@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
England begin the final stretch of their T20 World Cup 2022 preparations next week, with a seven-match T20I series against Pakistan offering a chance to tweak and fine-tune ahead of the global event.
England’s build-up has been far from smooth so far. They failed to win any of their four white-ball series this home summer, with Eoin Morgan, captain since 2015, retiring, and Jason Roy dropped after a poor run of form.
They have also been hit by a spate of injuries, with Jonny Bairstow ruled out of the tournament by a freak golfing accident, and several seamers facing a race to get fit.
Given that, England have several questions to answer and problems to solve if they are to become the first men’s team to hold both world titles simultaneously.
England’s T20 World Cup squad: Ben Stokes, Alex Hales, Jos Buttler (c), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Phil Salt, Harry Brook, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, David Willey, Reece Topley, Sam Curran, Chris Jordan.
England’s T20 World Cup travelling reserves: Richard Gleeson, Liam Dawson, Tymal Mills.
England’s Pakistan T20I squad: Ben Duckett, Jos Buttler (c), Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Dawid Malan, Phil Salt, Harry Brook, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, David Willey, Reece Topley, Sam Curran, Richard Gleeson, Liam Dawson, Jordan Cox, Will Jacks, Olly Stone, Luke Wood, Tom Helm, Alex Hales.
Who should the extra man in the top five be?
When England announced their squad, it was made clear that, despite the axing of Roy, their top five was all but set in their minds. Jos Buttler would open with Jonny Bairstow, with Dawid Malan and Ben Stokes at No.3 and No.4, with Liam Livingstone in the finisher role.
Bairstow’s injury has complicated matters. Alex Hales has been recalled after three and a half years in the wilderness, but faces competition with Phil Salt and Harry Brook for a space in the top five. Given Hales wasn’t in the squad to begin with, it’s possible to conclude he is third in the pecking order, and must wait his turn. Equally, given the baggage his inclusion brings, perhaps England would only go to the lengths of picking him if he was in line to start.
The debate right now boils down to Hales v Salt, though Brook will to get a chance to make his case against Pakistan. Hales has the pedigree, both in international cricket before his exile and in T20 leagues around the world since then – of those with 1,000 T20 runs since the start of 2020, only South Africa’s Rilee Roussouw can match Hales’ average and strike-rate, and he has a stellar Big Bash record too. But Salt can keep, lessening the load on Buttler, and has been the designated next man in recent times.
Who should open with Buttler?
Even after England pick who they want to replace Bairstow in the XI, there’s still a question over who should face the new ball. England have in recent times favoured a simple ‘best batter faces the most balls’ policy, and when there have been injuries, have tended to promote an established middle-order option rather than bring an opener in from outside of the XI; Salt, an opener by trade, is yet to come in at the top of the order for England in T20Is.
Hales and Salt would both prefer to open, but Malan and Stokes are also options. Malan had an excellent campaign for Trent Rockets at the top of the order, while Stokes has IPL pedigree facing the new ball. Either of those would allow England to maintain a right-left opening partnership as well.
What is the ideal team balance?
England could, of course, fit two of Hales, Salt and Brook in their XI. But doing so would require a diversion from their preferred recent bowling-heavy strategy. Only once this summer, in the third T20I against India, did they go into a game with six specialist batters, instead preferring the dual all-round options of Sam Curran and Moeen Ali.
Given England’s batting has been weakened by Roy’s loss of form and Bairstow’s injury, it may be that they feel they need the extra insurance of another specialist, opening the door for one of Salt or Brook at No.6. Or it may be that Moeen and Curran are simply seen as being too valuable, and thus must both be included. It could well come down simply to who is in the best form, making the Pakistan T20Is crucial.
Which seamers are actually fit, and what is the fast-bowling pecking order?
If everyone is fit, England’s T20 World Cup seam-bowling department looks varied and well-stocked. But at the moment, it’s a conditional that is some way short of being fulfilled. Chris Jordan and World Cup reserve Tymal Mills will each miss the Pakistan T20Is as they recover from injury. Chris Woakes and Mark Wood will both be unavailable for the early stages of that trip, and Reece Topley is also an injury doubt for the opening games.
That will mean an opportunity for the likes of Luke Wood, Richard Gleeson and Tom Helm to suggest they should be the beneficiary, should any of that quartet fail to recover in time. It’s also far from clear, if everyone is fit, what England’s first-choice attack should be. Jordan remains the nailed-on banker, having bounced back well from semi-final heartbreak last year, but Woakes, Wood and Topley all have their own pros and cons. Woakes boasts new-ball excellence, Wood high pace and Topley a left-arm angle. England will hope each features enough in Pakistan to help them reach a decision.
Who is the next next next cab off the rank?
As the last few months have shown, there are some World Cup campaigns when it can seem like everything that could go wrong does. In the past three months, England have lost the opener around whom their aura has been built, the captain who helped found their all-conquering era, and perhaps the most in-form batter in the planet. They would do well to be prepared for the loss of another player, and the Pakistan tour will allow Will Jacks or Jordan Cox or Ben Duckett to show why they should be next in line.