This summer has been good for the English cricket side. After dispatching Sri Lanka, they bounced back from a defeat in the first test against Pakistan to dominate the second, winning by 330 runs.
It seems harsh to be critical of members of that 11, however the side is far from perfect and certain aspects of it need changing if we want to guarantee victory over a very competent Pakistan outfit.
For me, this is the biggest concern. Scores of 589-8 and 173-3 in the OT test might appear to show confidence and class in a batting line up full of potential, however those scores don’t tell the whole story.
Of the 762 runs scored by England over the two innings in Manchester, Alastair Cook and Joe Root rattled up 506 of them. That’s a whooping 66% of the total! Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes were the only other batters to get a half-century, no-one else scored more than Ben Stokes’ 34.
The five names mentioned above are all, when fit, guaranteed starters. But we can’t rely on just five batters. The other four in the side (Alex Hales, James Vince, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali) all have question marks above their heads and on their selection.
Alex Hales, due to his fine series against Sri Lanka, has guaranteed himself the next two tests. However, he needs to improve against good seamers, and needs to relax in the test arena and play like he does against the white ball.
Gary Ballance has only just come back to the side since he was dropped at the start of last summer. In his two tests back, he hasn’t made a 50 and looks nervous. It would be harsh to drop him after such a short run back, however, no international side can carry a passenger, and his fine start in an England shirt looks a long way away.
But Ballance might be saved by the inability of James Vince to learn from his mistakes. Every innings Vince has played in a white England shirt (7, with an average of 18.57) has been exactly the same. He’s walked out to the middle, played a few lovely drives but has eventually got out driving. He hasn’t scored a 50 in 5 tests, and England need to have a serious think about whether he is the man for the job. For me, his time is up, and needs to return to county cricket.
The solution? It’s simple. Bring back Ian Bell. Bell is one of England’s greatest batters of all time, and is the perfect man for this series. During his England career, he batted at 30-3, or 200-3, scoring runs in all situations. He is similar to Vince, in that he has the shots, but he learnt control and when to play them. Vince could learn a lot from watching how Bell has scored his 22 test centuries, and the Warwickshire captains recall might be exactly what Vince needs.
Bell is not a step back. Yes, he’s 34, and yes he’s played before, however why is returning to a tried and tested player a backwards step? Ian Bell has played many an important innings for England, and he is the player who will sure up our batting line up for the last two tests, guarantee the series win against Pakistan, before stepping aside for younger talents in Bangladesh. Bell was unceremoniously dropped from the England side, and this is a perfect opportunity to say goodbye and end on a high.
Other options include Scott Borthwick, Ben Duckett, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Jos Buttler (when fit). All will play test cricket regularly, but maybe this summer is too soon for all except Buttler. I would expect Buttler to play in the next test, if he hadn’t broken his finger.
James Vince might be saved by something else. Ben Stokes got injured again during the Old Trafford test, therefore hurting our chances with both bat and ball.
Chris Woakes has been a revelation this summer (and can I just say how delighted I am by this – he’s always impressed me, and I’m just over the moon to see him bowling so well), with James Anderson and Stuart Broad going nowhere as well. That’s a formidable pace attack, although England like to go with four seamers and one spinner in England conditions – so expect another bowler to come in at Edgbaston.
Maybe expect two. Adil Rashid is knocking at the door, and Moeen Ali continues to underwhelm. For what it’s worth, I want to see Moeen given until the end of the summer, however he needs to pick up wickets in Birmingham. Cook has stuck by Moeen through thick and thin, and needs that faith returning soon.
Back to the pace attack, and Steven Finn seems shot of confidence and out of rhythm. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a wonderful bowler, however you can’t keep bowling someone in his state of mind. The best bet for Finn would be to return to Middlesex.
So, who will replace Stokes’ bowling? Mark Wood is back bowling for Durham, and he has to be first choice. A bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, Wood and Woakes is about as good as England can offer at this moment in time, and would surely guarantee victory over Pakistan. And all this is harsh on Jake Ball, who did nothing wrong in his first test at Lords, or Toby Roland-Jones who warranted his call-up.
England’s bowling is in better shape than their batting, however, even that can be improved.
My side for the test at Edgbaston would be:
Cook, Hales, Root, Bell, Ballance, Bairstow, Moeen, Woakes, Wood, Broad, Anderson
If Buttler is fit, I would bring him in for Ballance and bat him below Bairstow.
So, is a resounding victory the wrong time to pick at flaws, or the perfect opportunity to improve the minor faults?
For me it’s the latter. England need to continue this winning mentality, and perfecting the line up is the best way to avoid complacency and continue competition.
What would you do? Let me know in the comments below!