Test cricket is all that really matters. ODIs are just a Disneyfied version of the real thing, designed for people who want things now, people who measure excitement in terms of boundaries and cartwheeling stumps, people who don’t appreciate the beauty of a game that can last for five days without anyone winning.
That, at least, is what I’ve been telling myself over the last few weeks as England’s ODI team has lurched from the incompetent to the humiliating via the abysmal. I may not be saying the same thing come September when the England test team, many of whom had been unable to rebuild their shattered confidence following that chastening campaign down under, have lost every match of the summer to a talented New Zealand and a ruthless Australia.
There is a genuine worry that shame at the shambles of this World Cup may bleed into the Test team (although having a different captain, albeit one recently removed from his role in the ODI team, may help). That, however, is a discussion for a couple of months’ time. What I would like to concentrate on now is what to do with the one-day team.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, now that there’s no pressure on them, England’s batsmen score mountains of runs against Afghanistan. Apparently during practice, it is standard for the coaches to imagine end of innings situations, such as 50 needed off 25, or 28 needed off 12. Before the Bangladesh game, the batsmen were knocking off these runs with ease, causing the bowlers to ask, with some peevishness I imagine, ‘why the eff can’t you do that in a match situation?’
The answer must be because of the pressure of a real-life match situation (or because England’s batsmen only needed to score runs off their own team’s bowlers, something that has proved all too easy for any half-decent batsman). No matter what happens against Afghanistan though, I would say that it is time for changes, and I have put together what I think is a pretty decent team that I would like to see playing in the ODIs over the summer, form and fitness depending.
- Alex Hales
Tricky one this – Hales has yet to play a substantial ODI innings for England, but then again he’s been in and out of the team. His international T20 record is outstanding (average of 38, strike rate of 138) and, as has been seen in this World Cup, one’s record in 20 over cricket is a more reliable guide to effectiveness in the 50 over game than that in the four-day game. Bowlers have cottoned on to the fact that if you don’t give him width to swing his pretty lengthy arms he can struggle, but he has the inventiveness and diligence to work out other ways of scoring, and he is due a long run in the side.
- Jason Roy
The stand out performer in the T20 last summer, Roy’s performances haven’t been quite as stellar in the domestic 50 over game, but he scored heavily for the England Lions against South Africa A in the winter, and reputedly hits the ball harder than anyone else on the county circuit. He was also born in South Africa, so would fit in nicely to the England set-up.
- James Taylor
One of the most frustrating things about the World Cup was how Taylor, having recently been brought into the team and playing excellently as a number 3, clearly able to build an innings and accelerate when needed, was shunted down to number 6, a position for someone who can come in and immediately start spanking the ball around. After an excellent innings against Australia he has had a disappointing tournament, but deserves the chance to make the number 3 position his own.
- Joe Root (captain)
Since being dropped at the end of the last Ashes tour, Root has been excellent in all forms of the game, and is one of the few players who can return from the World Cup with his reputation just about intact. A test captain in waiting, he should be given the chance to learn the craft this coming summer. It’s a shame that he’s lost the art of somehow wheedling out good batsmen with his filthy off-spin.
- Jos Buttler (wicket-keeper)
This is where the middle order starts to get interesting. I rate Buttler extremely highly. He has a phenomenal eye, he has very quick hands, and he has a very sound temperament. Just for a moment against Bangladesh it looked as though he was going to drag England away from defeat, as he had done, with Taylor’s help, against India in the tri-series, which made the tameness of his dismissal all the more disappointing. He is able to build and innings, or attack from the very first ball, and hopefully will only get better the more experience he gains, although, given the crucial role he plays for all three England teams, he needs to be protected against burn-out.
