England’s Selection Dilemmas

England are scheduled for a busy and challenging winter in Bangladesh and India, one which could define the very nature of their side. With the subcontinent pitches expected to heavily assist the spinners, it is imperative that England sort out their middle order woes, and find the best spinners the country has to offer. Moreover, the form of Alex Hales has raised questions and the selectors have been left wondering whether he really is the answer to England’s long term conundrum of who should partner Alastair Cook. If England are to challenge India, all of these concerns must be faced.


Alastair Cook’s form is phenomenal. During the recent Pakistan series, Cook scored at a strike rate of 67 at an average of 60. While he has long been consistent at one end, he has never really had a consistent opening partner. Previously, England looked at Sam Robson and Michael Carberry and then they tried to move middle order batsmen up the order to open. With Jonathan Trott, Joe Root and Moeen Ali being given opportunities at the opening role, England found themselves without a suitable opening partner.

When Alex Hales was finally given a chance, it seemed like England’s quest had ended. A gritty 60 against South Africa in just his third Test showed his desire and hunger to take on the best attacks in the world. However, his Test career never quite reached the levels everyone expected it to. After a productive series against Sri Lanka, which featured scores of 86, 83 and 94, Hales struggled badly against Pakistan. With a top score of just 54 in the four Test series, it seems that Hales is not up to the task. The failure to score a hundred in the 11 Test Matches he has played shows his clear inability to convert starts into large scores, not an enviable trait for an opener. Moreover, his poor average of 27 is one of the lowest for openers in the world. It is time to drop Hales.

The recent County Championship season has thrown forward the names of several openers. Nick Browne, who partners Cook at Essex, has currently scored 1172 runs this campaign, at an average of 58. Having played with Cook for several years, the Essex opening pair could be a viable option for England. Alternatively, Haseeb Hameed, who is just 19 years old, has displayed remarkable talent as well. Scoring 1030 runs at an average of 57, shows his immense skill and talent. Moreover, his strike rate of 39 shows he has the capability to survive in rough conditions, yet his youth and inexperience could be his downfall. It is most likely that the selectors will in fact not choose Hameed on the grounds of the brutal nature of the series, as he will be coming up against the best spin attack in the world.

One of the most likely outcomes is that England opt for Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth, who was only given seven Tests and had managed one hundred in that time. Lyth is extremely experienced in the domestic circuit, being 28 years old, and he definitely deserves more of a chance on the international scene. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if England return to the opening partnership of Cook and Lyth for the upcoming tours.


Middle Order

In some respects England’s middle order has grown stronger, yet there are still many weak chinks in the line-up. The form of Joe Root will be encouraging to the selectors and they may want to keep Root at number three. In the Pakistan series, Root batted at three for all of the Tests, and averaged an impressive 73. This was the highest he has averaged in a series since England’s tour of the West Indies in early 2015. Batting Root at three provides England a much-needed sense of stability, in case one of the openers is dismissed early. England fans will feel much more confident having Root coming in at the fall of the first wicket, compared to how they felt in the Sri Lanka series where Nick Compton was the man in.

While Root’s spot is unquestionable, the same cannot be said for James Vince and Gary Ballance. Both batsmen have had a poor run of form. Vince has played seven Tests this summer and averages an abysmal 19. He is still searching for a maiden fifty, and it may well be the case that he doesn’t get a chance to this winter. It is fair to say that he has comprehensively failed, shown by his high score of just 42.

Gary Ballance has had much greater success on the international circuit, but it is his recent run of form that is the most troubling. In the last three Test series he has played for England, Ballance has averaged 9, 24 and 27. Despite the fact that Ballance likes playing against India, it may be the case that England decide to remove him from the playing XI, given his key weakness against spin. So who can replace them?

There have been rumours of an international comeback for Ian Bell. Bell has been constantly contributing to the England team throughout his career. He has a wealth of experience, which could be vital to a relatively young England side who are coming up against a tough opposition. However, the deciding factor in Bell’s selection will be his current domestic form. In the County Championship, he has averaged 36, which is not exceptional, but nevertheless solid. Yet, it appears that Bell is peaking at the right time, batting for over 100 balls in both innings of Warwickshire’s match against Surrey. Bell has definitely not been at his best, but perhaps a return to international cricket will reignite his flair and hunger for runs.

Regarding the number five slot, it could be possible for keeper Jonny Bairstow to fill it. Bairstow’s form has been incredible, showing an immense talent, although his glove work has not been up to standard. By moving Bairstow to five, a position he could easily flourish in, it would allow England to crucially play both Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.

Ben Stokes has historically been a key contributor with both the bat and ball, and could perhaps get into any international side when he is in good form. England have even considered playing Stokes as batsman when he has been injured, and so by having him at six, England’s middle order would be heavily boosted. Moreover, with another all-rounder in Woakes, who may even take the new ball, slotting in at seven, England would heavily reinforce their batting line-up, especially with the classy Moeen down the order as well.

The Bowlers

When it comes to selecting England’s bowling attack, it would be unimaginable to leave out the bastions of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Both bowlers have produced moments of magic over the summer and will continue to lead the England bowling attack.

However, the return of Ben Stokes is likely to displace Steven Finn from the side. By playing both Stokes and Woakes, England will have four very talented seamers at their disposal, which could allow them to play an extra spinner in the expense of Steven Finn. If this is the case, it is extremely likely that England will turn to leg-spinner Adil Rashid. Rashid has proven himself in limited-over matches, but has yet to fully make an impact in Test Matches. Having played just the three Tests, he has to still make a name for himself in the highest of arenas – despite already having impressed in the county circuit. England are almost certainly going to include Rashid in the squad, but they are more than likely to include another spinner in the squad, with Moeen being considered one of England’s frontline spinners.

Players such as Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan are sure to be considered, especially considering the fact that Borthwick bats at three for his county. However, it would be interesting to see if England turn back to Surrey youngster Zafar Ansari. Having been on the fringes of the England set up for some time now, he was prevented from getting an international opportunity due to a finger injury. He has been electric on his return to county cricket, and could be England’s next top spinner. Once again, though, the youth and inexperience of Ansari could rule out his hopes of making it onto the tour, as it would truly be a baptism of fire. Alternatively, selectors could be looking at Ansari’s captain at Surrey, Gareth Batty who has been impressing domestically for many years now. Batty has previously played Tests for England, but he failed to impress and has not been selected since 2005. Overall, the most likely outcome will be the inclusion of Borthwick ahead of the others. Borthwick has been constantly threatening to break into the side, and with the absence of Graeme Swann, he could well find himself in demand when England venture to the turning paradise of India.


Likely England XI: Cook*, Lyth, Root, Bell/Vince, Bairstow+, Stokes, Woakes, Moeen, Rashid/Borthwick, Broad, Anderson.