England’s World Cup squad is taking shape, but questions remain over their starting XI
After winning their first ODI series since last summer against Bangladesh, England’s World Cup squad looks more firmly defined.
Hundreds from Jason Roy and Dawid Malan went a long way to solidify their place in the 15 that will travel to India in October, and the continuation of Sam Curran’s stellar winter leaves little doubt as to his place in the squad. At this stage, England look to have 13 of the 15 booked in: Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Dawid Malan, Harry Brook, Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood.
For the last two slots, one will be a fast bowler – likely one of Saqib Mahmood, Olly Stone or Reece Topley – and the other is up in the air. They could pick an extra top-five batting option, with Ben Duckett, Alex Hales, Phil Salt and Sam Billings. Rehan Ahmed or Will Jacks are tempting wildcards. Or is there a world in which Ben Stokes reneges on his retirement just in time?
There remains limited opportunity for those players to make their cases – England’s next ODI engagements will come in September, when they may have already named their provisional squad for the World Cup. However, those seven ODIs against New Zealand and Ireland will present a chance for Matthew Mott to refine his 15 down to an XI – which is good, because England’s first-choice team is much less clear. Perhaps only Buttler, Rashid, Archer, Root and Bairstow (fitness allowing) are dead certs in this regard. For the rest, a case still needs to be made.
The opening partnership
Even with his two ODI centuries during the winter, Roy’s place in England’s starting XI could still be in doubt. This is largely thanks to Malan’s form and utility on pitches which Roy’s uber-aggressive nature may not suit. While Malan batted in England’s upper-middle order in Bangladesh, the return of Root, Brook and the rest could mean the only space for him is at the top. Malan has had to deal with some harsh calls during his international career – given his three centuries this winter and the calibre of those innings, it would be another tough-to-take chapter if he cannot find a space in England’s World Cup team, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Both could feature as opening partners if Bairstow’s injury enforces him to sit out of cricket even longer than expected. However, it’s a mark of Bairstow’s standing as one of the most prolific ODI openers ever that, even after being confined to the sidelines for a significant length of time, he continues to hold down an unquestionable spot in England’s best XI.
As for Phil Salt and Hales, while Salt decreased his standing with a poor series in Bangladesh, Hales could still find his way into the squad. But, that would probably rely on injury or dramatic loss of form to one of England’s other top-order options. The same can be said for Billings, who will have to rely on an outstanding domestic summer to force his way back into contention.
How many all-rounders in the middle order?
Stokes’s retirement means England no longer have a bowling option that fits comfortably into their top six. While the finality of his retirement is still unclear, the well-known depth of all-round options England possess means they can cope without the balance he naturally brings into the side.
Liam Livingstone and Will Jacks are both options to mitigate for Stokes’s absence. While Livingstone is currently ahead in this regard, a breakthrough IPL season from Jacks – provided he recovers from his thigh injury in time – or a summer of Bazball success could overhaul that deficit. Playing one of those two would also allow England a third seam option, in addition to Root as a part-timer, on slow pitches. The inclusion of one of the two would also allow Moeen to bat in a more comfortable position at seven. But batting in the top six in ODI cricket requires consistency, with England’s 2019 success built on a line-up of players who all averaged at least 40, and some of whom averaged much more. Whether Livingstone, Moeen or Jacks can match that is as yet unknown.
As for the rest of the middle order, Brook’s status as the next Bradman for his performances in the Test arena and his eye-catching 80 in South Africa have him near-nailed on to slot in below Root. Duckett is another option for Matthew Mott to consider but currently struggles to find a place in the XI.
As expected, immediately upon return to international cricket Jofra Archer has reclaimed his place as England’s best pace option. Two of Mark Wood, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes will likely make up the rest of the seam contingent. Curran is the leading wicket-taker for England across all formats this winter and his effectiveness in the powerplay may negate the need for Woakes, with Wood the go-to in the middle overs. Nevertheless, it’s highly unlikely that Woakes will not feature at some point in the World Cup. If fit, any two of those three options could line up in England’s first match of the tournament.
As for Stone, Mahmood and Topley, depending on the balance of England’s squad, one or two could find themselves selected – with Topley probably the frontrunner. As yet, however, they don’t find a place in the first-choice XI.