With the T20 World Cup now less than a month away, how will England line-up in their first fixture of the tournament against reigning champions West Indies?
Picking an England white-ball side is what I imagine wealth-management is like as a job. With too much quality to know what to do with, you end up spending your days shuffling a pack full of aces. Shall I have a million pounds in this fund or that one? Shall I pick Moeen Ali or Liam Livingstone? Do I want one Curran in my squad or two? A bit of Bairstow here, a bit of Tymal Mills there, Adil Rashid’s basically a government bond by now he’s that reliable. God, this is exhausting. I’m off to play golf.
But some actual work has had to be done of late and real life decisions made with the news that neither Jofra Archer or Ben Stokes will be available to England for this competition. Archer is one of the best bowlers in the world and has three main strings to his bow in that he bowls powerplay overs, at the death and provides late order hitting. Stokes, by comparison, isn’t as crucial to England’s XI in this format but provides balance through being a top six batter who is also a bowling option. So, with that in mind, how are England likely to line-up for their first game in the T20 World Cup?
Jason Roy and Jos Buttler will open in this World Cup. For years there was a debate over the best place to bat Jos Buttler, and whether he would in fact be better used in the middle order with Jonny Bairstow up top. Realistically, this was England deciding which Instagram filter made their team look the prettiest. Oh woe betide us, what order should our world class batters bat in? But, now the team is settled and it’s been decided that as the side’s most important batter, Buttler, will bat in the position where he can face the most balls.
Four and Six
With Buttler settled at the top of the order, Bairstow will continue to bat at four. He is also the side’s back-up opener were either Roy or Buttler to get injured. Morgan will continue at six. Next question please.
Three, Five and Seven
These three slots are where the key debates over England’s T20 XI lie. Because of the absence of Stokes, and therefore a bowling option missing from the top six, England have to decide how they want to balance their team.
What appears to be the most likely scenario is that Malan will bat at three, Livingstone will be at five and then one of Ali or Curran will play at seven. However, if England feel a bowler light by relying on the fact their fifth bowler will be combination of Livingstone/Ali or Livingstone/Curran, then another option is to leave out Malan and then bat Ali at 3, Livingstone at 5 and Curran at 7.
It feels likely that Malan will play. He has done nothing to dissuade Morgan of the opinion that he is still in England’s best XI which means the debate around his strike-rate early in his innings will remain to the confines of Twitter for now. Livingstone is also a dead-set to be in the starting XI so it feels most likely to be a shootout between Ali and Curran for that final spot in the team which could also be condition dependent.
England have selected a pace heavy squad and picked just one specialist spinner in Adil Rashid. Whilst this goes at odds with the selection strategy of India who have stacked their squad with spinners in expectation of slow tracks in the UAE, it isn’t necessarily a sign of a trick missed by England as much as them playing to their strengths. It is also of note that despite missing Archer and Stone they still have a high quality, high pace attack featuring the likes of Chris Jordan, Mark Wood and Tymal Mills.
So, who plays? Again, there are three bankers and perhaps only one slot up for grabs. Chris Jordan, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid will all play. Which leaves one place to be decided between Mills, Woakes and Willey. Mills has had a fantastic year and despite not being involved in England squads since 2018, was earmarked by Eoin Morgan before the Hundred as someone who would play himself into contention with a strong showing and…well…one strong showing later and here we are with Mills in line to play. Mills has one of the best economy rates at the death in the world and can bowl well into the 90s. On paper he is the most exciting pick, but he would also be a brave pick having not been exposed to international cricket for three years. At a guess, Mills will play. But don’t be surprised if England side with one of Willey or Woakes to begin with in a move that would also deepen their batting line-up.
England’s Potential T20 XI
Sam Curran/Moeen Ali
Bench: Ali/Curran, Woakes, Willey, Billings