- Sam Billings
Anyone who listens with any regularity to The London Economic Sports Podcast (there must be a few, somewhere) will know I’ve been banging the Billings drum all winter. Last year he was unstoppable in the Royal London Cup, scoring 458 runs in 7 innings at 114.5 with a strike rate of 154.21. He scored 135 of 58 balls against Somerset, and then 87 off 42 against Surrey, where I witnessed first-hand his astonishing range of strokes. It didn’t matter where the bowlers bowled, he either found the gaps or smashed it over the infield, and surely such inventiveness needs to be recognised as soon as possible. He can also take over as wicket-keeper if Buttler needs a rest.
- Ben Stokes
There has been a bit of a hindsight-based outcry at Stokes’ non-selection for the World Cup squad, but the truth is that he was in horrible form with both bat and ball when given the chance in Sri Lanka, and needed the opportunity to rebuild his confidence away from the limelight. A stellar series with the Lions in South Africa, including a blistering 151* with 15 sixes, has done just that, so here’s hoping that this is the season he turns into Andrew Flintoff rather than Ronnie Irani. Outside of the international arena his death bowling has been excellent, something which England desperately need.
- Moeen Ali
It’s been a strange year for Moeen Ali – he initially came into the England reckoning as a batsman with a reasonable line in some back-up off-spin. He is now England’s first-choice spinner in Test matches and ODIs, while his batting has been promising but woefully inconsistent. The experiment of using him as a pinch hitter (England showing their trend-setting nature by channelling Sri Lanka circa 1996) hasn’t really worked as England’s scoring rate has always slowed whenever he’s got himself out after a rapid 20, but his bowling has been tight, and he could provide some much-needed grunt down the order.
- Chris Jordan
He is frustratingly inconsistent, but Jordan proved against Bangladesh that he has the capacity to bowl yorkers at will, something that has proved beyond the capability of England’s other bowlers. He needs to improve his economy rate, but, like Steven Finn, he is a proven wicket-taker with an excellent strike-rate. His infectiously excellent fielding will also help, after a pretty lacklustre overall fielding effort from the team at the World Cup.
10. Steven Finn
This is where it starts to become a bit tricky. Finding batsmen with international potential has been straightforward. There’s the elegant James Vince, James Hildreth of Somerset and the seemingly forgotten Jonny Bairstow, all of whom would be deserving of a place in the team. When it comes to the bowling, however, the outlook is bleaker. There just aren’t many classy seamers around in the English game. Tim Bresnan is useful, but hasn’t had the same zip since his surgery; Stuart Meaker is quick but erratic; Boyd Rankin is tall and not much else (and must be regretting his decision to pick England over Ireland). Sadly, I feel I have to choose Finn, in the absence of anything better. He’s not a bad bowler – he has recovered admirably from his experience during the last Ashes tour, has the priceless knack of taking wickets with dreadful deliveries and has a surprisingly reasonable economy rate (4.99 per over) – but he doesn’t make the most out of his prodigious physical gifts.
11. Mark Wood
If the World Cup has taught us anything, it is that any self-respecting one-day cricket team needs to have a left-arm fast bowler at their disposal. Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan are plain greedy, having two each (Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell McClenaghan (there’s a pattern emerging here), Trent Boult, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz), while England have none. Harry Gurney has been tried but discarded as too pedestrian, David Willey is still recovering his nip following an injury, Tymal Mills is rapid but seems to have stagnated, Reece Topley is still a little raw and Mark Footit, whilst possibly the most viable option, is very expensive. Wood has had his injury troubles, but was fully fit on the Lions tour, where he impressed, not only with his consistency, but also with his skiddy pace.
This XI has been chosen with one eye on the future (and the 2019 World Cup), hence the omissions of England’s classiest batsman, Ian Bell and best bowler, James Anderson. However England would be foolish to discard their undoubted experience in this form of the game. Players such as Anderson, Bell and Tredwell should still remain part of the England set-up in the near future and pass on their valuable knowledge to the next generation of England internationals.
Richard is an actor and QPR fan. He is also a sports columnist for TLE and co-presents the TLE Sports Podcast. Follow him on twitter @rgdewinter
photocredit: Natesh Ramasamy