The England squads for the autumn tour against Pakistan will be named today. When the selectors met last night there was probably little time for congratulating themselves on jobs well done in regaining the Ashes and rebuilding the one-day team.
There was too much weighing of options to be done for the challenges ahead in the desert states of the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan are forced to ply their trade these days. The main cause of angst in the Test party was the identity of one of the opening batsmen.
If that took most of the meeting to decide, there was also the matter of a third spinner and perhaps a reserve batsman. That was before the panel got down to considering who to leave out of a one-day squad for which they have given themselves a multitude of choice.
In the three years since Andrew Strauss retired, Alastair Cook, with whom he opened 117 times in Tests, has had six opening partners. The most recent, Adam Lyth, played throughout the summer but was generally decreed to be doomed after scoring only 115 runs in nine innings in the Ashes.
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However, as the selectors found during their discussions, there is hardly a burgeoning queue for the place and Lyth may be saved by that and the selectors’ belief they cannot simply keep jumping from one player to another. Lyth was given reason to hope his international career will be extended by the England coach, Trevor Bayliss.
He said: “One of the things is there’s no one out there who’s putting their hands up and saying, ‘I’m definitely the player to pick’. Now there are a number of good players that have had an OK season but I don’t think there’s anybody who’s made five, six, seven hundreds. If someone could do that you would be putting them in the team almost straight away, wouldn’t you?”
It was by scoring seven centuries last year that Lyth persuaded the selectors he was worth a shot. He is not the first player to find that Test batting is a different game but Bayliss offered another lifeline.
“He will be spoken about as well,” Bayliss said. “It was a tough season to come in. He played it well against New Zealand, so he can obviously play, and there aren’t many better bowling attacks in the world than Australia’s during the Ashes.”
But enough seasoned observers have cast doubt on Lyth’s credentials at the highest level – it was not that he got out, it was the way he got out – to suggest his position is precarious. Among those vying for his spot is Alex Hales, though his mediocre limited-overs series against Australia was unfortunately timed. Mark Stoneman of Durham may be a reliable option.
There is a move towards asking Moeen Ali to do the job in the UAE, but that is wrong-headed on two counts. Everyone agrees that Moeen could probably not open against South Africa later this year, given their pace attack, so the decision is merely being delayed. Of more immediate concern is that it would be folly to expect Moeen to open the batting in a series in which he will be the side’s main spinner and may have bowled 30 to 40 overs in an innings.
If there is a spare batsman then James Taylor, so often in the frame, has done himself little harm these past few weeks in the one-day internationals. Gary Ballance will probably be recalled with Jonny Bairstow, still underrated, going as reserve wicketkeeper and specialist batsman.
The third spin option may be resisted. If not, then the leading English slow bowler this summer in terms of wickets is Surrey’s Zafar Ansari, who also bats promisingly. At 23, this may not be quite the time to blood him on a full tour but it may be a case of needs must.
The one-day squad may again have to take account of resting players with the South Africa tour in mind. Meanwhile, the announcement of the 10 or so central contracts to be awarded will be delayed until next week.
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