England have plenty of fast-bowling options to choose from for the 2023 World Cup, but choosing between them will be a different challenge.
They might be the defending champions, but nine months out from the World Cup the make up of England’s best ODI side is not yet crystal clear. England’s lead into this tournament feels decidedly different from the last, where over four carefully planned years, England honed in on a core who eventually took them to World Cup glory.
With T20 World Cups in both 2021 and 2022, England have shifted their white-ball priorities away from purely 50-over cricket; before the 2019 World Cup, there was no global T20 tournament for three years. A combination of injuries, retirements and negotiating the packed scheduled have meant that since they took charge of the white-ball set-up last year, Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott have never had a full selection of players at their disposal for ODIs. But now that ODI cricket’s cool again, they’ll get free reign over the players who will fly to India. Just 14 matches remain for them to fashion a side worthy of mounting their title defence.
The issues of injury and rotation have foremostly impacted England’s quick bowlers, and of those who can expect to be classed as favourites; Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood have played 18 ODIs between them since 2019. Archer’s long-awaited return to international cricket is set for the three-match series in South Africa which starts later this week, and his form in the SA20 has been blistering. In the five matches he’s played he’s taken eight wickets and bowled with the same searing pace and silky smooth action as ever, giving England fans a taste of the fix they’ve been missing for two years. Archer, if fit, is a shoe-in.
Woakes is another with minimal ODI cricket under his belt in recent times, but the Warwickshire seamer is an undisputed England ODI great and along with Wood, India in October could be a perfect place for the core of England’s World Cup-winning seamers to get the band back together.
However, those three 2019 World Cup winners have fierce competition for places. For different reasons, Reece Topley and Sam Curran are likely to challenge for first choice selection. After the disappointment of missing out on the T20 World Cup on the eve of the tournament, this year could be the completion of a fairy tale for Topley’s career. His height and awkward angle, as well as his change of pace, could be useful on Indian pitches and he was undoubtedly England’s standout seamer in the format in 2022. After 20 ODIs, Topley has 33 wickets at 23.33 runs apiece.
A completely different left-arm seamer, Curran is also in the running for a spot in the XI, though he could slot in to the team as an all-rounder, particularly if Ben Stokes remains retired from the format. On paper, his ODI numbers are underwhelming – 16 wickets from 18 matches at 45.06 – the same could’ve been said for his T20 figures before his death bowling regeneration just before the T20 World Cup where England ran out as winners with Curran deservedly picking up the Player of the Tournament award.
However, while all of those five are likely to be in England’s squad, which of them will make up the starting XI is another question mark. Ben Stokes’s retirement has given England a problem only the absence of a proper all-rounder, and ingrained Stokesness, could. With Stokes in the side, the natural balance of the team had room for at least three other seamers and four once Moeen Ali dropped out, as he did during the 2019 World Cup. Without him, Buttler has a choice between going in with only three seamers, not unfathomable in sub-continental conditions, or weakening his batting strength. Indeed, with Moeen’s current form with the bat in ODIs – he hasn’t passed 50 in the format since 2017 – it’s plausible that England could field a team without both Moeen and Stokes.
With this in mind, Curran and Woakes’ batting abilities shunt them up the pecking order, a bit. Since he’s been captain, Buttler has favoured balancing his side with six batters, plus Moeen, with three seamers and Adil Rashid filling in the blanks. Of those three seamers, over the last year, David Willey has also been a regular presence.
Jettisoned at the last minute to make way for Archer before the 2019 tournament and seemingly displaced in the pile of left-arm seamers by Curran, he’s quietly re-entered the fray of World Cup selection radar. Willey took 15 wickets in 11 matches last year at an impressive average of 26.86. Of those who played in more than one match for England last year, his economy rate (5.07) was the best of them all.
There are also those others of England’s fast bowling set slowly recovering from injury also to consider in the form of Saqib Mahmood and Olly Stone. While Mahmood has yet to make his competitive return from a stress fracture in his back, Stone took 4-28 in his second match in the SA20 for MI Capitals. An injury to one of the main contenders or a stellar performance in the ODIs in South Africa, which he is set to feature in, could also see him close to World Cup selection. Mahmood averages less than 20 with the ball in ODI cricket while Stone is capable of reaching speeds only Archer and Wood, among English bowlers, can.
The series in South Africa includes Archer, Topley, Willey, Stone, Woakes and Curran as close to a full quota of fast bowlers as England have had for a while, a perfect opportunity to get a nose ahead at the start of a nine-month race.