The upcoming ODI series against New Zealand holds significance for England on a number of levels. It will stand as a good gage for where Ashley Giles’ side is at before the upcoming tournament, against a solid New Zealand outfit buoyed after overcoming South Africa on their turf in their previous ODI series.
It will also be one of the final opportunities for Giles to look at potential candidates for the squad, which means that it’s also one of the last chances for many of the fringe players to book their place in the final squad. With plenty of names and battles still to be decided, players will have to play their best cricket if they want the chance to play a major tournament in their home country.
The biggest battle within the squad at the moment is the one for the gloves behind the stumps. Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow is held in high regard by the selectors, having had spells in the team at both test and one-day level. Bairstow has shown promise, but so far has failed to really cement his place as either batsmen or wicketkeeper in the team.
We’ve seen some clumsy displays behind the stumps along with a number of forgettable knocks, meaning Bairstow has a serious fight on his hands to make the squad. Currently, the gloves are with Jos Buttler. Bizarrely, it is the recently-displaced Craig Kieswetter who keeps for Buttler’s home county of Somerset, with Buttler now looking set to displace his team-mate in his favoured position. Buttler’s explosive end of innings displays in the T20 squad have caught the eye of the selectors, whilst his competent displays keeping have overshadowed Bairstow. His strike rate in International T20s is a loft 148, illustrating his ability to score quickly, whilst his array of unconventional strokes have put him on the way to becoming a fan favourite.
Buttler’s main problem is inexperience. With only three ODI games under his belt, he’s seen as something of a risk for a major tournament place, whilst there’s always the chance that his lack of keeping time outside of the England One-Day squad may let him down if the pressure of the big stage gets to him. Nonetheless, Buttler will be given the opportunity to secure the spot this month, whilst Bairstow will be spending the time anxiously thumb twiddling as he looks to somehow force his way back into a side he looked becoming a key part of last year. Buttler should get the nod for June. He provides the firepower towards the end of the middle order that England have lacked in the absence of Prior in the One-Day form in the game and should only get better behind the stumps as he goes.
The other key positional battleground in the team is the “Number 7” batting spot. Ideally, what England want here is an all-rounder with an emphasis on bowling.
Tim Bresnan looked a lock for this position but has recently suffered a lapse in form, struggling to trouble the scorers with the bat and regularly averaging over 40 with the ball in the past year. Bresnan is required to have elbow surgery which could keep him out for up to two months, further hindering his case for selection.
Chris Woakes, back in the fold largely thanks to the appointment of his old boss, should get the opportunity. Woakes can bat aggressively and is an okay bowler, yet is far from spectacular in either area and hasn’t really set the world alight since he came onto the scene during the Tour of Australia. He bowled well in the recent T20 series, taking four wickets at a decent economy, so maybe we will see the best of Woakes with a more prolonged role in the team. Rikki Clarke, another one of Giles’ good pals at Warwickshire, may come back into the fold too, with a recall to the number 7 spot. Once hailed as a future star, Clarke has failed to live up to his hype and it’s shocking and surprising that Giles is even considering him, no matter how much of a friend he was to him at Warwicks.
Although the out-of-form Bresnan should be given the benefit of the doubt after what he has achieved for England, it seems more likely now that Giles will go with Woakes. The 22 year old is carrying some decent form going into the series, but his county allegiance will probably be the defining factor, especially considering that Giles is willing to reach out to the aging, tired and tested Clarke.
There are other outsiders who feel they could be given a chance too. James Treadwell lacks to speed variation of Panesar and cannot spin the ball like Swann, yet bowled efficiently and economically on the sub-continent. It is extremely unlikely however, that England will field two full-time spinners. And with Swann an integral part of the side, Treadwell may have to settle for drinks carrying duties come June. Alex Hales has also put in some impressive displays of late in the T20, none less so than his brutal 80 off only 42 balls in the final game against New Zealand. Despite his seemingly imminent arrival in the squad, England seem to be going down the “Bell as opener” avenue and therefore leaving Hales on the sidelines. Rest assured though, Hales has a big future with England and will be in the 50 over side sooner rather than later. In my opinion, England will (injury-permitting) go with the team: Cook (C), Bell, Trott, Pietersen, Morgan, Root, Woakes, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn. Is this team is good enough to win the trophy on home turf? That remains to be seen.
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