The balance of England’s 50-overs one-day team is going to be a recurring theme of this month’s NatWest Series matches against Australia. Basically, do England play the extra batsman, or the extra bowler?
One of the strengths of the squad under Andrew Strauss’s command is the number of genuine all-rounders in it: Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Luke Wright, Adil Rashid, Graeme Swann and, in a one-day sense, Paul Collingwood. Ravi Bopara, too, is a genuine limited-overs all-rounder at county level for Essex, although he doesn’t seem to get much bowling when he plays for England.
But there is no point in packing the side full of all-rounders if the genuine frontline batsmen do not play their part. In the first one-dayer, at the Oval, for example, we saw how too much was left for the all-rounders in the lower middle-order to do, following the failure of the top-order to score at the necessary rate.
That match slipped away from England by four runs, despite the late batting heroics of Wright, Rashid and Ryan Sidebottom, mainly as a result of just 18 runs being scored from the second power play of five overs when Bopara and Prior were at the crease and only one wicket had been lost.
To my mind, the balance of England’s team is not ideal if there are, in effect, seven bowlers in the XI – as there were at the Oval. It was interesting to see, at Lord’s in the next game, that England did opt to play the extra batsman – Eoin Morgan – although they had to leave out Rashid to do so.
I know that Bopara didn’t bowl an over at the Oval, either, and Wright bowled only one, but even if you don’t count Bopara as a frontline bowler then there were still seven there: three frontline seamers in Broad, Sidebottom and Jimmy Anderson, two spinners in Swann and Rashid and two second-string seamers in Collingwood and Wright. That is one bowler too many – at Lord’s, without Rashid, England still bowled seven bowlers, with Bopara this time getting a few overs.
I think it is important for England to get Rashid into the side, because he is an exciting talent who needs the exposure and experience at this level, but surely – as England go forward in this series – an extra batsman is needed in the line-up in place of either Sidebottom, Wright or Swann.
It is a tough selection decision, because England clearly want the three main seamers in home conditions, plus the two spinners to take some of the pressure off Rashid. But Collingwood, to me, is well worth his place in a one-day bowling attack, so that leaves Wright as the most vulnerable of the all-rounders – especially if Bopara’s bowling is used more.
What if Kevin Pietersen was not injured? Who would he come in for? It would have to be Wright – or another bowler – because neither Strauss, as captain, or Owais Shah, as the other established frontline batsman, is going to be dropped to make way for him.
And that, in itself, reinforces my point about the balance of this England team. Pietersen, if he was suddenly available, would not come in for another batsman – he would replace an all-rounder or bowler.
Morgan, Joe Denly and – as Denly’s stand-by replacement – Jonathan Trott (who should have been in the original squad anyway) were all spare batsmen at the Oval, when England came up just short.
Perhaps one or more of the all-rounders has to be used up at the top of the innings, to provide some initial momentum and get England ahead of the game rather than chasing the game, as we always seem to be doing in one-day international cricket.
The absence of Andrew Flintoff is another blow to the natural balance of the England team, of course. When he plays, as in Tests, he brings his abilities as a frontline bowler and a genuine top-order batsman to the team. Only Prior, and to a lesser extent Collingwood, bring something sim