England v New Zealand, 4th ODI, Trent Bridge June 16, 2015

England picking on potential with Overtons call-up

The England management are identifying players who can help win the 2019 World Cup but Dimi Mascarenhas, the New Zealand bowling coach, suggested it was unwise to pick players on potential and instead argued for skill-based selection
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Jamie and Craig Overton may not feature against New Zealand but they best demonstrate how England are thinking for the future © PA Photos

You have to go back a long time to find England selections based on potential - rather than achievement - quite as much as the Overton twins.

Perhaps Ben Hollioake, who had played only five first-class games when he was drafted into England's ODI squad in 1997, might be a more obvious example. Or maybe Derek Pringle, who was still at Cambridge University when he was called up for the 1982 Test series against India. Or it could be we have to go all the way back to 1935 when David Townsend - who remains the last man to play Test cricket for England without ever representing a county - was selected to tour West Indies on the back of his form for Oxford University, or 1945 when John Dewes made his first-class debut in the Victory Test against Australia.

The Overtons are, by comparison, veterans of county cricket. And both are, for different reasons, outstanding prospects. But neither are currently certain of their place in the Somerset side - Craig has not played a first team white-ball game this season, while Jamie was left out of the current round of Championship matches - and neither would claim to be anything like the finished article.

Craig looks the more mature of the two in terms of cricketing development. While his pace, at international level, might be a fraction sedate, he seems to possess the skills and the composure to suggest he could, in time, be an allrounder in the Stuart Broad mould. But he has not been selected by Somerset in white ball cricket this season partially as it was feared that his natural length - what would traditionally be described as a "good" length - might be punished in the modern game. And if it is feared what county batsmen might do to him, the prospect of this ultra-aggressive New Zealand side taking him on must be chilling. Nobody wants to endanger his long-term development.

But the selection of the Overtons illustrates the long-term planning of the England management. Theirs is not a selection based upon winning this series - it may well be that neither feature in the remaining two matches - it is upon identifying players who can help win the 2019 World Cup. In that context, their selection makes far more sense. But it was noticeable at Trent Bridge, as England trained ahead of the fourth ODI, that the pick of the bowlers on show was Luke Fletcher, the 26-year-old with a physique that contains few sharp edges, was one of several county bowers called to the net session - Andy Carter, Jack Brooks and Reece Topley were the others - to help England prepare.

Fletcher responded by not only hitting Ben Stokes on the left arm with an excellent short ball - Stokes was said to be fine after applying ice to the bruise - but consistently delivered perfect yorkers. He is not quick, he is not glamorous and he will rarely be mistaken for a stag in the field, but if England are looking for a man to bowl at the death, they will be hard-pressed to do better.

Yet his face - and perhaps his shirt - does not fit. Such is England's desire to play "aggressive" cricket - a laudable desire in many ways - that there is a danger that just a little subtly has been lost from their game. Nobody wants them to revert to the timid team seen at the World Cup but, just as their failure to bat out their 50 overs in Southampton was unnecessarily testosterone-fuelled, there will be times when the prosaic skills - the ability to hit a yorker length even at medium pace - are more useful than all the pace, athleticism, height or variation that more eye-catching cricketers might deliver. The all-out desire for aggression - a desire that seems to fear reason in case it spreads negativity like a virus - might be in danger of obscuring just a little of the value of wisdom.

It was a point indirectly made by Dimitri Mascarenhas, the former England seamer, who now works as New Zealand's bowling coach. He suggested it was unwise to pick players on the basis of potential and instead argued for skill-based selection.

Asked about the selection of left-arm seamers in limited-overs cricket, he agreed that it was an attractive option but insisted it could only be justified if they had the requisite skills. "I wouldn't say it's essential," he said. "You definitely wouldn't select one for the sake of it. There's no point just picking a left-armer for variation. You pick your best four or five bowlers for each game. If a left-armer is one of them then that's brilliant. And yorkers remain a massive part of the game."

