Michael Carberry, Joe Denly and James Benning are the main contenders. Shah is undoubtedly a great player of spin and a wonderful exponent of the limited overs batting art, who is currently batting too low for his talent at six. Elevating him to opener takes him away from the spinning ball though and exposes him to the new ball, which has at international level in the past seen his downfall. He is probably best left to bat at four. Of the remaining men, Solanki is a fantastic cricketer and agile fieldsmen. He has had many opportunities in an England shirt already though and has failed to convince, but he has rarely had a sustained run in one position. Trott is another candidate, who made it into Peter Moores’ first limited overs squad, playing two Twenty20 matches against the West Indies before being discarded. He often opens for Warwickshire in limited overs cricket, has a safe pair of hands and is a capable medium pace bowler. Meanwhile, Carberry is an electric fielder, blessed with Wesley Snipes’ Blade’s turn of pace. He has enjoyed success for the England Lions on a number of occasions, most notably in India over the winter, where he averaged 47 in three First Class games and 58.33 in three List A games. He scored two hundreds and two fifties. A lefty, he would compliment Bell and leave England with that all important right hand-left hand combination. Fellow Lion Denly is young and technically sound, but he is more likely to make his breakthrough in Test match cricket at the moment. Finally, Benning, whilst a fine striker of the ball, is not the most talented and is rather predictable with his constant search for leg side blows.

There is one further possible contender and that is Graeme Swann, who has often been the pinch hitter for Nottinghamshire in the past. He would not be capable of building an innings however and would be unlikely to average in excess of 20, which at international level is going to leave you in trouble. He is also far from a certainty in the side, with both Monty Panesar and Adil Rashid eager to take his place. If Wright is not successful in the role then I would seriously consider getting a wicket keeper into the team who can open once again, with Wright dropping down the order. There hasn’t been a problem so far with having two different captains, so I fail to see the difference in having two different wicket keepers. Prior, Mustard, Davies and Kieswetter could all fit the bill in my opinion. If not, then space would have to be found in the side for a specialist batsman to open. Ultimately, most of the other players mentioned, including Wright, can do well enough in the role to make England competitive again in One Day International cricket and that is down to the new formula which coach Moores and captain Paul Collingwood have devised. Exciting aggressive multi-dimensional cricketers now comprise the squad, with Test specialists left to do what they do best.

With Flintoff yet to return, the side is shaping up nicely and furthermore it seems as if only four specialist bowlers are required, with the likes of Collingwood, Wright, Ravi Bopara, Pietersen and Shah all capable of making up the fifth and final bowler. That will leave England with a nice dilemma when Flintoff does make his comeback in an England shirt. One of Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom or James Anderson may have to make way. In the last 12 months Anderson has averaged 36.14 with the ball, at a strike rate of 40.1, with an economy of 5.39 in ODI’s against the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. That is not good enough and is made worse by the fact that in that time England have not once played either of the two leading ODI sides. He is most under pressure, along with Sidebottom, who whilst economical, has not taken as many wickets against New Zealand as he would have liked.

Meanwhile, Dimitri Mascarenhas can consider himself unfortunate to miss out on a place in the first choice XI, but his place appears to have been taken by Bopara, who unlike him, can bat in the top seven, though he will need to curb his penchant for a run out. Mascarenhas is a certainty for the Twenty20 side however and will still probably get the odd game in place of the spinner, depending on conditions. He will hopefully make up the selection pool, which would also feature Cook, Trott, Panesar and Anderson.

A potential England side of:

Mustard / Prior (wk)
Collingwood (c)

will hopefully be taking to the field sooner rather than later and challenging the rest of the world for limited overs trophies once again.


Philip Oliver said...

Things are certainly taking shape for England. Another name I would throw into the hat is James Tredwell as the spinner - he bowls with good flight and is a proper frontline batsman.

Chrispy said...

I agree that Tredwell will be monitored closely. His 100 at 3 against the Kiwis shows he can bat all right! And his bowling is very effective in the T20 cup. However, having seen him play for the Lions he doesn't seem to offer much threat in the longer format at the top level (mind you neither did Swann) and that's why I think Panesar and Rashid are more likely to challenge long term in the future. I would though be interested to see Tredwell as the second spinner in T20 prehaps. Good fielder too for a big man.

Tim said...

Certainly am familiar with your musings Chris!

Basically I agree with your team, although I'd be tempted to play to England's strength and pick 4 frontline seamers, leaving Wright and Colly to bowl 10 between them.

My team:
Afzaal/Hildreth - I want a left-hander in the top 6. Also, these two players have greater six-hitting capacity than Ravi internationals. His strike-rate - 65 - in 21 ODI innings is actually pretty awful!

With Swann to come in on spinning tracks.

Richard Lake said...

A bit harsh on Ravi, Tim. Two of his better innings have been digging Egland out of huge holes, which accounts for the low scoring rate. However, he does need to show a bit of more in the next three matches if he's not to spend the next One Day series watching.

The other name I'd throw in as an alternative to one of the seamers is Tim Bresnan. He's opening the bowling for Yorks bowling around 85 mph. His batting is on a par with Broad's and I feel he's worth another shot at International cricket.

Tim said...

It's true that 43* against India was very slow because of the circumstances, but he was pretty quick in the WC. I know he's been in fantastic form for Essex, but so far he's got a lot of hype for doing very little in the international game. I think he needs to bat in the top 5 if he's going to play at all - and at the moment, I don't think he's quite good enough.