Thoughts On The Test Squad For Sri Lanka

I look at the party England have selected for their test tour of Sri Lanka, and am overall unimpressed.

The England test squad for January’s visit to Sri Lanka has been announced today and it is a curate’s egg of a selection. Here it is:

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ISSUES WITH THE SELECTIONS

Rory Burns is missing because his wife is about to give birth, and Stokes among those being rested. No issues with those two omissions. However, Jonathan Bairstow should be nowhere near selection for an England test squad, likewise Moeen Ali, who was never actually that great, and has not done anything in red ball cricket for some time. As I indicated in my previous post making my own picks I would also have left out the veterans Broad and Anderson as neither have great records in Sri Lanka and this tour should have been used to experiment. I would also have left out Dom Bess. James Bracey should be in the main squad, not listed as a reserve, ditto Matthew Parkinson and Amar Virdi.

On the plus side, Stone and Wood are both in the main squad, as is Daniel Lawrence. I am also glad to see that Ben Foakes is there, although whether he actually gets selected remains to be seen.

Three of the official reserves, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson and Mason Crane should not have been picked, Overton and Robinson because their bowling methods are unsuited to Sri Lankan conditions, Crane because he is a proven failure at the highest level, and England needing to be looking forward not back.

This England party has been picked with eyes fixed firmly on the past. From the players listed in the main squad and the reserves I would pick as my starting XI for a match in Sri Lanka: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, James Bracey, *Joe Root, Daniel Lawrence, Chris Woakes, +Ben Foakes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood, Jack Leach and Matthew Parkinson. This combo is a little light on batting with Woakes and Foakes at six and seven, but absent Stokes it is the only way to accommodate a back up seam option while still playing two genuine front line spinners, and Sri Lanka tends to be a place where games are fairly high scoring, so I err on the side of having more bowling options, as that is where the principal difficulty is likely to be.

SPIN OPTIONS FOR ENGLAND

I have indicated that I would start with Leach and Parkinson, with Virdi as a back up spinner. Lewis Goldsworthy, an all rounder who bowls left arm spin, may well be worth a pick in the not too distant future, if he can build on his good showing for England U19s. Liam Patterson-White has made a promising start to his career at county level. Finally, there is the radical option I have touched on previously: give Sophie Ecclestone a chance to play alongside the men. The spin bowling cupboard is not massively well stocked at present, although a few youngsters besides those I have named have made appearances at county level, but even in its current state it does represent a reason for bringing back average performers (Moeen Ali at test level) or worse still proven expensive failures (Mason Crane).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Overall, while acknowledging that they faced difficulties due to various players not being available, I have to say that the selection of this touring party represents a clear failure on the part of the selectors. I award them 3 out of 10.

I finish as usual with some of my photographs:

Picking a tour party for Sri Lanka

I don my selector’s hat to name my suggested tour party for the test tour of Sri Lanka in January. Also, as usual there are some photographs.

The dates for the England’s two test matches in Sri Lanka have been confirmed. The first test will take place from 14-18 January and the second from 22-26 January. In this post I name the tour party I would pick given the circumstances. This is not, repeat not, an attempt at prediction. Jofra Archer is confirmed as an absentee, and Jos Buttler is possibly also going to be rested, and I have made this my assumption. Ollie Pope is a doubt due to injury, and Stokes may choose to miss the tour for personal reasons. Here I have assumed that Pope is not available but that Stokes is, though I also explain who I would select as Stokes’ replacement and why. I have two supplementary sections after going through my chosen squad, one explaining the biggest of the unexplained omissions and a controversial footnote.

MY ENVISAGED STARTING XI

My thinking here is informed by several factors: Sri Lanka are currently not one of the strongest of international outfits which means that this could well be a good first tour for youngsters, classic English fast medium bowlers do not tend to fare all that well in Sri Lanka, and the spin options are somewhat limited for England. The scene set, here we go:

