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England v West Indies

CricViz Analysis: Takeaways from England’s 30-man squad

by Freddie Wilde 5 minute read

CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde identifies the major talking points from England’s 30-man Test squad.

The men to miss out

25 of the 55-man training group that was named three weeks ago did not make it into England’s 30-strong squad ahead of the first Test against the West Indies. However, a large proportion of those 25 were always unlikely to make this red-ball training group. Many of the group to miss out are seen as more suitable to the shorter formats at this point in time and in the case of one or two quicks, they are arguably too inexperienced to make the step up to the red-ball squad just yet.

There are therefore only four players from the initial 55-man training group who might be disappointed to have missed out, with Dawid Malan’s absence explained by a calf injury. The first and perhaps most notable of the four is James Vince, who was pushing for a Test spot only last summer but whose absence suggests he is increasingly viewed primarily as a white-ball option. Liam Livingstone, who withdrew from the Indian Premier League after being encouraged to focus on red-ball cricket by Ashley Giles – the pandemic obviously prevented this happening but he may have been a bolter selection. And finally the pace duo of Richard Gleeson and Brydon Carse – both of whom played in the England Lions’ red-ball matches in Australia earlier this year. Indeed, they are two of only four players who appeared in red-ball matches for the Lions this winter who are not in the 30-man squad.

No one dropped; no split squads

It is perhaps not a surprise in a squad as large as this that there are no major casualties. There has been some talk that this summer could see England adopt entirely distinct squads for red and white-ball cricket to manage a schedule even more compact than usual. Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have been under some pressure for their spots in the Test side with some believing they should prioritise their white-ball skills and make way for Ben Foakes. However, both Bairstow and Buttler have made the squad.

Four wicketkeepers picked

The selection of Gloucestershire’s James Bracey means there are four wicketkeepers in the group. Bracey toured with the Lions this winter but his selection is a bit of a surprise given the number of alternative options. While he also gives additional cover for the top three, might Bracey’s inclusion be the England management preparing for life after at least one of Buttler and Bairstow in the longer formats?

Five spinners in the squad

One of the most notable things about the 30 players who have been picked is that there are as many as five spinners included, which is a lot for a series in England. Those five are Moeen Ali, who makes a return to red-ball cricket for England after opting out last summer, Dom Bess and Jack Leach (the two frontline spinners in red-ball cricket after the winter), Matt Parkinson, who was the reserve spinner in New Zealand and South Africa and Amar Virdi, the Surrey off-spinner who has played for the Lions but has not yet been named in a full squad.

The fact England have named so many spinners might reflect an anticipation of some dry pitches in Southampton and Manchester or it could be a nod to the winter tour of India and the management wanting to take a closer look at their options. Across the last few seasons neither the Ageas Bowl or Old Trafford have clearly favoured slow bowlers – spinners have returned middling averages at both venues. The West Indies’ own returns have been similar against pace and spin in recent times as well.

For the first Test Leach is likely to be the frontline spinner. It would be a huge surprise if either Parkinson or Virdi were to break into the final group but it will be fascinating to see whether Bess can maintain his place in what is expected to be a slightly larger final squad than the usual 12 or 13 with Moeen now back in contention.

Batting battle

With Joe Root likely to miss at least one Test for the birth of his second child there will be a spot available in England’s batting order at some point in the series. Given Rory Burns is sure to slot back in at the top of the order after missing the majority of the South Africa series with injury, the most likely solution is for Joe Denly to slide down to number four resulting in a top four of Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Denly. However, Bairstow and new call-up Dan Lawrence may also fancy their chances of selection if they can impress in the inter-squad match.

New faces

There are eight uncapped Test players in England’s squad. The spin pair of Parkinson and Virdi; the pace quartet of Saqib Mahmood, Jamie Overton, Lewis Gregory and Ollie Robinson, the middle-order batsman Lawrence and the wicketkeeper Bracey.

Matt Parkinson

We’ve caught a glimpse of Parkinson this winter when he played two ODIs and two T20Is. The main takeaway about his bowling is that he is abnormally slow. No bowler in the CricViz database has a lower average speed than Parkinson’s 75 kph. Developing his armoury to include some changes of pace is something he has been working on.

Amar Virdi

Virdi is also a classical spin bowler but unlike Parkinson, who has found success in all formats, Virdi is a red-ball specialist who has never played a professional white-ball game. Across his short first-class career so far Virdi has proven to be more effective against left-handers, averaging 23 against them, but he has been solid against right-handers too, averaging 30.

Saqib Mahmood

The Lancashire speedster was named in England’s touring squad for the series in New Zealand and his inclusion reflects England’s desire to breed more high pace bowlers, with a particular focus on the Ashes tour Down Under next winter. Mahmood’s average speed of 135.37 kph is the fourth highest among English bowlers in the CricViz database since 2016, only behind Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone.

Jamie Overton

This is an interesting selection. Overton has not played for the England Lions since November 2018 so his selection represents a considerable leap. However, Overton had a good first-class season last year taking 34 wickets at an average of less than 22. It may be that the management had seen enough of how he operated at Lions level and wanted him to go away and earn his spot. He’s done that and he’s seemingly back in the mix. Jamie is thought to be quicker and more aggressive than his brother Craig; this is another selection probably made with an eye on the next Ashes.

Lewis Gregory

When Gregory was named in England’s 13-man squad for their Test against Ireland last year it was clear the management were keen on the Somerset all-rounder. Since then, he has made his white-ball debut with five T20Is in New Zealand where he made minimal impact in a volatile role. However, the regard in which he is held was underlined by his status as captain for the Lions’s first red-ball game during their winter tour of Australia. With Sam Curran and Chris Woakes around England are not short of bowling all-rounders but Gregory’s excellence at first-class level – where he averages just 26 with the ball – cannot be overlooked.

Ollie Robinson

Another interesting pick. Robinson has forced his way into England reckoning through sheer weight of wickets: across the last two Championship seasons Robinson has 137 wickets at an average of 18, only Simon Harmer has taken more in this period. Unlike Mahmood and Overton, Robinson is more of a classical seam bowler whose success has been predicated on accuracy and consistency. However, according to some reports, he has increased his pace in recent months.

Dan Lawrence

The only uncapped specialist batsman in the 30-man squad is Essex’s Lawrence. Lawrence has been on England’s radar for a few years having played for the Lions back in 2017. However, he has since propelled himself into the red-ball frame with a superb debut red-ball tour with the Lions, returning scores of 190, 125 and 52 in three innings in Australia this winter. Lawrence is a strong player of spin and an excellent player through the on-side, notorious for whipping balls from outside off stump through mid-wicket.

James Bracey

The least heralded of England’s new faces, Bracey is a young top-order batsman and wicketkeeper. A Championship batting average of 36 is solid yet unspectacular but at just 23 years of age England clearly see potential in the Gloucester player. Bracey made his England Lions debut this winter and his rapid rise has continued with selection in this squad.

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