Chris Stocks looks ahead to the winter double tour to Bangladesh and India and chooses his party for the arduous trip
England’s selectors face some “tough decisions” as coach Trevor Bayliss put it this week when they sit down next month to finalise their squads for the winter tours of Bangladesh and India.
Seven more Tests await Alastair Cook’s side before Christmas, with the two in Bangladesh subject to security clearance and five more in Rajkot, Visakhapatnam, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai comprising the series in India.
It’s a relentless schedule and one which will see England sorely tested on turning Sub-continental pitches.
This summer’s home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were, relatively speaking, a walk in the park in comparison.
Pakistan, though, showed up enough weaknesses in England’s team during the 2-2 series draw to ensure big changes will be made before Cook and his players embark on an arduous winter.
Of the XI who finished the summer at The Oval, at least three are unlikely to make the cut when it comes to a place in the team for the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong on October 20.
James Vince, this week dropped from England’s one-day squad so he can prove himself in Championship cricket with Hampshire, Gary Ballance and Steven Finn are all in danger.
Vince, who averages 19.27 after his seven Tests, should not be on the flight.
Ballance, who endured a tough series after spending a year out of the team, might be given a squad place as a spare batsman because he is a reasonable player of spin and, without the bounce which so troubles him, he might be able to do a job on the Sub-continent.
Finn and Alex Hales are two others who are vulnerable.
Finn, who this week was ruled out for four weeks with a left hamstring injury, looks a shadow of the bowler who returned to the team so impressively during last summer’s Ashes.
England like him, though, and his height, pace and bounce make him an attractive proposition for Bangladesh and India.
Other bowlers are also vying for a place in the squad, led by Mark Wood, back and bowling with gas, and Jake Ball. Finn, fitness permitting, probably makes the squad alongside those two, with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes the three frontline seamers in the starting XI alongside all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Hales had a nightmare series against Pakistan and his position as an opener is under scrutiny.
However, who else could England replace him with even if they decide Hales is not their man?
Nick Browne scored his second double hundred of the summer for Essex this week, but Division Two runs are a devalued currency and surely it’s too early for him?
Nick Compton, another who scored a century this week, had a reasonable tour of India in 2012 as an opener, but his failures at No.3 on his return to the England team showed his shortcomings at the highest level.
The Durham pair of Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings have had good summers, but are either right now a good option to replace Hales?
For me, Hales has to be persisted with in the short term. He has had 11 Tests and so far averages under 30. Give him the winter and if it doesn’t work out, there are almost three months of next summer without Test cricket due to the Champions Trophy for another county opener to stake his claim.
So my top three are sorted – Cook, Hales and Joe Root. So what of numbers four, five, six and seven?
Stokes is an automatic choice and I’d keep him at No.5. With no Vince or Ballance, my call would be to move Moeen Ali up to No.4. He has the class and temperament to bat that high and it saves England having to move Jonny Bairstow up to a position that might affect his keeping and the rich vein of form he’s shown with the bat this year.
With Bairstow at six, I’d bring Jos Buttler back into the team at seven. He would round off an explosive middle-order and could even share wicketkeeping duties with Bairstow, an idea that’s been floated by Bayliss.
Woakes is then in at eight, with Adil Rashid, the second spinner, at nine, and Broad and Anderson rounding off the XI.
One other alternative might be to not go with Buttler, keep Moeen at seven and bring Ian Bell back into the team at No.4.
Bell may not be tearing up any trees for Warwickshire this summer but he has class and experience borne of 118 Tests. He also had a good tour of India in 2012, averaging 43.
Take him as a spare batsman at least, along with a second spinner (Gareth Batty anyone?) and Finn, Wood and Ball as seam back-up to make a 16-man squad along with my XI, which is: Cook, Hales, Root, Moeen, Stokes, Bairstow (keeper), Buttler, Woakes, Rashid, Broad, Anderson.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday August 19 2016
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