Image: Wikimedia Commons / Tim Felce
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Tim Felce

Selection dilemmas plague England

Despite rain washing out the final day of the first test between England and India, the first four days treated us to an intriguing contest. Though both teams may take positives from the draw, England will feel lucky not to be 1-0 in the series going to Lords. The story of the test was largely one of Indian dominance, with a bowling attack led by Jasprit Bumrah only finding Joe Root between them and an easy victory. Going into the second test, and looking further into the future, England are faced with multiple selection dilemmas, particularly with their batting.

Back in July, England’s entire first-team white ball side was unable to play due to Covid isolation. In a stunning testament to the depth of English white ball cricket, a whole new squad proceeded to whitewash Pakistan. As minds turn to test cricket following the draw in the first game between England and India, it was inescapable that the same cannot be said for England’s red ball team. This is especially true of the batting, where it already seems like some batters are hanging onto a place due to a lack of other options. 

Take, for instance, the number three slot in the batting lineup. The incumbent Zak Crawley has faded greatly since his breakout 267 against Pakistan last summer. Crawley, who excels in domestic short-format competitions, does not have a notable first-class record to support his continued selection, and perhaps a spell away from the team will do him well. The problem of course is who would step into that gap. Notts opener Haseeb Hameed has been suggested as a possible replacement, yet he averages only 17 at 3 in county cricket.

With captain Joe Root having made clear his aversion to batting three, that really leaves only Moeen Ali or Jonny Bairstow as possible replacements for Crawley. Both are experienced and may succeed, but the dearth of top order batters around the England test squad is astounding. Ben Stokes’ absence has further exposed England’s middle order, with some mix of Ali, Bairstow, Lawrence, Pope, and Buttler expected to fill the 5-7 slots. 

England’s first team is in as big a muddle as I can remember for at least a few years

In reality this is a batting lineup at the minute leaning on one batter: Joe Root. Root, as captain and most important player, could be forgiven for looking like the weight of the world was upon him. Yet his 64 and 109 in the first test were magnificent. The latter in particular showed Root back to his boyish best: light on his feet and playing the ball late. If England’s batters are to succeed for the rest of this series, it seems Root will need to produce a series for the ages. England’s concern over this is clear from coach Chris Silverwood’s exhortation that the batting lineup needs to ‘step up’. 

Writing the day before the second test, problems have also emerged with England’s bowling. Experienced duo Broad and Anderson are in doubt, with Saqib Mahmood called into the squad as cover. As other bowlers like Stone, Archer, and Woakes also out, England’s bowling stocks look rather threadbare. Whether this is the result of bad luck or mismanagement is a fair question, but it leaves England in a difficult place going into four tests back to back. 

India are a fine side, one pushing to be in the higher stratum of cricket teams. They have already won a series in Australia and were only just outdone by New Zealand in the World Test Championship final. In this sense, there is no great shame nor surprise in England being outclassed at home.

However, England’s first team is in as big a muddle as I can remember for at least a few years, and not since Atherton have England been so dependent on a player as Root. In essence, England’s preparation and selection has not even given them the best possible opportunity to beat this India side. Therein lies the problem, and there are no easy solutions, except for the batters scoring some runs over the next five days of course.


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