After an exciting but highly unusual summer, David Lloyd looks at the state of the England Test side with proposed tours to Sri Lanka and India this winter and an Ashes series in Australia only a year away…
In the circumstances, the Test summer was absolutely brilliant, it was excellent cricket and that is all down to the players. Inside a bio-secure bubble, I know all about that, and for these young fellas it’s a massive discipline.
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The cricket that was produced by all the teams was excellent; it certainly went beyond my expectations. England have done OK as you’d expect them to do in England, I think we’re a real force in home conditions.
But there would be elements of the team that could do with improving. You’ve really got to start with your core players. So who are they? Well I’d say they are Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Joe Root. Chris Woakes has done fantastically well, absolutely brilliantly, too, but there are pieces of the jigsaw that England would need to pay attention to, not least the opening batsmen and the spin bowler.
If I were a selector, I am always looking at the Ashes. That is in my mind every four years. To prepare and prepare well.
You’d have a good idea of what you want in your team and where you’d like to be for the Ashes so when you go to the subcontinent, as England are hoping to this winter, you might look at a specialist player of some sort but you can’t go away from an opening pair that should actually be proficient all over the world.
They should be able to play anywhere really. Somebody like Graham Gooch, for instance, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick – you wouldn’t want to be saying we can take him here but we can’t take him there. You’ve got to have an all-round game.
England seem to have settled on Rory Burns and Dom Sibley but they’ve not set the game alight. An opening pair needs to be consistent and able to change gear, to move the game forward. For that reason, I would definitely open with Zak Crawley, who looks so natural, and Jonny Bairstow, who is a very accomplished cricketer.
Both Burns and Sibley have quirky techniques and I doubt that they batted like that when they were 16 or 18 years old. There just seems to be so much that can go wrong.
I’d like to ask them if they’ve ever thought of completely revamping it and going back to a more solid base and a more solid platform as a golfer would do? World class golfers dismantle their swing and start again. I just wonder whether, working with the right people, that would be an option?
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In the Ashes last time around the selectors came up with the idea that the one-day opening batsman, Jason Roy, could open in Test match cricket. It was a spectacular failure.
Now the other opening batsman in one-day cricket is Bairstow, he’s got six Test match hundreds. He’d be my pick; he’s pretty basic in what he does but he can change the game, there is no doubt about that.
That leaves No 3 and with an eye on the Ashes, I would look to another player who can score at a pace and that is Dan Lawrence at Essex. Like Crawley, he is a naturally cricketer, he’s a fighter and I just think he looks a good cricketer, a good batsman. Listening to other people, they agree, and I know damn well that Shane Warne’s top three for England would be exactly what I’ve said.
In modern cricket you’ve got to get your runs quickly enough so that you are bowling to get 20 wickets.
If you’re just plodding along at 2.4 an over, you’re getting back to England in the 1960s and 70s! Look all around the world, in the modern game after 80 overs when you get the second new ball, you need to be about 270 or 280 and then you’ve a chance of getting 350 plus. If you’re just 210 then you’ve every chance of being all out for 280 and you’re not in the game.
You’ve got to be able to push the score along, if the opposition can control the game at 2.4 an over then they will do and they’ll be very happy. They can keep all the slips in and attack for the world. If you’re going at 3.5 then they’ve got to push a couple back and look after the score.
So, if England do stick with Burns and Sibley, I think they’ve got to work like mad to get them more secure, less vulnerable and able to score quicker.
As for the spinners, I would camp outside Adil Rashid’s house, speak to his family on a daily basis and if he’s got any doubts about his shoulder, get him the best medical treatment there is in the world and get him in the team.
He’s bowling beautifully, he’s at the right age now, in his early thirties, for a leg-spinner and I think it would be a tragedy and a travesty if we lost him. He’s obviously got a bit of self-doubt and need a bit of TLC so I’d give that to him, make him feel wanted and do all the things that would make him comfortable because he would benefit this team, no doubt about it.
As far as Moeen Ali is concerned, he’s got competition, put it that way. He wouldn’t be an automatic pick if he came back, whereas he was before. He’s gone off the boil which is a great shame because he’s been a key player for England in the past. He had a bit of damage last time they were in Australia so again I’d be working with him to see what the problems are.
The young lad Dom Bess has done admirably. He’s a young kid learning about off-spin bowling in a Test match so I think he’s done very, very well. He’s very much in the mix.
Matt Parkinson continues as a work in progress. He’s another very young kid learning a very difficult art in leg spin. I hope he is working with specialist leg-spin bowling coaches; a bit more pace would be helpful but he does spin it and he gets a little bit of drift too.
He’s also got to work ever so hard on his fielding but he is a work in progress and he’s doing very, very well. I’m not sure he’s ready for Test match cricket but give him five years until he really learns the art and, as I say, if he can get a little bit fitter and a little bit quicker that will help him because he does give it a rip.
As for Jack Leach, he has to try and work his way back in. He will understand that, there is competition around and the key player is Rashid, who can spin the ball both ways rather than an orthodox finger spinner. But again, he’s done a terrific job for the team when he’s played. Injuries and illness have just pushed him back a bit.
The good news for England is that they don’t need to worry about the wicketkeeper anymore after this summer. Buttler is the man in possession, he’s a dangerous cricketer and so, as I mentioned earlier, he would be a core player for me.
On top of that, if there is any upside to the COVID situation for England then it is that it is giving Joe Root a rest, which he really needed. He needed to get away, recharge the batteries and this break will definitely have helped him.
He’s been working on different little trigger points in his game. Just get back to when you were a young lad, Joe! Get back to what you know best. A bowler who did it was Jimmy Anderson, they tinkered with his action and then he decided ‘no, I’ll go back to what I know’ and it worked out all right for him!
Just finally, looking towards Australia rather than the tours to the subcontinent after Christmas, what you are after is height and bounce. One just on the radar, coming back into the game, is Reece Topley. If they’ve got a left-armer in Australia and Reece is operating at around 80mph, he’ll be very wary of his back injuries but if he can get up to around 84mph then he’ll be a handful.
Jamie Overton and Ollie Stone have both got some pace too. You’ll need backup in Australia and they will be names that will be talked about, definitely. You’ve got Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Broad, Anderson and Woakes then I’d see these other lads, particularly Reece Topley – if fit – as very interesting propositions.
People question whether Broad and Anderson will make it to the Ashes but I think they’re absolutely nailed on. Somebody tell me someone who is better!? Give me somebody who is better and I’ll think about it…
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