Ben Gardner picks out what the England Test side might look like if everybody with an international cap in any format all tweaked a hamstring at exactly the same time.
Chris Dent: 147 matches, 9,151 runs @ 38.12, 18 100s, HS: 268
Will Rhodes: 55 matches, 3,097 runs @ 36.86, 6 100s, HS: 207
Choosing the openers for this team, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about finding a partner for Alastair Cook – England have loads of opening options! Those not selected include Daryl Mitchell, prolific since turning 30 but now finally on the wane, Nick Browne, previously next cab off the rank but having lost his way slightly, Nick Gubbins, who had an excellent 2020 and 2016 but a lean patch in between, James Bracey, with heaps of promise but not yet quite the record, and Daniel Bell-Drummond, who is yet to put together two campaigns of note in a row.
We’ve gone with Gloucestershire’s Chris Dent, who’s averaged 44 or more in five of the last seven full English seasons, and Will Rhodes, who, after a tough start to his career, has flourished since joining Warwickshire in 2018. All six of his first-class centuries have come since then, and he averages 40.12 for the Birmingham-based club.
The middle order
Sam Northeast: 170 matches, 10,365 runs @ 38.82, 24 100s: HS: 191
Dan Lawrence: 73 matches, 3,907 runs @ 38.30, 10 100s, HS: 161
Tom Abell (c): 80 matches, 4,207 runs @ 32.36, 7 100s, HS: 135
Similarly hard to select, Nottinghamshire’s Joe Clarke, who came within touching distance of a Test call in 2018, can feel unlucky, but didn’t do quite enough in 2020 to make up for a poor 2019, while James Hildreth, who averaged 29 in 2019 and 21 in 2020, will have to just add this to the list of XIs he’s been overlooked for.
Sam Northeast, despite a lean year, is a shoo-in, averaging 48 in England since the start of 2015, while Dan Lawrence has been unstoppable since discarding his trigger movement. Tom Abell’s overall record doesn’t compare to some of his competitors, but considering how hard batting can be at Taunton, an average of 37 in the last three seasons is more impressive than he looks. When you add in the captaincy that has made Somerset one of the most formidable county sides in the land, the case becomes compelling.
Ryan Higgins: 38 matches: 1,786 runs @ 34.34, 5 100s, HS: 199, 127 wickets @ 21.62, 5 five-fors, BBI: 7-42
There will be those who will be shouting at the screen in anguish at the exclusion of Darren Stevens, evergreen and only getting greener as he gets greyer. But while he is somehow still becoming more potent with the ball even as he enters his mid 40s, the batting has tailed off. That contract-sealing 237 last year is his only century since 2017, and he’s batted as low as No.9 for Kent this season.
Ben Brown: 145 matches, 7,673 runs @ 39.34, 18 100s, HS: 163
Even beyond the JBs and BFs, England are well-stocked in the gauntlet-handling department. Middlesex’s John Simpson, Worcestershire’s Ben Cox and Essex’s Adam Wheater could all have filled in capably, but Sussex’s Ben Brown is a cut above with the bat, averaging a tick over 40 since the start of 2015.
Ollie Robinson: 58 matches, 250 wickets @ 21.78, 14 five-fors, BBI: 8-34
Ben Coad: 38 matches, 157 wickets @ 19.93, 9 five-fors, BBI: 6-25
Jamie Porter: 89 matches, 350 wickets @ 23.98, 13 five-fors, BBI: 7-41
The toughest area, with there being a plentiful supply of honest seamers vying for inclusion. Lancashire’s Tom Bailey comes close to selection, while Somerset’s Jack Brooks, having added a batting string to his bow deserves a mention, as does his former teammate Jamie Overton, who would add an extra dimension to this attack. Chris Rushworth, a new member of the 500 first-class wickets club, is yet another among the chasing pack.
But Jamie Porter and Ollie Robinson have been county cricket’s two leading seamers for a while now, with the latter also impressing for the Lions, and Yorkshire’s Ben Coad is almost criminally under-talked-about. His average of just under 20 is extraordinary even before you consider that he has spent his whole career in Division One.
Amar Virdi: 28 matches, 91 wickets @ 28.08, 4 five-fors, BBI: 8-61
Amar Virdi has had a tumultuous start to his career, but one thing that has rarely wavered is his ability to take wickets, with 91 of them having now come in 28 games at an average of 28. Derbyshire’s Matt Critchley, a leggie who offers a batting option, is another contender, but, in truth, England’s cupboard is bare beyond those with a Test cap.