@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
2021 has been a busy year for the England Test side. Eight months in, England have played 12 Tests and the busy schedule has brought with it a multitude of selection conundrums that otherwise were unlikely to surface.
Injuries, rest periods and varying conditions have seen England use 13 frontline bowlers across those 12 Tests, all of whom, with the possible exception of Sam Curran, have made vital contributions at one point or another. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Olly Stone, Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Dom Bess and Ben Stokes – that’s a lot of bowlers.
The question – what is England’s first choice attack at home? – is largely academic. Barring the start of the 2020 home summer where players ‘benefitted’ from the enforced, lockdown-induced three-month break, Chris Silverwood and Joe Root have seldom had all their bowlers available for selection. But there’s comfort in certainty, so while England are unlikely ever to be in this position, it is still a fun exercise to work out what their first choice attack might look like.
Let’s start with the easiest call. Ben Stokes is England’s superstar and plays whenever he’s available. He’s the side’s second best batsman and operates as its fourth seamer in home conditions where he balances the team. James Anderson is England’s greatest ever bowler and at the age of 39, averages less than 23 with the ball in 2021 – he’s in the side.
This is where it gets tricky. There are three spots left, one of which is likely to go to a spinner. There are also a number of separate pecking orders at play for different types of bowlers and for different conditions. You have the pecking order for the seam-bowling all-rounders which is topped by Stokes but England are by no means restricted to choosing just one. There’s the ‘classical English seamer’ pecking order of seamers who operate between 78 and 85 mph, which also includes a couple of the all-rounders. As well the spinners, you also have your ‘point of difference’ bowlers, the guys who regularly hit the 90mph mark.
In the out-and-out quicks category, Archer is probably marginally ahead of Wood and Stone. While Wood has improved markedly as a Test cricketer in the last two and a half years, he has never – in England – produced anything like Archer’s 2019 Ashes. Stone has been impressive whenever he’s played for England but is understandably in third position on this list.
Moeen looks to have nudged ahead of Leach and Bess in the battle for the spinner’s spot. That said, there’s no guarantee England would definitely pick a spinner (or a ‘point of difference’ quick). There have been times this summer where England have gone in without either role.
Woakes’ home record is extraordinary. Since the start of his breakthrough summer in 2016, he has 87 home Test wickets at 20.33. Of the England bowlers with 20 or more Test wickets in England in that period, only Anderson and Robinson have lower averages. Robinson’s exceptional start to his Test career – at the time of writing he has 28 wickets and 18.85 – makes him a very hard man to leave out. As is Stuart Broad, England’s other member of the 500 Club.
So we’ve definitely got Stokes and Anderson, and then three of Moeen, Archer, Robinson, Woakes and Broad. Woakes’ batting nudges him ahead of the other two traditional English seamers; he is too valuable a cricketer to leave out at home. England rarely go into home Tests with Stokes around without a spinner so Moeen is in, leaving one position between Archer, Robinson and Broad.
Unless it’s particularly flat, England are unlikely to feel that they need to have an out and out quick in Archer, and given how the last 18 months of his career have gone, he is lower down in the pecking order compared to where he was during the 2019 Ashes. Now there is probably a difference in what England should do and what they would do. On form, it’s a no-brainer. Robinson has often been Root’s go-to man this summer, entrusted with bowling during critical phases of play and he has regularly showed that Root’s confidence in him is well-founded.
Broad’s 2021 has not been anywhere near as fruitful as his 2020. His six Tests this year have yielded 10 wickets at 37.40, a minor dip but one big enough to matter when competition for places is this fierce.
England’s first choice home attack with everyone fit: Anderson, Robinson, Woakes, Stokes, Moeen.