  1. Dominic Sibley – right handed opening batter, very occasional leg spinner. There are question marks over his ability to handle spinners, and he could well have difficulty against Sri Lanka’s best current bowler, Dananjaya (bowling average 24.33) but his overall record since his elevation means that he warrants selection. I do not expect him to increase his meagre tally of four first class wickets on this tour.
  2. Rory Burns – left handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. He is also happier against seam than spin, but like Sibley deserves his continued presence in the side.
  3. Zak Crawley – right handed batter. The youngster has been a revelation since his elevation to international level, with his monumental 267 vs Pakistan an obvious highlight.
  4. *Joe Root – captain, right handed batter, occasional off spinner. The skipper has been somewhat short of runs lately, but England will need his experience.
  5. Ben Stokes – left handed batter, right arm fast bowler. The one member of this England squad one cannot even attempt to find a like for like replacement for. If he does pull out it will be a crippling blow for England even considering the less than stellar opposition.
  6. Daniel Lawrence – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. He deserves his chance at the highest level, is known to play spin well, and his bowling is by no means negligible (I would certainly have him ahead of Root in the bowling pecking order). For more on my thinking here see my earlier post arguing against a test recall for Jonny Bairstow.
  7. +Ben Foakes – right handed batter, wicket keeper. Since the retirement from top level cricket of Sarah Taylor his status as England’s finest contemporary keeper has been unchallenged, he had a splendid tour of Sri Lanka last time England were here, and he should be given another opportunity.
  8. Sam Curran – left handed batter, left arm fast medium bowler. His left handedness increases the variety available to the bowling attack and he is also a more than useful lower/ middle order batter.
  9. Mark Wood – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Archer is not available for this tour, and I want at least one bowler of serious pace in the side.
  10. Jack Leach – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner. I think two genuine spinners are needed on Sri Lankan pitches, Bess has struggled of late, failing to build on his good tour of South Africa, and England are not massively spoilt for choice in this department.
  11. Matthew Parkinson – right handed batter, leg spinner. Deserves a chance to establish himself at the highest level.

We now turn our attention to the reserves. This is a very short tour, but Covid-19 necessitates having plenty of cover available, so I name seven designated reserves, and mention a couple of others.

  1. Liam Livingstone – right handed batter, occasional bowler of both off spin and leg spin. Primarily selected on the basis of his batting, but his bowling may well get some use as well.
  2. James Bracey – right handed batter, wicket keeper. He is more batter than keeper, but he is good enough at the latter role to be designated official reserve keeper as cover for Foakes while also covering a batting slot.
  3. Jordan Cox – right handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. A hugely promising youngster, having scored a double century for Kent against Sussex while still in his teens. I admit that in making this call I am influenced by the success that his county colleague Crawley has enjoyed since his own elevation.
  4. Will Jacks – right handed batter, off spinner. He probably has more bowling pedigree than Moeen Ali did when he was first selected to bowl spin for England, although he is undoubtedly more batter than bowler. He is as close to an all rounder who bowls spin as England have at the moment.
  5. Chris Woakes – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. He is much better in England than he is overseas, but his all round skills would enable him to cover any vacancy save in the wicket keeping department without massively weakening the side.
  6. Olly Stone – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler. Cover for Wood, and might replace Curran to give the attack extra pace, although that would give England a decidedly long tail.
  7. Amar Virdi – right handed batter, off spinner. Specialist spin cover, chosen instead of Bess.
  8. Ollie Pope – right handed batter, occasional keeper. Obviously he makes the trip if fit, in which case Lawrence reverts to being a reserve, he is the first of two conditional names here, the other being…
  9. Lewis Gregory – right handed batter, right arm fast medium. Should he pull out Stokes cannot be replaced, and in view of the frequency of high scoring games in this part of the world I feel that bowling depth is more needed than batting depth, so the man who would take Stokes’ place in the event of him pulling out is someone who is more bowler than batter.

1100 TEST WICKETS OVERLOOKED?

I have mentioned elsewhere that Sri Lanka is not a happy hunting ground for fast medium bowlers, and that applies in spades to Stuart Broad, whose record there is quite frankly dreadful. James Anderson has a less bad record in Sri Lanka than Stuart Broad, but it is hardly one to shout about. I therefore feel that England can be best served by not selecting the two veterans, and instead giving younger bowlers a chance to flourish against one the less strong test match outfits. In the future England are due to tour India and Australia, and one would rather not have players making their first test match tour to either of those countries. Also, neither Leach nor Parkinson, my two envisaged spinners, are up to much with the bat, and while I do not subscribe to selecting bowlers based on their batting it has to be said that an 8,9,10, 11 of Broad, Leach, Anderson, Parkinson as it would presumably be looks very fragile.

A CONTROVERSIAL FINISH

I have noted that England are not hugely well equipped in the spin bowling department, and I think that recalling either Adil Rashid or Moeen Ali to the test squad would be a retrograde step, especially in view of the fact that this is a tour where youngsters should be getting a chance. One potential solution is someone who has a phenomenal record at both domestic and international level, just not in men’s cricket: Sophie Ecclestone. I have not named her in my envisaged tour party, but I could see her doing the job.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off – to see a photo at full size please click on it: