England's limited-overs progress report
Issues facing England's short-format cricket -
1). Too much differentiating between ODI and T20 players: There will always be specialists but, recently, it seems that players are being unnecessarily pigeonholed as specific T20 or ODI players.
There are a couple of examples that jump out here, particularly Ian Bell and Alex Hales. Bell's form since he moved to the top of the order in 50-over cricket has been sensational. His recent struggles in Tests have generally seen him getting bogged down and reigning in his naturally attacking instincts against spin. When the shackles are off, he has looked as good as anyone in the world during the last 12 months and there is no reason why this form can't be transferred to T20 cricket.
Hales has suffered from the opposite dilemma where a very bright start to his T20 international career has not resulted in an ODI debut. After 14 matches he has 418 runs, averaging just shy of 35. Those are impressive stats, especially considering he strikes at 127.43 as well. While Jos Buttler, Luke Wright and Jonny Bairstow have all been trialed in both formats on the back of much less impressive numbers, Hales is still waiting for his chance.
It could be argued that, with Bell, Cook and KP all scoring heavily, there is no room for Hales. But he would be a great addition to the middle order where England have sometimes lacked the ability to clear the ropes.
2). The below-par seam attack: England's fast-bowling stocks have been healthy for a few years now, but there are still significant voids to fill in the shorter formats. James Anderson is a wonderful Test bowler, but he has been unable to spearhead the ODI attack in a similar way.
It's generally considered that the taller, hit the deck bowlers, are more effective than him and Steven Finn has shown this more than anyone. Finn is probably the only seamer to really merit his spot and is justifiably ranked No. 6 in the world.
Tim Bresnan's form has dipped for England and it will be a surprise if he's still playing international cricket by the end of 2013. His superb contributions for England should not be forgotten, especially in the 10/11 Ashes victory, but he doesn't look like replicating those displays.
Stuart Broad has faced a similar dip in form. Hitherto his batting ability has kept him above Graham Onions, Finn, etc. in the pecking order, but patience may rightfully be running out with him. It's worth noting that he averages 12.57 in 93 ODI matches with the bat and just 6.60 in T20s.
A general lack of control and clear gameplan can be attributed to Bresnan and Broad's shortcomings, but they are not the only ones. Jade Dernbach's bag of tricks is a great weapon, but his stats clearly show they aren't enough alone. His 27 ODI wickets cost 36.62 and more worryingly come at more than 6-an-over. His T20 numbers are better, but won't frighten any batsmen around the world. Whether he is genuinely international quality is doubtful.
There is a plethora of seam bowlers on the cusp of the England set up, but none have really shown anything to excite the selectors. Aside from Finn, James Anderson (14th) is the only England seamer in the top 29 ODI bowlers in world cricket, with Broad coming in at 30th. In T20 cricket it is even worse, where England's highest-ranking quick bowler is Broad at 19th. Chris Woakes and Stuart Meaker have both been trialed - the former a rival to Broad's bowling allrounder spot - but neither really impressed. This outlines England's six seam options in current usage, of which only one can really justify his selection.
The positives for England in shorter formats:
1). The run-hungry top-order batting: England's top order looks in great shape. The ODI opening combination of Cook and Bell oozes class and consistency. Although both players struggled to secure their spots initially, they have formed a quality partnership now and do not look like taking a backward step. It could be argued that KP should open after his centuries last winter but England are getting good starts without him doing so and he is the most capable six-hitter when the field is back later in the innings. Bell is able to play the anchor role, the explosive starter or both and Cook is the perfect anchor, especially considering he strikes at 80 as well.
Jonathan Trott's contributions to date cannot be questioned. But whether he is picked or not, whether he becomes a specialist ODI batsmen when playing in seam-friendly conditions or not, it is a rare luxury that England could consider omitting someone who averages over 49 in 50-over cricket.
The waters are a little muddier in T20s, but the signs are still positive. Alex Hales has made the opening spot his own and looks a fine prospect. The statement he made with a 52-ball 89 on his Big Bash debut underlines his credentials and will enhance his reputation around the world. Michael Lumb is a steady performer, but is likely to be usurped by Pietersen at the top of the order in the big matches.
The number three spot poses more questions, but the players are there to answer them. The jury is constantly out on Luke Wright whose international stats are inflated by runs against weaker opposition. Whether he can make the difference often enough against the South Africans, the Aussies etc, is still to be seen.
Regardless of Wright's position, England have the talents of Eoin Morgan to call on and the exciting potential shown by Jos Buttler in the last six months, not to mention Bell who surely deserves a chance in this format.
2). The classy spin bowling: This is a simple one because Graeme Swann is brilliant. He is rated number seven in the world in ODIs and is up at third in T20s. He is a consistent threat, taking wickets and restricting the scoring. His respective economy rates are 4.47 and 6.36, which sets him light years ahead of all of England's other bowlers and his averages are just as impressive.
Swann is the key to England's shorter-format bowling attack. The role of spin in T20 has always been important and England will nearly always look to play two spinners, probably in ODIs too. There are multiple options to support Swann. James Tredwell has been rewarded for years of consistency in county cricket. His recent four-for against India highlighted his ability and there is no reason that he and Swann can't play together. Hopefully Tredwell doesn't get labeled purely as Swann's backup because he is proving that he's better than that.
After these two, Danny Briggs is currently the emerging youngster who has been very effective for Hampshire. After impressing in his first few outings for England, his confidence has taken a knock of late with some poor returns against South Africa last summer and India this winter. However, he is only 21 and time is on his side.
The other left-arm option is Monty Panesar who is a fine Test bowler but, frustratingly, his fielding shortcomings will probably prevent him adding to his 26 ODIs. It should be noted that he performed reasonably well in these with an economy of 4.49, although he only took 24 wickets.
The dilemmas for England's short format cricket:
1). Figuring out who does the wicketkeeping: Matt Prior is arguably the best wicketkeeper-batsman in world cricket, but doesn't play any short format cricket at all for England. With an average under 25 in both ODIs and T20s, not to mention just three half centuries in 62 ODI innings, it is understandable that he lost his place but, considering the degree of his maturity over recent years, a recall is overdue.
Kieswetter's stock has fallen of late. He was first choice in ODIs and T20s for some time, but his block or bash mind-set has drawn criticism and he's been to blame for some slow starts that have cost England dear. His ability to hit a long ball can't be argued with, but it's the balls in between that cause concern.
Buttler's elevation to wicketkeeper in the T20 format is forward thinking move. His keeping looks raw, which is a concern, but he is an exciting batsman and could develop into the role.
2). Allrounders: Avoiding the bits and pieces players. England may have left behind the dour late nineties obsession with 'bits n pieces' players, but the lack of a genuine allrounder still causes problems. Andrew Flintoff was a dream ODI cricketer, but England have not filled that void, while Paul Collingwood left a big hole as well.
The allrounders in the England set-up are currently limited to Samit Patel, Chris Woakes and Luke Wright. But none of them look capable of winning a match with either bat or ball.
Of the three, Patel is top of the pecking order but he is a funny case. For much of his international career he has been picked as a second spinner, often batting as low as number eight. Yet he is really a batting allrounder who averages 39 with bat and ball in first-class cricket.
Does Woakes fit the bill that Bresnan and Broad are failing to? He is a more accomplished batsman, but shoe horning him in at number seven or eight won't solve the seam bowling woes. England have to accept the lack of a genuine allrounder and decide how to formulate a winning side. Is there really any value in sacrificing the quality of their bowling attack by picking numbers 6 to 8 as useful contributors, but not match-winners? Ideally an ODI side has two or three allrounders, but England should consider the merit in picking batsmen to bat and bowlers to bowl in the absence of a Flintoff, a Watson, a Kallis etc.
ODI 1. A Cook 2. I Bell 3. K Pietersen 4. E Morgan 5. A Hales 6. M Prior (wk) 7. C Woakes 8. J Tredwell 9. G Swann 10. J Anderson 11. S Finn
T20 1. K Pietersen 2. A Hales 3. I Bell 4. E Morgan 5. J Buttler 6. M Prior (wk) 7. L Wright 8. S Broad 9. J Tredwell 10. G Swann 11. S Finn