@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
Ben Gardner picks an England under-24 Test XI.
The end of the Ed Smith era has brought plenty of reflection and retrospection on his tenure as England national selector. While he divided opinion, one thing which is beyond doubt is his inclination to give youth a chance, to the extent that five Test cricketers used by England over the winter are aged 24 years old or younger. Two more that have fallen away from contention also fit into that age bracket, meaning England have the core of a very competitive under-24 Test side.
We’ve picked a full under-24 England Test XI, with the calibre of the line-up emphasised by the players left out, including Test cricketer Mason Crane, Derbyshire all-rounder Matt Critchley, one of only two players to both score a hundred and take a five-for this County Championship season, and Jordan Cox, who made the highest individual score of the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy.
Stats in bold refer to first-class cricket before the ongoing round of County Championship fixtures
53 matches, 2858 runs @ 32.11, 5 100s, HS: 267
Selected to tour New Zealand despite averaging just over 30 in first-class cricket, Zak Crawley announced himself emphatically by scoring 267 against Pakistan last summer. While he has struggled since, both playing for England in the subcontinent and for Kent in the County Championship, he remains one of the most exciting batting talents in the English game.
71 matches, 3486 @ 32.57, 7 100s, HS: 122
Haseeb Hameed’s 2016 was the kind dreams are made of. He made four County Championship hundreds, including two in the Roses clash, and received rave reviews on Test debut in India. 2017 and 2018 were the stuff of nightmares, with Hameed averaging under 20 and failing to make a century. A move to Notts ahead of the 2020 season appears to have rejuvenated him. He made twin hundreds in a draw against Worcestershire. He has faced over 100 more deliveries than any other batsman in the 2021 County Championship.
James Bracey (wk)
42 matches, 2439 runs @ 37.52, 6 100s, HS: 156
James Bracey has long been recognised as a player to watch, and thrust himself into the conversation with an impressive display in an England intra-squad warm-up ahead of last year’s Test series against West Indies. He has since spent copious time in the bio-bubble, in England, Sri Lanka, and India, and looks ready for the step up. A ton and an unbeaten half-century gave Gloucestershire a famous win over rivals Somerset in the West Country derby in 2021.
50 matches, 3446 runs @ 51.43, 10 100s, HS: 251
Ollie Pope’s technique has evoked lofty comparisons to Ian Bell, and he is building the record to match. While Test cricket has been hard going so far, a century in South Africa was proof he could make the grade, and his numbers for Surrey are simply extraordinary; he averages 72 for the Oval-based side, with 10 hundreds in 30 games.
82 matches, 4410 runs @ 37.37, 10 100s, HS: 161
If Pope’s batting style is drawn straight from the textbook, Dan Lawrence’s box of tricks is completely his own. With a preference for the leg-side and wrists to die for, Lawrence’s outlier tendencies mark him out as a talent worth sticking with. A 70-odd on Test debut in Sri Lanka, and 46 and 50 on a raging turner at Ahmedabad showed that he can survive the cauldron of top-level cricket.
83 matches, 4999 runs @ 37.58, 17 100s, HS: 194
Joe Clarke is the oldest player in this team, and is yet to earn an England call-up. Off-field ill-discipline has marred his rise up the ladder so far, with his form tailing off but with 17 first-class hundreds to his name, his time could yet come.
71 matches, 2658 runs @ 27.68; 197 wickets @ 29.25, 7 five-fors, BBI: 7-58
Sam Curran still doesn’t have a first-class hundred, and he hasn’t yet taken a Test five-for either. But, as has become cliche, he Makes Things Happen, possessing that invaluable knack to seize a key moment in a contest and wrest a game his side’s way. This skill was evident in abundance in his first Test summer, when he received praise from Virat Kohli and was named Player of the Series as England downed the world’s No.1 Test side. It might not yet be clear what Curran is exactly, but what is obvious is that he has a significant part to play in the next decade of English cricket.
54 matches, 153 wickets @ 30.42, 11 five-fors, BBI: 7-117; 1585 runs @ 24.01, 1 100, HS: 107
Claims that England’s spin cupboard is bare don’t quite chime with reality, with the tweaker’s spot the most hotly contested in this team. Apart from Critchley and Crane, mentioned above, Matt Parkinson, who has the best record of any English first-class spinner this century, is also unlucky to miss out. Dom Bess made his debut against Pakistan in 2018, showing gumption with the bat, and proved he can bowl a bit too in South Africa in 2020, taking his maiden Test five-for. More rewards followed in the subcontinent before a dip in form led to him being dropped, but a vital, match-winning six-for in a thriller for Yorkshire showed he’s still got it.
18 matches, 50 wickets @ 27.70, BBI: 4-48
Saqib Mahmood is yet to make his Test debut, though he was included in the squad to tour New Zealand in 2019, but has featured for England in white-ball cricket. Possessing skiddy pace and with reverse swing his forte, the Lancastrian his the skills and the smarts to be a force for his country in the years to come.
37 matches, 116 wickets @ 23.62, 7 five-fors, BBI: 7-23
Considering the pace he bowls at, hovering around 80mph, Sam Cook might be the least likely in this XI to play Test cricket. But he has become a vital cog in the Essex machine, which churns out County Championship honours seemingly by the season.
35 matches, 124 wickets @ 24.49, 5 five-fors, BBI: 6-97
Josh Tongue’s career has been blighted by injuries so far, but the Worcestershire quick is rightly still regarded as one of England’s most promising young seamers. Tall, quick, and already building a formidable record, it might only take one or two injury-free seasons before higher honours come calling.