Phil Salt is rapidly slipping down England’s ODI pecking order – his World Cup selection is now under threat
Phil Salt is danger of fast becoming the latest casualty of England’s enviable strength in depth in white-ball cricket, writes Katya Witney.
A year ago, the consensus was that if anyone could unseat either Jonny Bairstow or Jason Roy from their positions at the top of England’s white-ball batting order, it would be Phil Salt. His maiden fifty in his second match for England was proof of that. As impressive as the strokeplay in his counterattack was that day, his maturity in digging the top order out of a hole was more so.
Since then, whenever Bairstow or Roy have missed an ODI series through injury or rest and rotation, Salt has been ready and waiting on hand as a near like-for-like replacement. Ultra-aggressive and with a clear-minded approach, he fits well into the opening role which has underpinned England’s batting success over the last eight years.
As recently as this summer, his place and standing within the squad looked secure. His maiden ODI century came against the Netherlands, a 93-ball 122 showing his strength down the ground and ability to dominate bowling attacks on his day. While that innings was a good start, the next step for Salt was to prove he could replicate that innings against stiffer opposition and on a consistent basis.
But when he retained his place against South Africa, even in a side that looked close to full strength with all three of Root, Bairstow and Roy back involved, his results faltered. Batting at three, he scored 14 in his one innings in that series, and also failed to make it past 25 in three knocks against Australia in the winter. Even such a short period of poor form is enough to call into question a spot in England’s white-ball side, given just how many people are competing for a spot in at least their squad, if not their first-choice XI.
Salt’s problem has been that whilst he hasn’t been scoring runs, others have. Dawid Malan notched his third ODI hundred of the winter (all of which you could claim to be better than the last) against Bangladesh. Roy has all but re-secured his World Cup place with his second hundred in five matches in the second ODI at Mirpur, and with Root set to slot straight back in and presuming Bairstow returns to full fitness by the World Cup, that rules out a place for Salt in at least England’s top three, if not top four.
Speaking last year on whether he could find a space in England’s middle order, Salt said: “I’m very aware that the best players in the world can bat anywhere. You see that when looking around all the top domestic leagues in international cricket, you know, the best players are the ones who can adapt and improvise and find different ways of getting the job done for most situations.”
But, even here there are players who could justifiably claim selection over Salt. Harry Brook’s status as Test cricket’s latest phenomenon, to go along with the ODI 80 he scored in South Africa, probably puts him above Salt in the pecking order between numbers four and six. Ben Duckett has two ODI half-centuries to his name and, while he struggled in South Africa, his Test and T20I performances, as well as a proficiency against spin, may be enough to edge him ahead of Salt too.
Moeen Ali has also shown signs of the beginnings of a better run with the bat, quietening any continued rumblings over what he adds to the side. And those waiting in the wings, Liam Livingstone, Will Jacks and potentially Ben Stokes and Alex Hales, not only leave no room for Salt in England’s XI – but also in their World Cup squad.
Even his added bonus as a reserve keeper for Jos Buttler is negligible once Bairstow returns, with Duckett also offering the possibility of another spare pair of gloves.
Salt’s time to prove himself as England’s best option ahead of the World Cup was this winter. After the final ODI against Bangladesh on Monday, England won’t play any ODI cricket until September. While he is currently the occupier of one of England’s spare batter spots, by the time World Cup selection day rolls around, he may find himself left out.