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England v Sri Lanka

Silverwood’s cautious selections could come back to bite England in brave new era

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Yas Rana argues Chris Silverwood’s tendency to opt for a conservative selection policy could hurt England when opportunities for experimentation are rare.

England’s four-year journey from white-ball no-hopers in 2015 to world champions in 2019 is a well told story. Following humiliation Down Under – arguably the lowest of the many low moments in England’s white-ball history – England ripped up the rulebook, gave youth a chance and reaped rewards for it in unforgettable fashion on one glorious summer’s day at Lord’s.

England’s white-ball renaissance fitted neatly into the four-year World Cup cycle which, with the exception of the 2016 World T20 that took place within a year of the Bayliss era beginning, was rarely punctuated by high stakes T20 cricket. For over three years, the focus was clearly set on the 2019 World Cup – there were no distractions.

Looking at the global calendar, sides won’t be afforded such long, uninterrupted periods heading into global white-ball tournaments for some time. In fact, the ICC’s latest global events calendar sees a major men’s limited overs tournament take place every year between now and 2031. There is little space for major reconfigurations.

With that in mind, the relative familiarity of the names in England’s squads for the Sri Lanka series feels like a missed opportunity. The only new face is that of Sussex all-rounder George Garton in the ODI squad, while the T20I saw the reintroduction of known quantities in Liam Dawson, Chris Woakes and David Willey.

The last three selections are conservative picks from England’s all-powerful coach-cum-selector, Chris Silverwood. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that he still has a fairly narrow pool of players to choose from months out from a major tournament should form or fitness require a change of personnel.

The Sri Lanka series presented a perfect chance for England to learn a little more about bowlers with minimal international experience – the likes of Saqib Mahmood, Tymal Mills and Matt Parkinson. Given the recent form of Tom Curran and Chris Jordan and injury concerns of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, conservatism isn’t necessarily the same as pragmatism. Equally, Adil Rashid is such an integral part of England’s T20I plans it seems risky not having a serious look at the next best wrist-spinner in the country in Matt Parkinson.

These are the kind of holes you pick in a set-up that’s in a pretty good place. But that said, it does  speak of a broader sense of caution that’s pervaded through the Silverwood era. In 2020, England opted against deploying their least experienced bowlers in two relatively low-stakes series against sides they’d expect to beat at home. Fast forward a year, with Test series against the number one, two and three ranked sides in the world in their schedule, England don’t know a huge amount more about the likes of Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and Olly Stone, bowlers you’d expect them to turn to at one point or another in the next seven months. It’s a missed opportunity that only feels more costly now.

Silverwood has stated his intention to have no players make their debuts during this winter’s Ashes. It’s an admirable goal, but it could have been achieved in smoother fashion if some of those bows came last year, against West Indies and Pakistan, rather than in encounters in which England arguably go in as underdogs.

There is a similar sense around the Sri Lanka series. It’s worth remembering how different this Sri Lanka outfit are to the teams that have recently been regular challengers at ICC events; there is a very real chance that they may not qualify automatically for the 2023 World Cup and are currently ranked eighth in T20I cricket.

Over the next decade, there will be few opportunities which obviously present themselves to blood in new talent – there will almost always be a global event round the corner. In that respect, these games against Sri Lanka, beginning in the shadow of the World Test Championship final and sandwiched between a pair of blockbuster Test encounters, are a chance gone begging. If the Silverwood era is to be remembered as building on that which went before it, then making the most of the low-profile series will be the key to winning those that matter most.

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