- Limited overs captain Eoin Morgan has called on the players selected as a result of Covid regulations to put their case forward in what is an extremely competitive T20 side
- Dawid Malan has done so most recently, according to Morgan, but now the likes of Lewis Gregory, Tom Banton, and Saqib Mahmood must make the step up
- Jason Roy will miss the series with a side strain having been initially selected in the 14-man squad – England can now experiment at the top of the order before the Australia T20s, which start next Friday
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – England will play six T20s in just 12 days as Pakistan look to end their tour on a high after losing a Test series to England for the first time in 20 years.
Get your hard hats on – six T20 games in just 12 days is what awaits England fans after a potentially absorbing Test series against Pakistan was scuppered by the rain. Although the weather hasn’t exactly turned a corner, Pakistan’s star man in all formats – and captain for the T20 side – Babar Azam will be looking to build on some decent form with the bat and guide his team to a first win since they joined the bio-secure bubble on 28 June.
Captain Eoin Morgan meanwhile is fiercely aware of the opportunity presented to his limited overs squads because of coronavirus regulations. As was the case between the West Indies Test series and the three Ireland ODIs, no Test player has been given the green light to jump across into the white-ball set-up (nor have the coaches, for that matter) meaning senior players such as regular vice-captain Jos Buttler, Test skipper Joe Root and World Cup super over hero Jofra Archer have to miss out.
However, this allows England to take a closer look at some of the players who have been banging on the door without previously being able to dislodge such world-class players, and their performances this summer will go a long way to deciding whether they are on the plane Down Under when Australia host the World T20 next winter.
Top order torment
Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow have terrorised almost the entire world’s bowling attacks with their destructive, ruthless hitting at the top of the England order in white ball cricket. However, Roy hasn’t had the best time of it since international cricket went behind closed doors, returning scores of 24, nought and one in the three one-dayers against Ireland last month. Although his position wasn’t under threat, a mild side strain picked up in a scan on Wednesday has opened the door for Dawid Malan or Tom Banton to stake their claim and show England’s strength in depth at the top of the batting lineup.
Malan looks in pole position right now. Having ended a 13-year association with Middlesex last year to move up north to Yorkshire, the left-hander scored a double-ton in his most recent match, a Bob Willis Trophy game vs Derby on 15 August. Not only is his form at county level good, the 32-year-old has proven he can make the step up when called up by his country. In his 10 T20 international outings so far, Malan is averaging over 50 at a strike rate of 153.77, including a brilliant unbeaten hundred in Napier last November off just 51 deliveries. The left/right-hand combination would be another advantage for England should he open with Bairstow, as bowlers would have to constantly adjust their lines if England rotate the strike.
However, if England have one eye on the future, then Tom Banton is the obvious man to take up the mantle when Roy and Bairstow are in absentia at the top of the order. The Somerset man has only played 34 T20s in his career compared to Malan’s 200, but early impressions have ex-cricketers comparing the 21-year-old to England’s best white-ball player ever, Jos Buttler, with the ease in which Banton can hit the ball 360º. If you can spare five minutes of your time this afternoon, watch this video of Banton destroying the bowlers while appearing for the Brisbane Heat in Big Bash cricket earlier this year (the ramp shot at the end is different class). 16 sixes in only seven matches in one of the best T20 leagues in the world shows what damage Banton can do already at the top of the order, but with a high score of just 31 for England in T20Is, he has plenty more to prove at this level.
It’s rare England get to play so much T20 cricket back-to-back as they will in the next two weeks, so although this is somewhat of an experimental squad, expect Morgan and Graham Thorpe, heading up this series as coach, to be taking it very seriously. Although there are no debutants in this squad, Lewis Gregory and Saqib Mahmood are the other two names who England are challenging to make hay in home conditions. Both Gregory and Mahmood made their debuts in New Zealand last year in a 3-2 series win, so this period will allow them to double their international T20 experience.
Gregory captains Tom Banton at county level with Somerset, so has plenty of know-how coupled with a cool head under pressure. Not only does the Plymouth-born man have the mental attributes required to play at the highest level, he is also destructive with bat and with ball. In his 103 T20 career outings, the middle-order batsman strikes at 146.17, proving he can go hell for leather when required. He also took a four-wicket haul in his first match in the PSL this March just before lockdown struck, showing he can turn the tide with the ball just as easily as with the bat.
Fast-bowler Mahmood has already made his ODI debut for England, unlike Gregory, but was expensive during his debut T20 series in New Zealand when he went for 11.5 runs an over. However, the Lancashire man has the magic formula to crank the speed gun past 90mph, and can bowl laser-like yorkers at the death when the result’s on the line. He is still only 23, and because he is often bowling at the crucial phases of a match, he needs patience invested into his obvious talent if he is to thrive at this level. Chris Jordan will be a good foil for Mahmood in these matches and they could strike up a dangerous bowling combination if the pitches aren’t as slow as we saw in the final Test vs Pakistan.
Morgan made clear he wants his young guns to feel as relaxed as possible (as reported by ESPNCricInfo)
“The messaging from myself or the coach is to feel as comfortable in an England shirt as you do in a county shirt and to actually feel free enough to play the expansive game that you would at your county within international cricket. Our job is to get the best out of the guys who are in our squad. So, in order to achieve that, guys need to feel comfortable and free enough to take the risks that international T20 cricket demands.”
However, Morgan doesn’t expect these opportunities for fringe players to stick around forever if they don’t perform:
“One of the challenges between now and the World Cup next year is going to be getting our strongest team on the park as often as we can to define those roles. We will only know our strongest positions after we have guys achieving in those roles. But I don’t think we can have a scenario where we can play the majority of our games with a half-strength team and then expect to go into a World Cup as contenders.”
Old dogs and new tricks?
Two of the elder statesmen who may not get into a full-strength England T20 squad but are available to Morgan in Manchester are Joe Denly and David Willey. Perhaps slightly harsh to call Willey ‘old’ at the age of 30, but he certainly is one of the most experienced among the pace bowlers, having turned out in 49 ODIs and 28 T20Is. He was famously dropped before England’s World Cup winning campaign after starring with the new ball in the years preceding, and came back into the team somewhat of a wounded animal against Ireland this summer, taking a five-wicket haul in his first game before smashing 98 runs in two innings with the bat. If he can carry that all-round form into the T20s against improved opposition, England will have an embarrassment of riches in the all-round department with spinner Moeen Ali adding to Gregory and Willey’s destructive middle-order hitting.
Denly’s name is one that remains in the England reckoning, despite the Kent batsman nearing the twilight of his career. In his previous 12 T20 games with England, the 34-year-old averages just 9.60 at a strike rate of less than 100. There was an eight-year hiatus between his 5th and 6th appearances, since which time he has just one score over 20. However, his useful leg-spin and experience around the group when many of England’s senior players are forced to be missing shouldn’t be understated and England remain hopeful he can make telling contributions at the highest level.
Wicket-keeper Sam Billings and bowlers Tom Curran and Adil Rashid make up the rest of the 14-man squad for the Pakistan matches. Worcestershire’s Pat Brown, Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone and left-arm seamer Reece Topley are on standby if any long-term injuries occur.
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