By Ben Fleming
Whilst England’s tour of South Africa continues tomorrow with the first of three ODIs, of far more importance was the previous three T20Is that just took place. With the men’s T20 World Cup coming up in India next year, having been delayed a year, the three matches offer invaluable insight for coaches and fans alike to form their opinion on this England squad.
On the surface, a 3-0 series whitewash would provide plenty of positives and optimism for and England side looking to win the T20 World Cup alongside their achievements in the World Cup in 2019. Whilst this is still the case, a deep dive on the performances does leave some key questions that England will need to answer before the World Cup campaign begins.
The first key question to be addressed is at the very top of the order. Jos Buttler, England’s perennial finisher, has been moved to open for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL and has since made that spot his own for England in the twenty over format. His score of sixty-seven not out off forty-six balls, 67* (46), in the final game, showed the game management and experienced know-how that he possesses in abundance.
As undoubtedly England’s most inventive and purest ball-striker, it seems only right to give him one of those spots in the opening duo.
The questions will, however, turn to Jason Roy. The Surrey opener has struggled for form on the international stage recently. Injuries hampered his summer but scores of zero, fourteen and sixteen in the three games this tour will only increase the murmurs of discontent amongst fans.
His once aggressive opening style has somewhat disappeared and his weakness against spin early on has been targeted successfully by opposition teams, something especially worrying with the World Cup being held in India. With Bairstow, Stokes and even Malan comfortable at opening and players like Banton waiting in the wings, Roy’s place in this starting XI is hanging on by a thread and his performances must improve if he’s to play a part in next year’s World Cup.
One player who has surely all but sealed his place in the team is Dawid Malan. The ICC number one-ranked T20 batsmen produced two match-winning innings, 55 (40) and 99* (47) to take England over the line in the final two matches. There are, and still will be to an extent, questions over his slow start to his innings. Six times he’s been out with a sub-120 strike-rate (after facing 10 or more balls) and in the shortest format of the game that can put unnecessary pressure on the lower order.
However, his faster innings in the final game, nearly capped off with a century, and his incredible consistency to date means it’s a minor risk worth taking for a batsman who is in the form of his life and will represent a key cog in England’s attempt to win the World Cup in 2021.
Perhaps England’s other key area to solve is their bowling line-up, with the perfect combination still seemingly evading the England selectors to date. Rashid and Jordan’s experience in the England set-up, as well as Archer’s incredible arrival onto the international scene, should see them seal three of the five positions.
Sam Curran’s emergence as a handy all-rounder for Chennai Super Kings was a huge positive for England this summer. His seam movement up front and pinch-hitting ability down the order sees him jump over other the left-arm bowlers Topley and Willey in the pecking order and puts forward a very convincing case for his inclusion in the XI.
Tom Curran undoubtedly came out the worst of all England’s bowlers this series. He doesn’t offer the pace of Archer or the movement of his younger brother, Sam, in the powerplay, and his death bowling left much to be desired in all three games. Mark Wood, with his pace and skiddy action, could well be a replacement and should feel aggrieved not to get a run out in one of the three games.
Furthermore, there is a spin bowling conundrum. Playing a World Cup in India with only one spinner in the team feels risky but with Moen Ali’s patchy form over the last 12 months, and no obvious replacement outside him, it may be more of a risk to include the Worcestershire captain.
Needless to say, some problems need addressing but one should not forget the positives. England undoubtedly possesses one of the strongest batting line-ups in T20 cricket right now and a whitewash away in South Africa must be given its due respect. If the second opener can be nailed down and Chris Silverwood and the coaches can find the right balance with the ball, then England will undoubtedly go into the tournament with confidence and high expectations.
Image: Mike Hutchings via REUTERS