After a horror 2021, what lies in wait for England’s men’s Test side in 2022?
The emergence of new faces seems likely in the aftermath of yet another Ashes defeat in Australia, but could some old ones return too?
Here’s a look at some of the players who missed out on the main squad for the Ashes for reasons other than injury that England could turn back to over the next 12 months.
Sibley endured a difficult 2021 with England, averaging just under 20 from 20 innings – his loss of form saw him dropped during the home summer against India and miss out on a spot for the Ashes. Nonetheless, England’s top-order struggles have continued in his absence and Sibley still has a solid 2020 to fall back on, when he hit centuries against South Africa and West Indies to average 47.3 in nine Tests that year.
Jos Buttler’s struggles with the gloves and the bat and have led to growing cries for Ben Foakes to be given another opportunity as England’s Test wicketkeeper. The Surrey gloveman hit a century on Test debut against Sri Lanka back in late 2018 but lost his place that same winter on a tour of the Caribbean. Widely regarded as a better gloveman than Buttler, Foakes played for the Lions against Australia A last month, hitting a 156-ball 73 in his side’s second innings at the Ian Healy Oval.
The Gloucestershire gloveman endured a difficult start to his Test career last summer, finishing the two-Test series against New Zealand with two ducks and a high score of 8. Tasked with batting at No.7, unlike his top-order role at Gloucestershire, Bracey’s wicketkeeping also came under fire. If he has a future at international level, it seems most likely that it will be batting up the order without the gloves – he signed off the Lions tour of Australia by hitting 113 off 295 balls at No.3 as a specialist batter.
It is now coming close to four years since Vince last played Test cricket, with his last innings a knock of 76 against New Zealand at Christchurch. In recent years he has remained a consistent run-getter at first-class level – since the start of the 2018 English summer, the Hampshire batter has hit more than 2,000 County Championship runs at an average of 40.43. His international career across all formats seemed close to over until a last-minute call-up to the Covid-replacement ODI squad to face Pakistan last year, and he made the most of it by hitting his first international hundred.
Gary Kirsten, who has declared an interest in coaching England, praised Vince in an interview with Wisden.com last week. The former India and South Africa coach said: “If I was looking at Test match batting, I’d be thinking, ‘Is it time to go for the type of technical player that is best suited to Test match cricket?’ I think one guy who’s technically a really good player is James Vince, who hits it in the right areas with a really good straight-bat technique.”
Robson has endured an even longer absence from the Test game than Vince, having not appeared for England since 2014. Seven Tests that summer included a century against Sri Lanka but he was discarded ahead of England’s first series of 2015. He hasn’t launched himself into the conversation in recent years but did enjoy a productive County Championship season last year, finishing as the third highest run-scorer in the country after hitting more than 1,000 runs for Middlesex.
England are yet to land on a spinner they fully trust, as shown by their shuffling of Dom Bess, Jack Leach and Moeen Ali over the past two years. Crane’s Test debut in the fifth Test of the last Ashes series earned him only one wicket at a cost of 193 runs, but he received muted praise for his full-hearted efforts. Some injury struggles led to him considering quitting first-class cricket altogether, but he has looked a refreshed bowler in the past two county seasons, maintaining a first-class average of 21 since the start of 2020. Should England look to leg-spin to help aid their post-Ashes rejuvenation, a decent start to 2022 could see Crane come back into contention.
Ben Duckett made one half-century during his first stint as a Test cricketer, but that was largely forgotten as England then conspired to lose all 10 wickets in a session against Bangladesh. A working-over by R Ashwin followed, with Haseeb Hameed’s simultaneous emergence having seemingly sewn up an England opening spot for the next decade or more. How times change.
That stint came in 2016, with Duckett a tender 22-year-old still finding his way. He has continued to pick up first-class runs, averaging a shade under 40, and while 2018 was a lean year, with Duckett’s average a shade under 25 in that county season, since then his record is excellent, with 2202 runs at 42. He remains a white-ball batter of some renown, and has recently earned a T20I recall. Capable of batting in the middle-order as well as up top, another return isn’t entirely out of the question.