English cricket June 6, 2012

Settled England's one question

By Martin Jones, UK

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