Perhaps such criticism is churlish. This has been a wonderfully entertaining series between two attractive sides and England's limited-overs side - containing some of the most attractive cricketers they have produced in many years - is, at last, heading in the right direction. Indeed, such has been their improvement that it is hard not to reflect on the World Cup and wonder what might have been.

The New Zealand coach, Mike Hesson, summed it up best. "This England team is very aggressive, especially with the bat," he said. "They have hitters from one to 10. They don't allow you to settle and that puts a lot of pressure on our bowlers. Since the World Cup they're a completely different team. If this side were at the World Cup, I think they'd certainly scare a few teams.

"They haven't nailed it quite yet - you're never going to straightaway - but on their day, crikey, they're dangerous."

But to progress from dangerous to deadly England may need to add just a little more brain to their brawn.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nathan on June 17, 2015, 22:11 GMT

    Cant England go back to dour, grinding cricket? It was too easy to beat thrm then. Theyre pretending their ftom down under.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2015, 14:24 GMT

    Exactly, attacking doesn't always mean going all out, du plesis and de villers batted an entire day to save a test match 3 times in the last 3 years.. that is in no way inferior to what macullum does these days...

  • Cricinfouser on June 17, 2015, 13:24 GMT

    Overtons and wheeler . I see some interesting headlines in the making. Having buttlers,,roots,boults,hales,willey, were good enough, not to mention the cooks and bells

  • Danga on June 17, 2015, 12:39 GMT

    There is so much talent in our country but we are in desperate need of guys who offer something different but with discipline, Luke Fletcher fits this mold, extra bounce, seam and discipline to bowl yorker after yorker.

    The Overtons havent really done anything to warrant selection ... its a massive risk but it might be worth it

  • Khawaja on June 17, 2015, 12:23 GMT

    i suppose that is how england selects chris jordan or woakes...i have never heard of the overtons and if somerset does not select them than selecting twins must be just an advertisement trick...in one day cricket u really select the moment cricketer ...if u need a century the players go out and make it...the batting seems tobe there but the english bowlers might be suspect...anyway wiley and wood should be told what is required and what balls are good and bad in one day cricket...it is not like new zealand who have three or four selectable bowlers lying around ...england should not select players for one or two matches...and i have heard of other yorker bowlers who are now all but extinct...as for stuart broad he is not a one day alrounder...england does have a habit of throwing in a player and than he disappears ...Finn and adil are however old hands and must know how to restrict...in one day cricket the left armer and really fast bowlers do work better than medium line and length

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2015, 12:05 GMT

    @Patchmaster Maybe, just maybe, they were reffering to Broad's career as a whole, not a brief period of his career? I know, crazy right?

  • Ed on June 17, 2015, 10:12 GMT

    'An all rounder in the Stuart Broad mold' you have to be kidding right ? Stuart Broad in no more an all rounder than I am a christmas cake. He 'used' to score a few runs, but he's a liability with the bat and as Shane Warne says, should be bstting at 11.

  • Owen on June 17, 2015, 9:08 GMT

    I don't comment much on cricinfo these days but I have to say, the line 'The all-out desire for aggression - a desire that seems to fear reason in case it spreads negativity like a virus' is an absolutely fantastic piece of cricketing journalism

  • Graham on June 17, 2015, 7:54 GMT

    The oddest thing in all of this is that neither of the Overtons is either the most promising fast bowler nor the most promising all-rounder at Somerset. They aren't even the most promising fast bowler or the most promising all-rounder at Somerset who originates from Devon... Lewis Gregory has shown greater ability to take Div 1 top order wickets and bats just as well as either of them. Picking on potential is one thing but the Overtons have shown such rare glimpses that they are anywhere near ready that it seems very odd to pick them now, especially with Jamie in particular being hopelessly out of form. There are so many more worthy options - not least some of the bowlers invited to bowl in the nets - who deserve a chance to prove their worth. It must be very disheartening for the good young players out there who are actually performing...

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2015, 7:31 GMT

    Well said. Every side is better for having a Matthew Hoggard in it.

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