After a largely dismal tour of India, England’s cricketers will begin their series in the West Indies on Friday. Here, we take a quick look at what lies ahead, and at some of the issues facing the England selectors.
Perhaps it is fortunate that England’s next test match is not until July. Joe Root’s first series as captain is a home one against South Africa, and the rest should benefit the test side. It promises to be a fascinating series and, despite the somewhat disastrous performance in India, both sides will feel they can emerge victorious. For now, though, the focus is well and truly on the white ball game. ODIs and T20s are the sole formats scheduled for England’s Caribbean tour, ahead of the Champions Trophy this summer.
Eoin Morgan and his men performed well in India in the shortened formats of the game. They matched India in their performances, and I expect them to both beat the West Indies, and to do well in the Champions Trophy. For the latter to happen, however, one or two uncertainties need to be ironed out. Firstly, there’s the captain’s form. With Joe Root playing all three forms of cricket for England, there will be some suggesting that he takes the reins in every England match. There could well be some logic in that, too, but where would it leave Eoin Morgan? The current skipper’s lack of form has been well documented, but he performed in India. Finally, he looked to be getting back to somewhere near his best. He needs to score a lot of runs in the Caribbean now, as that will likely dismiss talk of him being stripped of the captaincy. If he can consistently hit high scores (or, at least, contribute significantly to the team) and if England can win convincingly, there should be few questioning his ability to lead the side in the summer. Should he fail to perform, though, there will be an awful lot of pressure on him. The selectors might also feel that a change at the helm now would give the side enough time to adjust, making this series a crucial one for the England ODI captain.
The series will also be interesting to see how the side cope without David Willey. Yorkshire’s left-armer has been a mainstay in the England limited overs sides for over a year now, and has been a reliable source of early wickets throughout that time. Steven Finn has replaced him, and he will undoubtedly be keen to impress ahead of England’s busy summer. A player who still promises a great deal, but has yet to fully deliver, Finn has a chance to nail down his place in the one-day side, and to get himself noticed by the new test captain. There is no shortage of good seamers for Morgan and the selectors to choose from, either, with some suggesting that Sam Curran be given a chance. Personally, I’m not sure Curran is ready yet, and think his selection would be on a like-for-like basis, rather than on true merit. Bowlers such as Jake Ball and Chris Jordan are better than Curran as things stand, and there is no point in playing someone just because they are left-handed.
The final, and possibly most significant, selection dilemma is an odd one. It concerns England’s spinners (no, you’re not the only one with Deja Vu). Adil Rashid has been up and down since his return to the fold eighteen months ago. At times, he has looked excellent, and at times he has looked like a part-time county bowler. That lack of consistency has made it difficult for him, leaving a permanent cloud of doubt hovering over him. He has all the attributes to be an outstanding bowler in all three formats in international cricket. Too many times, though, he has gone wicketless at ten an over, or relieved the pressure at the other end with consecutive full-tosses. This tour might be one of his last chances to prove himself.
The problem with England’s spin-bowling department is the lack of viable alternatives. Moeen Ali is handy as an all-rounder, but there have been few who have challenged his position as the number one spinner. Personally, I would like to see Jack Leach given a go. Pretty much every other good spinner has been tried, and Leach has performed consistently for Somerset over the past few seasons. Either he or Northamptonshire’s Graeme White should get their chance before too long. If neither of them convince, then it’s back to the drawing board, but they need to be given their opportunity. White is due to play with the England Lions, while Leach has just finished a game against Sri Lanka A with them. In all honesty, England have never replaced Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar, and that was part of their undoing in the subcontinent.
Overall, the West Indies tour promises much. The Windies are a good side with a lot of flare, but I expect England to win. Unfortunately, too many of the West Indies’ T20 side will not play any other forms of international cricket. If they did, they would be more than able to compete with any other international side out there. As it is, though, some of their cricketers are not quite up there.