Freddie Wilde analyses the talking points from England’s T20 squad for the five match series in New Zealand – England’s first engagement as they embark on their year-long preparation for next year’s T20 World Cup.
After a marathon home summer it was expected that England would rest a number of their major players for parts of this New Zealand tour and that is exactly what they’ve done. Arguably only two (Eoin Morgan and Adil Rashid) and potentially three (Jonny Bairstow) of England’s squad for the New Zealand series can be certain of their spot in the T20 World Cup squad next year.
With only twelve months and a handful of matches until the T20 World Cup whether a five-match T20 series in Antipodean conditions was the best series for England to rest and rotate is highly questionable but after failing to retain the Ashes it is at least understandable that the ECB appear to have prioritised the red ball leg of this trip.
Who’s rested and who’s dropped?
There are six major absentees from the T20 squad: Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes.
Of these six we can assume that Archer, Buttler, Moeen, Stokes and Roy have been rested – although the absence of Roy and Moeen – given they are both not in the Test squad, is a little odd. It would be a major shock—and a huge mistake—if either Roy or Moeen had in fact been dropped.
The absence of Root is interesting. The ECB are likely to explain it as him being rested but questions over Root’s suitability for T20 cricket have been growing in recent years – largely due to apparent shortcomings in his power game – and he might find it hard to force his way back into the fold now he finds himself on the outside for a long series.
The absence of a handful of core players has given England an opportunity to promote some young talent and they have clearly done that with maiden call-ups for the opening batsman Tom Banton (20 years old), fiery swing bowler Saqib Mahmood (22 years old), slower ball specialist Pat Brown (21 years old) and attacking leg spinner Matt Parkinson (22 years old). All four players have earned their places in the squad with exceptional performances in this year’s T20 Blast competition, and in the instances of Brown and Parkinson, in last year’s Blast as well.
Banton – who opened the batting for Somerset – was the second leading run-scorer in the Blast this year and the combination of his long reach and 360 degree scoring has earned him favourable comparisons as a cross between Kevin Pietersen and Jos Buttler. England are not short of top order batting options and ultimately Banton will be jostling for perhaps one or two spots in the squad (behind Buttler, Roy, Morgan, Stokes and Moeen) with David Malan, James Vince, Joe Denly (all in this squad) and perhaps the likes of Liam Livingstone, Phil Salt and Alex Hales.
The two new seam bowlers Mahmood and Brown will offer different skills at different ends of the innings. Mahmood is a fast swing bowler who is most effective as a Powerplay wicket-taker – this season his top recorded speed of 88 mph was the fourth fastest of any English qualified bowler in domestic cricket.
Brown is known for his variations—33% of his deliveries are slower balls—and he is best utilised in the death overs where he has a True Economy Rate of -1.14 across the last two Blast seasons – the second best of any bowler to have bowled more than 200 balls in the phase. Brown is not only a defensive bowler though: across the last two Blast seasons he has taken 48 wickets, more than any other player, at a strike rate of 13.2 balls per wicket.
Brown’s selection is bad news for another death overs specialist: Harry Gurney. Calls for the left-armers selection have been growing in recent times but it appears England have opted for the promise of Brown’s potential instead. Another strong winter in the BBL and IPL could see Gurney force his way in but the door is slowly shutting.
Since the start of last season Brown is the only player to have taken more wickets than the squad’s other new member: Parkinson, whose elevation to the international team is just reward for two exceptional seasons in the Blast. In an age of wrist spinners in T20 largely bowling fast and flat, Parkinson is a throwback to previous eras of wrist spin where bowlers bowled slower, tossed the ball up and looked to beat batsmen in the air. Parkinson’s average speed of 73.83 kph is the slowest of any bowler in the entire CricViz database.
Is Lewis Gregory England’s finisher?
Perhaps the most glaring hole in England’s side over the last year or so has been their lack of a clear death overs batsman – someone to make the improbable chase possible in the dying overs.
It is one of the many shortcomings of the T20 Blast that with talent spread so thinly amongst so many teams the large majority of quality batsmen are invariably promoted towards the top of the order at their county, establishing a vacuum of quality in the lower middle order. In the county game there are only a handful of English players—Ross Whiteley, Sam Billings, Ravi Bopara, Alex Blake, Jack Taylor and Lewis Gregory being the most prominent—who fulfil this role regularly. This squad offered England an opportunity to select and promote some of these players and the two they have turned to in this squad are Billings and Gregory.
Death overs batsmen can clearly be put into two schools: the 360° touch players, of which Billings is one and whom the management knows plenty about; and the brute power-hitters, of which Gregory is one and whom the management are clearly keen to learn more. Since the start of 2017 Gregory’s boundary percentage in the death overs of 32% is the highest of any player in the T20 Blast to have faced more than 150 balls in the phase.
A note of caution: the selectors should be wary of being drawn in by Gregory’s bowling – his True Economy Rate of +1.26 is the third worst of any bowler to have bowled 750 balls in the Blast since 2015.
Why has Bairstow been picked?
Given Bairstow appears to have been rested from England’s Test squad it is a little surprising that he has been named in a T20 squad where a number of major players have also been rested. It may be that the England management are keen for Bairstow to put in a few performances for England in this form of the game. While Bairstow is clearly one of the world’s best ODI openers and had a superb IPL season for Sunrisers Hyderabad last year he has only faced 394 balls in T20 internationals and this series – with Roy and Buttler absent – gives Bairstow an opportunity to essentially lock down his position in next year’s World Cup squad. In a squad shorn of experience Bairstow will assume a position of seniority.
Hales a long way from selection
Although Hales’ England suspension is technically over, this squad—and his absence despite a number of high profile batsmen being rested—confirmed what many suspected, that he is a long way away from making a return to the team. This is, on a cricketing level, a shame – Hales is one of the best T20 batsmen in England and on ability alone should be in the squad. England’s Director of Cricket Ashley Giles has not ruled out a return for the Nottinghamshire man at some point but it is clear he is going to have to force his way back in through weight of runs over a substantial period of time. The T20 World Cup could be his redemption but he is going to be made to earn it.
Changing of the (left-arm) guard
11 of Sam Curran’s 13 international matches have been Tests. So far England have clearly viewed him as a red ball specialist. However, his selection in this T20 squad and the absence of fellow left-arm swing bowler and useful batsman David Willey implies a changing of the guard between England’s left-armers. Curran is likely to be used, much like Willey, as a new ball specialist – looking to bowl full and find any swing that the ball might offer.
England should be careful with this position – although Curran appears to have the raw materials to replace Willey, Curran’s career strike rate in the Powerplay of 24.2 is considerably higher than Willey’s of 19.2. Bowling in the Powerplay is a very specific and difficult role and England should think very hard before moving on from Willey.
Curran has also been deployed with some success as a pinch-hitter by Kings XI Punjab and Surrey – a role he is unlikely to fulfil for England but something that does at least give them options.
Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket