English cricket June 6, 2012

Settled England's one question

By Martin Jones, UK
16

By Martin Jones, UK

England are currently ranked No. 1 in Test cricket, and are facing the prospect of a series against their closest rivals on the points table, South Africa. The nucleus around which Andy Flower's team has built their success is consistency: they always give a player a decent run in the side and rarely make changes to the make-up of the team from match to match. The other element that has contributed to England's fairytale run is their depth. They could probably select a second XI that would be among the top five teams in the world, and certainly possess stronger bowling than Sri Lanka's worryingly toothless reserves and stronger batting that West Indies.

The beauty of the England team is that there are always ten names – or thereabouts – inked in on the team sheet. Their top five of Strauss (batting rank: 23), Cook (6), Trott (16), Pietersen (17) and Bell (18) runs rampant on home turf, ably backed up by keeper Matt Prior (26) who scores fast runs down the order. To put the potency of this batting line-up into perspective, the top five are ranked above India’s Virender Sehwag, and all six are ranked above Shane Watson.

The other four names who are ever-present comprise the four-pronged bowling attack of Anderson (bowling rank: 3), Swann (joint 4th), Broad (6) and Bresnan (15) – the most potent all-round attack in the world. In addition to this, Bresnan, Broad and Swann are allrounders in their own right, ranked well inside the top 100 Test batsmen and above current West Indies opener Kieran Powell.

The only question mark is who should be the eleventh name on the sheet. Currently, England are experimenting with the raw talent of Jonny Bairstow, with Ravi Bopara and James Taylor waiting in the wings. But does the place have to be filled by a batsman? Steven Finn's performances in coloured clothing in the winter earmarked him not only as one of the leading fast bowlers in England, but also the world. His fast and unerring bowling was a beacon of hope amongst the general mediocrity of the ODI team. His addition would push Bresnan to No. 7, Broad up to 8, and Swann to 9.

It would also leave England playing with only six specialist batsmen, mere months after their seven specialist batsmen wilted in the desert against Pakistan. In those Tests, the three lower-order batsmen were as successful as many of the top order.

However, in home conditions, certainly, the inclusion of a bowler, not a batsman in the spot left vacant by Eoin Morgan, and earlier by Paul Collingwood, may be the best way to go.

Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harjinder Lallie on June 7, 2012, 10:25 GMT

    This argument seems always to hinge around a stereotypical view of how cricket should be played - in his case that 'every good team needs a good all rounder'. Does this 'have' to be the case? Can a good team not produce results with four good bowlers and the rest batters with just the wickie needing to be an 'all-round' wickie-batsmen?

    No doubt the present team may show this to be the case...

  • D Bunning on June 7, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    I have to say I find the debate that having a 5th bowler is a desirable, attacking or adventurous rather strange at this time.

    In English, South African and Australian conditions particularly, England have 4 world class bowlers (plus some in reserve) who can easily bowl 90 overs in a day and bowl teams out for less than 3-400 consistently. Adding a "weaker" bowler does not make that much sense as if the other 4 "world class" bowlers are unable to take wickets what is to suggest the 5th and theoretically weaker bowler will?

    In the sub continent, when it is harder for seamers to bowl 20 overs in a day, and when it may turn more, playing two spinners, batting Prior at 6 and then playing Bresnan as no.7 "all rounder" makes more sense. Bresnan averages well over 30 with the bat and more than competent for a test number 7 especially with Broad and Swann below him.

    In England, we don't need to weaken the batting as the bowling is strong enough already, so why bother?

  • Sunil Ramsingh on June 7, 2012, 1:57 GMT

    This England side is good, but by no means a great side. They're number 1; not because they're great, but because Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have recently lost some of their best players through retirement. The real test for England is the South Africa series. On paper, South Africa is by far the best team in Test match cricket right now.

  • James on June 6, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    @Imran. You have something of a point. We were resoundly beaten in the UAE by a very fired up Pakistan team. The first Test in Sri Lanaka continued the nightmare but England won the second. I also wouldn't necessarily be so brazen as to say that England could field a second XI which would compete with most other nation's first teams, but then you look at the competition - West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand - and some of the talent waiting in the wings and in the English Lions - Onions, Finn, Taylor, Bairstow, Morgan et al. - and, yes, I do think that second XI could mix it handsomely with the lower ranked Test sides. Which, if you read the piece again, is really all that the was claimed. ;) I would also like to point out that England trashed Australia in Australia and beat them at home to boot, as well as whitewashing India who were at the time number 1. England haven't been beaten at home in like 2 years. To call the side "mediocre" sounds a lot like sour grapes to me.

  • Salim on June 6, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    England have done well over the last three/four four years. The bowling attack is excellent and the team has depth. No need to mention names at all. As for the batting, although it is more consistent and the top six have done quite well (aided by a very able tail) let's not forget that the batting has not faced a strong fast bowling attack. The success against Australia was I believe mainly due to England's bowling, the batting was against a bowling squad that was hurting and inconsistent. England have yet to face the likes of Philander. SA has a decent spinner as well. And keep in mind the recent result against Pakistan.

  • Gary on June 6, 2012, 22:12 GMT

    Jimmy Anderson has earned the right to play in the 3rd Test match and pick up the cheap West Indian wickets that will now fall to Stephen Finn. Provided he is in form, fit and well and wants to play he should play.If he ends his test career on 399 wicket and injured he wont be too pleased.

  • jg2704 on June 6, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    @Imran - I'd say you are right in that Eng could not field a 2nd 11 against most sides. However I do feel we could field a 2nd bowling quartet and do well. If you say our current best 4 is Swann,Bres,Jimmy,Broad then I'd say Monty , Tremlett , Finn and Onions would also do a great job.Also the only game where Eng were actually swept aside was the 1st test in UAE.In both the other tests we had times of ascendancy and had our batting matched our bowling it would have been a different story. Our bowling attack did better in UAE than any other visiting side. Just that our batting was worse than any visiting side

  • Ed on June 6, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    Genuine all-rounders are very rare and can't be manufactured from thin air. In the meantime, given the selectors are resolved to stick with a 4-man attack, they need a #6 batsman who can bowl a bit. Someone who is able to offer up to 10 cheap overs in a day with some prospect of a wicket. I'm sure I'm not the only England supporter who's heart falls when 12 overs from the new ball Trott comes on: the initiative is instantly handed to the opposition. The West Indians failed to capitalise on this weakness, the South Africans won't.

    Aside from the fill-in bowler problem, I'm not convinced that the selectors have settled on the right pace trio. To my mind, Broad and Bresnan are both third seamers, not genuine new ball strike bowlers. I'd like to see Anderson partnered with someone like Finn or Onions (or a fit again Tremlett) - I'm sure that would be more help to Jimmy than randomly resting him. Bresnan should be kept as a like-for-like Broad understudy.

  • Tom on June 6, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    The fifth bowler is a red herring. The only reason to include five bowlers is if a team is struggling - or believes it will struggle - to bowl another team out with only four bowlers. England do not. England have drawn only three Tests since the winter of 2009/10 and all of those were ruined by the weather. The Tests that they have lost since then have been down to poor batting, which suggests they need an extra batsman, not an extra bowler.

    England bowlers are most dangerous in home conditions and have dismissed stellar visiting batting lineups with relative ease in recent years. Have we so soon forgotten Cardiff where Sri Lanka were rolled over in two sessions by *three* bowlers? Perhaps a fifth bowler might be useful on a flat Indian wicket but they certainly don't need one in England.

    It would be nice to have a settled number six (preferably one with a bowling option, as with Collingwood) but the "open" spot in the team provides a useful outlet for the training up of new talent.

  • Imran on June 6, 2012, 16:48 GMT

    Given the narrow margin that England hold at the top of the rankings, and the ease with which their full-strength side has been swept aside in recent games, it is perhaps a little conceited to presume they could field a 2nd 11 to rival the world's best at a time where it is easy to dismiss their 1st 11's claim to the throne. Time to reign in the unbridled, and frankly, ridiculous posturing of what is a mediocre side, at best.

  • Harjinder Lallie on June 7, 2012, 10:25 GMT

    This argument seems always to hinge around a stereotypical view of how cricket should be played - in his case that 'every good team needs a good all rounder'. Does this 'have' to be the case? Can a good team not produce results with four good bowlers and the rest batters with just the wickie needing to be an 'all-round' wickie-batsmen?

    No doubt the present team may show this to be the case...

  • D Bunning on June 7, 2012, 4:51 GMT

    I have to say I find the debate that having a 5th bowler is a desirable, attacking or adventurous rather strange at this time.

    In English, South African and Australian conditions particularly, England have 4 world class bowlers (plus some in reserve) who can easily bowl 90 overs in a day and bowl teams out for less than 3-400 consistently. Adding a "weaker" bowler does not make that much sense as if the other 4 "world class" bowlers are unable to take wickets what is to suggest the 5th and theoretically weaker bowler will?

    In the sub continent, when it is harder for seamers to bowl 20 overs in a day, and when it may turn more, playing two spinners, batting Prior at 6 and then playing Bresnan as no.7 "all rounder" makes more sense. Bresnan averages well over 30 with the bat and more than competent for a test number 7 especially with Broad and Swann below him.

    In England, we don't need to weaken the batting as the bowling is strong enough already, so why bother?

  • Sunil Ramsingh on June 7, 2012, 1:57 GMT

    This England side is good, but by no means a great side. They're number 1; not because they're great, but because Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have recently lost some of their best players through retirement. The real test for England is the South Africa series. On paper, South Africa is by far the best team in Test match cricket right now.

  • James on June 6, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    @Imran. You have something of a point. We were resoundly beaten in the UAE by a very fired up Pakistan team. The first Test in Sri Lanaka continued the nightmare but England won the second. I also wouldn't necessarily be so brazen as to say that England could field a second XI which would compete with most other nation's first teams, but then you look at the competition - West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand - and some of the talent waiting in the wings and in the English Lions - Onions, Finn, Taylor, Bairstow, Morgan et al. - and, yes, I do think that second XI could mix it handsomely with the lower ranked Test sides. Which, if you read the piece again, is really all that the was claimed. ;) I would also like to point out that England trashed Australia in Australia and beat them at home to boot, as well as whitewashing India who were at the time number 1. England haven't been beaten at home in like 2 years. To call the side "mediocre" sounds a lot like sour grapes to me.

  • Salim on June 6, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    England have done well over the last three/four four years. The bowling attack is excellent and the team has depth. No need to mention names at all. As for the batting, although it is more consistent and the top six have done quite well (aided by a very able tail) let's not forget that the batting has not faced a strong fast bowling attack. The success against Australia was I believe mainly due to England's bowling, the batting was against a bowling squad that was hurting and inconsistent. England have yet to face the likes of Philander. SA has a decent spinner as well. And keep in mind the recent result against Pakistan.

  • Gary on June 6, 2012, 22:12 GMT

    Jimmy Anderson has earned the right to play in the 3rd Test match and pick up the cheap West Indian wickets that will now fall to Stephen Finn. Provided he is in form, fit and well and wants to play he should play.If he ends his test career on 399 wicket and injured he wont be too pleased.

  • jg2704 on June 6, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    @Imran - I'd say you are right in that Eng could not field a 2nd 11 against most sides. However I do feel we could field a 2nd bowling quartet and do well. If you say our current best 4 is Swann,Bres,Jimmy,Broad then I'd say Monty , Tremlett , Finn and Onions would also do a great job.Also the only game where Eng were actually swept aside was the 1st test in UAE.In both the other tests we had times of ascendancy and had our batting matched our bowling it would have been a different story. Our bowling attack did better in UAE than any other visiting side. Just that our batting was worse than any visiting side

  • Ed on June 6, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    Genuine all-rounders are very rare and can't be manufactured from thin air. In the meantime, given the selectors are resolved to stick with a 4-man attack, they need a #6 batsman who can bowl a bit. Someone who is able to offer up to 10 cheap overs in a day with some prospect of a wicket. I'm sure I'm not the only England supporter who's heart falls when 12 overs from the new ball Trott comes on: the initiative is instantly handed to the opposition. The West Indians failed to capitalise on this weakness, the South Africans won't.

    Aside from the fill-in bowler problem, I'm not convinced that the selectors have settled on the right pace trio. To my mind, Broad and Bresnan are both third seamers, not genuine new ball strike bowlers. I'd like to see Anderson partnered with someone like Finn or Onions (or a fit again Tremlett) - I'm sure that would be more help to Jimmy than randomly resting him. Bresnan should be kept as a like-for-like Broad understudy.

  • Tom on June 6, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    The fifth bowler is a red herring. The only reason to include five bowlers is if a team is struggling - or believes it will struggle - to bowl another team out with only four bowlers. England do not. England have drawn only three Tests since the winter of 2009/10 and all of those were ruined by the weather. The Tests that they have lost since then have been down to poor batting, which suggests they need an extra batsman, not an extra bowler.

    England bowlers are most dangerous in home conditions and have dismissed stellar visiting batting lineups with relative ease in recent years. Have we so soon forgotten Cardiff where Sri Lanka were rolled over in two sessions by *three* bowlers? Perhaps a fifth bowler might be useful on a flat Indian wicket but they certainly don't need one in England.

    It would be nice to have a settled number six (preferably one with a bowling option, as with Collingwood) but the "open" spot in the team provides a useful outlet for the training up of new talent.

  • Imran on June 6, 2012, 16:48 GMT

    Given the narrow margin that England hold at the top of the rankings, and the ease with which their full-strength side has been swept aside in recent games, it is perhaps a little conceited to presume they could field a 2nd 11 to rival the world's best at a time where it is easy to dismiss their 1st 11's claim to the throne. Time to reign in the unbridled, and frankly, ridiculous posturing of what is a mediocre side, at best.

  • JMike on June 6, 2012, 14:55 GMT

    (I'm just an ignorant Yank but) I agree with the conclusion. It might be a bit of a stretch to call all three of Bresnan, Broad, and Swann "all-rounders", even with the fact that they're currently in the top 100 batsmen. But certainly the three of them plus Prior add up to one Test-quality-batsman's worth of runs over what you'd expect to get out of your wicketkeeper plus your three best-batting bowlers.

    So if you have five specialist batsmen, an attack bowler who doesn't bat well, and those four men, you effectively have seven specialist batsmen's and four top-flight bowlers' worth of production in your lineup. Some kind of "diminishing marginal utility" argument can surely be made that the fifth bowler is going to be a lot more useful than the eighth batsman.

  • Luke Murphy on June 6, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    Bresnan, Broad and Swann are all true all-rounders? Not sure they would get into the team for their batting alone. I'd say let them concentrate on bowling and keep them where they are in the batting order - we can roll with only 4 specialist bowlers in England because conditions help them to take wickets, you could argue we 'need' 7 batsmen to cope with these conditions (albeit they know/understand the conditions).

    The conundrum comes when playing abroad when they need 5 bowlers to cope with heat/lifeless wickets, but also 7 batsmen good enough to cope with wearing pitches and good spin bowlers later in the game (thinking of Ajmal in the recent series).

    I think it's a straight Finn for Anderson swap, but it would be interesting and adventurous to see 5 bowlers play.

  • Jon Lloyd-Williams on June 6, 2012, 13:31 GMT

    I see that the English obsession with playing five bowlers has resurfaced again. England have been successful over the last 2/3 years since Flintoff's retirement by playing six batsmen, the keeper and four bowlers and the desire to change a winning combination completely mystifies me. With the biggest weakness in the team clearly in the batting department, as shown during the winter test against Pakistan, why weaken this area by including a fifth bowler who may only bowl around ten overs in a day? Critics of my position may say that playing five bowlers gives you more opportunities to win the game. I do not necessarily disagree but say that playing five bowlers also gives you more opportunities to lose the game through weak batting performances.

  • Prof Sudhi Sant on June 6, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    England need, just like any other Test team, a genuine allrounder to fill that last spot - somebody in the mold of Kallis or Botham. Bresnan, Broad & Swann are primarily bowlers, who can wield the bat (refer to a recent article on ESPN CricInfo on allrounders).

    Cheers

    Nattusbs (Sudhi Sant)

  • Matt Cast on June 6, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    I would consider Ben Stokes for the 11th man that you talk about. He averages over 40 with the bat and around 32 with the ball in 1st class cricket. England could do with a player who can bowl a bit of medium pace, and who does it a bit better than Trott. However, given that Bairstow has been given a chance, he should get an extended run. After all, the policy of showing faith in players has paid dividends over the last few years.

  • PDTM on June 6, 2012, 13:10 GMT

    The argument that team management may use is that they will more often knock over the other team without their bowling attack tiring too much (ie not needing another bowler) than they declare because they have enough runs (ie not needing another batsman). Once a bowler has tired themselves out of the attack, they can always come back. A batsman who is dismissed can't. You would argue that they would need to bowl more to get through South Africa, but you can easily lose three or four early wickets to Steyn, Philander and Morkel, which puts your number 6 in the firing line.

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  • PDTM on June 6, 2012, 13:10 GMT

    The argument that team management may use is that they will more often knock over the other team without their bowling attack tiring too much (ie not needing another bowler) than they declare because they have enough runs (ie not needing another batsman). Once a bowler has tired themselves out of the attack, they can always come back. A batsman who is dismissed can't. You would argue that they would need to bowl more to get through South Africa, but you can easily lose three or four early wickets to Steyn, Philander and Morkel, which puts your number 6 in the firing line.

  • Matt Cast on June 6, 2012, 13:20 GMT

    I would consider Ben Stokes for the 11th man that you talk about. He averages over 40 with the bat and around 32 with the ball in 1st class cricket. England could do with a player who can bowl a bit of medium pace, and who does it a bit better than Trott. However, given that Bairstow has been given a chance, he should get an extended run. After all, the policy of showing faith in players has paid dividends over the last few years.

  • Prof Sudhi Sant on June 6, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    England need, just like any other Test team, a genuine allrounder to fill that last spot - somebody in the mold of Kallis or Botham. Bresnan, Broad & Swann are primarily bowlers, who can wield the bat (refer to a recent article on ESPN CricInfo on allrounders).

    Cheers

    Nattusbs (Sudhi Sant)

  • Jon Lloyd-Williams on June 6, 2012, 13:31 GMT

    I see that the English obsession with playing five bowlers has resurfaced again. England have been successful over the last 2/3 years since Flintoff's retirement by playing six batsmen, the keeper and four bowlers and the desire to change a winning combination completely mystifies me. With the biggest weakness in the team clearly in the batting department, as shown during the winter test against Pakistan, why weaken this area by including a fifth bowler who may only bowl around ten overs in a day? Critics of my position may say that playing five bowlers gives you more opportunities to win the game. I do not necessarily disagree but say that playing five bowlers also gives you more opportunities to lose the game through weak batting performances.

  • Luke Murphy on June 6, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    Bresnan, Broad and Swann are all true all-rounders? Not sure they would get into the team for their batting alone. I'd say let them concentrate on bowling and keep them where they are in the batting order - we can roll with only 4 specialist bowlers in England because conditions help them to take wickets, you could argue we 'need' 7 batsmen to cope with these conditions (albeit they know/understand the conditions).

    The conundrum comes when playing abroad when they need 5 bowlers to cope with heat/lifeless wickets, but also 7 batsmen good enough to cope with wearing pitches and good spin bowlers later in the game (thinking of Ajmal in the recent series).

    I think it's a straight Finn for Anderson swap, but it would be interesting and adventurous to see 5 bowlers play.

  • JMike on June 6, 2012, 14:55 GMT

    (I'm just an ignorant Yank but) I agree with the conclusion. It might be a bit of a stretch to call all three of Bresnan, Broad, and Swann "all-rounders", even with the fact that they're currently in the top 100 batsmen. But certainly the three of them plus Prior add up to one Test-quality-batsman's worth of runs over what you'd expect to get out of your wicketkeeper plus your three best-batting bowlers.

    So if you have five specialist batsmen, an attack bowler who doesn't bat well, and those four men, you effectively have seven specialist batsmen's and four top-flight bowlers' worth of production in your lineup. Some kind of "diminishing marginal utility" argument can surely be made that the fifth bowler is going to be a lot more useful than the eighth batsman.

  • Imran on June 6, 2012, 16:48 GMT

    Given the narrow margin that England hold at the top of the rankings, and the ease with which their full-strength side has been swept aside in recent games, it is perhaps a little conceited to presume they could field a 2nd 11 to rival the world's best at a time where it is easy to dismiss their 1st 11's claim to the throne. Time to reign in the unbridled, and frankly, ridiculous posturing of what is a mediocre side, at best.

  • Tom on June 6, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    The fifth bowler is a red herring. The only reason to include five bowlers is if a team is struggling - or believes it will struggle - to bowl another team out with only four bowlers. England do not. England have drawn only three Tests since the winter of 2009/10 and all of those were ruined by the weather. The Tests that they have lost since then have been down to poor batting, which suggests they need an extra batsman, not an extra bowler.

    England bowlers are most dangerous in home conditions and have dismissed stellar visiting batting lineups with relative ease in recent years. Have we so soon forgotten Cardiff where Sri Lanka were rolled over in two sessions by *three* bowlers? Perhaps a fifth bowler might be useful on a flat Indian wicket but they certainly don't need one in England.

    It would be nice to have a settled number six (preferably one with a bowling option, as with Collingwood) but the "open" spot in the team provides a useful outlet for the training up of new talent.

  • Ed on June 6, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    Genuine all-rounders are very rare and can't be manufactured from thin air. In the meantime, given the selectors are resolved to stick with a 4-man attack, they need a #6 batsman who can bowl a bit. Someone who is able to offer up to 10 cheap overs in a day with some prospect of a wicket. I'm sure I'm not the only England supporter who's heart falls when 12 overs from the new ball Trott comes on: the initiative is instantly handed to the opposition. The West Indians failed to capitalise on this weakness, the South Africans won't.

    Aside from the fill-in bowler problem, I'm not convinced that the selectors have settled on the right pace trio. To my mind, Broad and Bresnan are both third seamers, not genuine new ball strike bowlers. I'd like to see Anderson partnered with someone like Finn or Onions (or a fit again Tremlett) - I'm sure that would be more help to Jimmy than randomly resting him. Bresnan should be kept as a like-for-like Broad understudy.

  • jg2704 on June 6, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    @Imran - I'd say you are right in that Eng could not field a 2nd 11 against most sides. However I do feel we could field a 2nd bowling quartet and do well. If you say our current best 4 is Swann,Bres,Jimmy,Broad then I'd say Monty , Tremlett , Finn and Onions would also do a great job.Also the only game where Eng were actually swept aside was the 1st test in UAE.In both the other tests we had times of ascendancy and had our batting matched our bowling it would have been a different story. Our bowling attack did better in UAE than any other visiting side. Just that our batting was worse than any visiting side