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South Africa v England

Five takeaways from England’s warm-up games in South Africa

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 5 minute read

England have named a full-strength 15-man squad for their upcoming T20I series against South Africa, arguably the first time that they have had every first-choice senior player at their disposal for a T20I series since the 2016 World T20 nearly five years ago.

That novelty throws up some interesting selection conundrums, including – as is well-documented – how they squeeze their plethora of top-order options into an optimal top six. Looking at performances and tactical decisions made across their two intra-squad friendlies – the first a 40-over game, the other a T20 – we can make an educated guess at how England will look to line up in the first game of that series this Friday in Cape Town.

Sam Curran continues where he left off in the IPL

The youngest Curran brother recently enjoyed a breakthrough IPL tournament from which he emerged as one of the few Chennai Super Kings to leave the competition with an enhanced reputation. Handy at both ends of the innings with the ball and adaptable enough to bat anywhere in the top seven, he may prove to be a more appealing alternative to Moeen Ali – whose recent form has been somewhat indifferent – in that No. 7 slot.

In the second warm-up game, Curran effectively hit an unbeaten 37-ball 80. Coming in with the score 50-4 in his side’s chase of 140, Curran blasted 45 off 18 to take his side home with a whopping 44 balls to spare. Curran then made light work of a subsequently arranged target – 65 off six overs – to give his side a second victory in the day.

Joe Root serves up a reminder of his T20 credentials

The fact that Joe Root was England’s leading run-scorer in their run to the 2016 World T20 final is often brought up in the discussion as to whether or not he should be included in their current T20I line-up. What is often overlooked is the small matter of his two wickets – those of both West Indies openers – in the final of that tournament.

If Sam Curran does indeed displace Moeen Ali from England’s first choice XI, England will be left with the solitary spin option of Adil Rashid. For all of Rashid’s consistent excellence for England in white-ball cricket, it is rare for a T20 side to be so pace-heavy, particularly in India – the location of next year’s T20 World Cup.

Should Root get back to his fluent best with the bat, his off-spin would give England some cover in that area even if it was just for particular match-ups against left-handers with mediocre records against off-spin. Root, who is in the ODI but not the T20I squad for the South Africa tour, made an encouraging start with the bat, hitting a run-a-ball 77 in the 40-over game, and an unbeaten 45* off 26 in the T20.

Olly Stone back to his best

It’s now been over two years since Olly Stone forced his way into England’s plans after a record-breaking season with Warwickshire in 2018. His first spell in international cricket – where he bounced out Sri Lanka’s Niroshan Dickwella – had England fans salivating. It’s worth remembering that that performance came prior to Jofra Archer’s eligibility for England and before Mark Wood’s resurgence as an international bowler of note.

Since then, injury and the form of those ahead of him in the queue have left Stone some way down the pecking order but in the second warm-up game, he reminded the England set-up just what he’s capable of when fit. In the T20, Stone claimed figures of 3-12 – a spell that included the dismissals of Liam Livingstone, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. The wicket of Bairstow – a genuinely sharp delivery that nipped through the Yorkshireman’s defence – gives cause for cautious excitement, not just for upcoming white-ball encounters, but maybe even as an extra pace option in Australia in a year’s time.

England offer clues as to how they’ll solve batting order conundrum

If you’re going to have a selection dilemma, working out how to fit Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan, Tom Banton, Dawid Malan, Joe Root and Sam Billings into a top six is one of the better problems to have.

At least six of that aforementioned nine have stated a preference for opening the batting in T20 cricket and in the warm-up, it was Bairstow who was carded to come in at No. 4 for his side, a spot below Stokes and one above Morgan in the order. An aggressive player of spin, it may well be, with Buttler looking increasingly likely to remain as an opener, that Bairstow might be the one best placed to adapt to a new role in the middle-order.

Fringe batsmen fail to stake claims

Another option for England would be to leave one of Bairstow, Roy or Malan out of their side in place of a destructive lower-middle order batsman. Though he made runs in the 40-over game, Sam Billings made a two-ball duck in the T20 fixture while Liam Livingstone – another viable option for the No. 6 slot – was utilised at the top of the order, suggesting that England don’t currently see him as an alternative in that position.

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