With the World T20 fast approaching, each of the competing nations is looking to finalise their squad for the competition. The vast majority of sides are playing T20 Internationals in bilateral series in the build-up to the competition, in an attempt to find out their best side, and England are no exception: they have a two-match series in South Africa from the 19th-21st February.
The tournament is to be played in India on slow, spinning wickets, so there is little doubt that spin bowlers will be crucial to the success of any side. This is something of a concern for England, who lack a world-class spinner such as India’s Ravichandran Ashwin or the West Indies’ Samuel Badree. However, with several all-round options in their squad, and the possibility of a left-field selection of another, the nation’s spin-bowling stock in the shortest form of the game is not as low as it has been previously.
ENGLAND’S SPIN OPTIONS
Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)
International T20 Record: 10 matches, 29 overs, 7 wickets at 33.14, 8.00 economy rate
Rashid’s career record for England in T20s is a bizarre one, with half of his internationals coming in 2009 and the other half in 2015. However, it has become apparent in recent months that Rashid is seen by Trevor Bayliss and the England management as a true matchwinner.
Instead of being sent to South Africa with the Test squad to carry drinks, Rashid went to the Big Bash League in Australia to develop his skills in the twenty-over game. The move was an enormous success: only Clint McKay took more wickets than the leg-spinning all-rounder. His sixteen wickets came at an average of just 14.12 each, and his economy rate – which had been something of a worry in years gone by – was an extremely respectable 6.51.
The 25-year-old Bradford-born spinner is a certain pick in England’s first game of the tournament, and should be the first man to whom Eoin Morgan throws the ball if he is looking for a breakthrough. When his useful contributions with the bat are factored into the equation, Rashid’s potential to contribute to the side is clearly enormous.
Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)
International T20 Record: 10 matches, 17 overs, 4 wickets at 31.75, 7.47 economy rate
Moeen’s role for England has been scrutinised ever since he first broke onto the international scene in the 2013/14 season. He has batted at every position from opener to number eight across all three formats, and has played as a top-order batsman, batsman who bowls, and as a frontline spinner. However, the option of his off-spin is likely to become more important in a tournament in the subcontinent.
The two T20 internationals he played against Pakistan in the UAE in November demonstrate how vital Moeen is to England. Despite failing to score a run off the seven balls he faced in the series, the Birmingham-born off-spinner took a combined 2-52 in his eight overs, giving him an economy rate of just 6.50, taking the crucial wickets of Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Akmal in the process.
Even if Moeen is out of form with the bat, he steps up with the ball more often than not, and his role as a second spinner takes some pressure of Adil Rashid. It is likely that Moeen will slot into the England side somehow, and that his spin will be exploited as an option by Morgan.
Joe Root (Yorkshire)
International T20 Record: 12 matches, 9 overs, 4 wickets at 24.00, 10.67 economy rate
Despite his excellent batting average of 37.87, Joe Root has found it harder to nail down a spot in England’s T20 side than either of the other formats, and his position of sixtieth in the ICC rankings for the format demonstrates that.
However, he is still probably the most talented player England have across all formats, and is highly likely to slot into the World T20 side at number three.
Whilst Root is mainly in the side for his excellent batting record, he does also provide an option with the ball. His economy rate is something of a worry, but a 13.5 strike rate suggests that if England are really on the ropes, there are worse men to throw the ball to than the 25-year-old. His off-spin does not generate much turn, but his round-arm action allows him to generate a bit more pace than most spinners. If Moeen’s batting does not get him into the side, then Root’s off-spin may end up being utilised.
Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire)
International T20 Record: 18 matches, 42 overs, 7 wickets at 45.85, 7.64 economy rate
Patel failed to make England’s T20 squad for the South Africa tour, and is unlikely to feature in India in March. On the other hand, it is entirely plausible that he will be the first man to be called upon in the case of an injury to either Moeen or Rashid.
After several years in the international wilderness, the 31-year-old slow left-armer performed credibly in the recent Test series against Pakistan, and featured in the Test squad for the South Africa tour. His bowling record in international T20 is not great, but in domestic cricket he has been a solid performer for Nottinghamshire for over a decade.
Given that he also offers the potential for quick runs with the bat, and that he has previously toured India in 2011/12, Patel may not be a bad option for England to have in their squad.
Stephen Parry (Lancashire)
International T20 Record: 5 matches, 16 overs, 3 wickets at 46.00, 8.62 economy rate
Parry has been given a handful of opportunities by England in the past, but is yet to prove himself on the international stage.
In domestic cricket for Lancashire, his primary role is to keep things tight, and he picks up wickets thanks to an unerring consistency of line and length; his economy rate for the Red Rose is just a shade about seven. However, when playing for England, batsmen have attacked him, and he has leaked runs as a result.
Having recently celebrated his 30th birthday, it may be the case that Parry has just missed his chance to forge an international career.
Best of the Rest
In years gone by, it would have been impossible to predict just who England would pick in the run-up to a world tournament – the previous selections of Gareth Batty and Chris Schofield are testament to this. However, under the management of Trevor Bayliss, the men in and around the squad have become more of a stable group, meaning a left-field selection is much less likely.
If, for whatever reason, England do decide to make a strange selection decision for the World T20, the Lions squad may be their first point of call. Sussex’s slow left-armer Danny Briggs has a very poor international record, but has shown his consistency for Hampshire in the T20 Blast previously, and Liam Dawson and Tom Westley both represent all-rounders that could replace Rashid, Moeen or Patel in the event of an injury.
There are also three leg-spinners with a vague sniff of a place in the squad, although eyebrows would be raised if any of them made the cut. Somerset’s Max Waller and Sussex’s Will Beer have both been regular wicket-takers in the T20 Blast since its inception, and their controlled variations may be an attraction option for Bayliss. The final option, Mason Crane, is currently playing for the England under-19s in Bangladesh, and would be one of the most startling suggestions in England’s history at just eighteen years of age.