After a miserable winter of defeat and upheaval, England’s new boss Peter Moores and his selectors have a lot to ponder before the first Test against Sri Lanka in June. Here is how England should line up…
1. Alistair Cook:
England’s new captain had just about the worst winter imaginable down under, as his side were whitewashed by a rejuvenated Australia, just months after comfortably beating their great rivals 3-0 in England. Cook’s captaincy throughout the tour was routinely questioned by former cricketing greats now turned pundits, and an inability to produce big runs placed him under further scrutiny. As if this wasn’t enough, his subsequent decision to axe Kevin Pietersen from the set-up has paved the way for a new wave of abuse from media and fans alike. Cook will be hoping for a return to form for both himself and the team this summer against Sri Lanka and India, and without Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen behind him, he now anchors a batting line-up with a considerable lack of international experience. Every field change he makes and every ball he faces with the bat this summer will be rigorously examined. It is time for the skipper to come out fighting.
2. Sam Robson
Sheer weight of runs in recent times means Sam Robson deserves to open up with Cook when the first Test comes around this season. Although Michael Carberry didn’t look too perturbed by Australia’s menacing pacemen in the winter, just one score above fifty during five tests indicates that he failed to properly grasp his opportunity. There were no such problems for Robson on the England Lions tours in the winter. The Australian-born opener hit two centuries for the England Performance Programme before Christmas against his country of birth, and then three centuries in four matches on the Lions tour to Sri Lanka. Coupled with an impressive start to the county season, including 77 in Middlesex’s record-breaking chase against Yorkshire, Robson’s consistent ability to produce centuries when playing for the Lions should see him get his chance.
3. Joe Root
With Jonathan Trott out of international action for the foreseeable future, England must keep the faith with arguably their best young prospect, Joe Root. Like many of his team mates the winter was a chastening experience for young Root, but his 87 in the second innings of the second Test at Adelaide proved his ability to stand up to high class bowling even with wickets tumbling around him. His 180 at Lords last summer highlighted his appetite for big runs, something England have notably missed in recent times. Nick Compton can perhaps feel hard done by once again, but you feel this summer is a perfect opportunity to fully embed Root into the top of the order, with pace attacks that won’t have quite the same venom.
4. Ian Bell
Ian Bell is the only batsman going into this summer’s tests with no serious question marks hanging over him, but it hasn’t always been that way. The Warwickshire man has often been accused of too much style too little substance in the past, but he put that to bed last summer with three beautifully composed hundreds last summer against the Aussies, while others were failing to convert around him. His winter was a mixed bag, often looking comfortable but playing loose shots to throw away his wicket, a habit he won’t want to creep back into his game. If this new England side are going to thrive, they will need the experienced Bell to build on his run-scoring exploits from last summer.
5. Gary Ballance
Like Robson, Gary Balance should get into the England side based on his ability to accumulate big runs. Unlike Robson, Balance has already had a small taste of Test cricket, in the most difficult of circumstances. Ballance’s one Test at Sydney yielded only 25 runs, but his composure spoke volumes given the circumstances. The big left-hander is a grafter with the ability to turn on the accelerator if needs be, but with Bell in front of him and Moeen Ali and Matt Prior both potentially behind him, Ballance’s cool demeanour and sensible game plan may allow other’s flamboyance to flourish. An average of 54.42 in 72 first-class games is mightily impressive, and given recent form he appears almost certain to feature against Sri Lanka.
6. Moeen Ali
Moeen Ali may not be the perfect spin bowler to replace Graeme Swann long-term, but whilst England assess their options, the Worcestershire man can combine his developing off-spin in tandem with Joe root, and a long with his undoubted batting ability he will be a very handy number six for England. Ali’s performances for England’s one-day outfit in the last few months have been a mixed bag, but his willingness to play his own adventurous game was noticeable. He is a wristy player, and therefore the spin-heavy nature of Sri Lanka and India’s attacks should suit his game nicely. England have the potential to bat to eight with Ben Stokes, and therefore there is little risk in playing Ali at six.
7. Matt Prior
After a poor winter it is really time for Matt Prior to deliver for England, otherwise he will find himself out of the side, replaced by up and coming star Jos Buttler. Prior has always played a vital role for England, with a mind-set to dominate for the bowler from the very beginning of his innings. His fifties often come in rapid time, often providing much-needed momentum in a stagnating innings. However, Buttler has proved he has the ability to bat in the same way and Lancashire’s new signing has age on his side. Prior has picked up a small injury but should be ready for the start of the first Test, and after the service he has given England; he should be offered another opportunity to prove just how important he is.
8. Ben Stokes/Chris Jordan
Ben Stokes was the shining light of England’s tour to Australia, with a magnificent 120 in Perth in just his second test match. The Durham all-rounder endured a testing time of it once the Ashes was finished, and missed the World Twenty20 following an incident that saw him punch a locker following a dismissal against the West Indies. With Stokes at 8 England’s line-up may seem batsman heavy, but with a six wicket haul in Sydney the Durham all-rounder proved his worth as a fourth seamer, and with Ali and Root sharing spin duties, England should have enough to back up Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions. Ali, Prior and Stokes can be interchangeable at six, seven and eight, all depending on the game situation and individual form: Stokes batted at six for England in the winter. His hostility when bowling could well prove troublesome for this summer’s two touring sides.
If Stokes is unable to prove his return to fitness ahead of the first Test match then Chris Jordan should step in. The Sussex bowler was excellent with the ball in the one-day series in Australia, and he has continued his form with wickets for Sussex. He Can also play a role with the bat.
9. Stuart Broad
Stuart Broad was public enemy number one in Australia this winter following his decision not to walk at Trent Bridge earlier that year, but he soon silenced the crowds with 6-81 in the first Test at Brisbane. And that is exactly the sort of spell that means Broad is rarely ever dropped from the England team. He produced the same sort of performance to clinch the Ashes at Durham, and spells against New Zealand at Lords and India at Trent Bridge have further reinforced the message that when Stuart Broad is on song, little is going to stop him. With Anderson and Onions there to probe away at batsmen and wear them down, Broad is the man to provide that extra bit of pace and firepower.
10. Jimmy Anderson
Anderson had a quiet winter, but he has burst back into life with Lancashire at the start of this campaign, with 18 wickets in his three first-class matches. He remains the spearhead of England’s attack, and with pitches in May likely to suit his hooping swing bowling, it won’t be long before the Burnley Express is back to doing what he does best, taking wickets for England. He is now just 40 off the all-time leading test wicket taker for England, Sir Ian Botham. He is well on course to reach 400 Test wickets.
11. Graham Onions
Quite simply, Graham Onions can’t do anymore to prove his worth. County cricket’s best and most consistent bowler, Onions should have added to his nine tests in the winter. Instead England plumped for the towering trio of Steven Finn, Christ Tremlett and Boyd Rankin to bolster their bowling attack. A mistake. Onions’ nine Test matches have produced 32 wickets at an average a touch under 30, and he has 455 first-class wickets at 26. He is the best option in English conditions with his wicket to wicket seam bowling, and it would be a major oversight to overlook him for the first Test.