15 August 2016

England Cricket 2016 Review

About 12 months ago I wrote an Ashes review. What I mentioned then was how bad Moeen Ali was, and how bad the opener situation was.

Now, I don't wish to boast, but this Pakistan series has proved that I was correct. We should have seen it coming (I certainly did), but Moeen Ali was thoroughly outclassed by Yasir Shah. Shah had a tendency to drop too short at Old Trafford and Edgbaston, but in London he was fantastic and won Pakistan those two matches... or rather, England threw them away. A first-innings deficit of 200+ at The Oval was definitely not insurmountable, except too often this summer England have thrown wickets away. I don't mind if they are "got out" off good bowling whereupon the batsman can do nothing about it, but in the second innings at The Oval there was some shocking batting. Even before their dismissals, Root and Hales played some shots where they didn't move their feet at all - and that worried me. As it was, Hales was out to Shah LBW, leaving too big a gap between his bat and pad. And then he reviewed it for some odd reason. Vince also fell stupidly with a loose drive with no footwork at all, and Root got undone by a flipper. But had England dug in and made 400+ in their second innings, the final day would have been interesting.

The England batting coach needs to look at this. Oddly, it's Cook's main weakness, a lack of feet, but he seemed to finally get on top of it (except at Lord's). So, as England move on to Bangladesh and India, who stays, who goes, and who gets taken on the plane? The county circuit is not looking too promising - in Division One there are very few batsmen who are doing well. When you add in a couple of filters (English players only, Div 1 only, 5+ inns), then you're really stuck: Bairstow is already in the team, Trott has retired, as has Trescothick and Collingwood, and England have already tried Robson and Borthwick; the ECB hardly ever go back to people. That leaves Liam Livingstone, Nick Gubbins, James Hildreth, Adam Wheater, Stephen Eskinazi, and Ben Foakes. Livingstone, Wheater, and Eskinazi have benefited from an abnormally large number of not outs, and with Foakes's ability to keep wicket, surely Foakes is a nailed-on certainty to be on the plane to Bangladesh and/or India? If you're wondering about Jason Roy, he's had a poor year (although the fact he's a middle order batsman appears to be lost on most people) and is only averaging 31.80.

Who do we drop, therefore? I would keep Hales as he has impressed me and wasn't too bad in this series. James Vince must be barred from the leaving the country, but I would probably take Gary Ballance as a squad player. The issue for England is that no specialist batsman (i.e. not including the keeper or all-rounders) other than Cook or Root has scored a century since Lyth at Headingley versus New Zealand over 12 months ago.

What about spin bowling? Well, where to begin? The ECB almost refusing to release England players to play in the County Championship makes comparisons less meaningful, but we can still have a go. Moeen Ali's Championship figures are absolutely woeful - how on earth is he still in the England team? In Division Two, he has bowled 42 overs this season with figures of 1-161. Who else is on the horizon? Well, Jack Leach of Somerset hasn't done too badly this season, but then it really is slim pickings. From that list on the right, none of them have retired from test cricket, which is the good news - the bad news is that the ECB are the ECB. No way will they pick Callum Parkinson (quite rightly too), nor Jack Taylor of Gloucestershire. Adam Lyth is on that list but England would not pick him as a spin bowler. England should (as I said 12 months ago) go with Gareth Batty as a short-term measure, but they won't, because the ECB don't think in the short term. Adam Voges and Chris Rogers both became Australian regulars well into their thirties but this seems lost on England. You have to say, then, that England need to pick three or four spinners for the plane from Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Jeetan Patel, Ollie Rayner, Gareth Batty, Zafar Ansari, and Adil Rashid. Ali and Rashid is a given, so Leach, Patel, Rayner, Batty, and Ansari are slugging it out for one more place. If you're wondering about Borthwick, he's only got 15 wickets at 45.33.

England have, on the other hand, got far too many pace bowlers, so they'll all be on the plane for sure. So it's time to ask that question - who do I take on the tour to India (as I would not take a full-strength team to Bangladesh)?

That's a 21-man squad and I would intend to have the following starting XI:

Moeen may have "all-rounder" next to him, but he should be utilised as a batsman. You then have two spinners, four seamers, plus Moeen and Joe. Gareth Batty will come in whenever Rashid or Ansari get injured or out of form. And Jack Leach may get a run out if we've lost the series.

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