<
>

Finn and Bairstow small headaches for settled England

Squad lists, like flights and trips to the dentist, are probably better if they don't contain surprises.

So, whereas, in the past, England have tended to abandon long-held plans at the last moment - think of the 2015 World Cup, where Eoin Morgan took over as captain at the last minute, Gary Ballance was drafted into the team and Chris Woakes replaced as new-ball bowler - the squad announced for the Champions Trophy is wonderfully predictable.

So there is no repetition of 2011, when Steven Davies - pencilled in as opening batsman and wicketkeeper - was replaced by Matt Prior at the last minute (a decision branded as "poor thinking" and "unhealthy" by the then captain Andrew Strauss in the book 28 Days Data; "The team was relatively settled," Strauss said. "And that just sent shockwaves through it.")

And there is no repetition of 1999, when Nick Knight was replaced by Nasser Hussain, or the World T20 of 2010 when England stumbled across a winning format at the last moment.

It all means England should go into the event with a settled squad who know their specific roles. In a format where role definition and experience is so important, it bodes well.

Whether it justifies the bookies' - well, Bet 365's anyway - decision to make England the favourites for the tournament is debatable. They have never won a global List A event - though they have made it to the finals on five occasions - and they face significant competition. Whatever happens, they have made impressive progress since the 2015 World Cup and they go into their event with confidence high.

Perhaps Liam Dawson or Steven Finn might feel unfortunate not to be in the squad. But it probably wasn't necessary to include three spinners for a tournament in England (and Wales) in June and Jake Ball, who has just been awarded an incremental contract, has moved above Finn in the selectors' minds by virtue of his greater variations with the ball.

Changes could, in theory, still happen. England have the opportunity to alter the squad without ICC approval until May 25, but James Whitaker, the national selector, has confirmed that, even if the likes of Ben Duckett (who is included for the Ireland games but omitted from the Champions Trophy squad) scores a double-century in both ODIs against Ireland, he will not force his way into the Champions Trophy squad. Only in the case of injuries will changes be made and only those in the Champions Trophy squad will be invited on the training camp to Spain in mid-May.

Whitaker described the conversation informing Finn he would not be included as "the trickiest" but admitted that Jonny Bairstow was also "disappointed" to learn that Sam Billings had been preferred as wicketkeeper for the ODIs against Ireland. "Clearly he thought he would be given a go again," Whitaker said. "But it gives him a chance to concentrate on his batting again."

"It is tough on Steven, because he's a highly capped international," Whitaker said. "But we feel we've picked the best available for what they need to do. He was disappointed but he's still a young guy and has plenty of years to keep pushing for a place. We felt Jake's variation and good new-ball skills gave him the edge."

Bearing in mind that Mark Wood, David Willey and Liam Plunkett are all returning from injuries at present (Plunkett is expected to play this weekend) there remains a chance that Finn could be recalled as an injury replacement.

While Whitaker suggested the decision to give the gloves to Billings was just "to have a look at him" - "We're purely giving Sam the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of the captain," he said - and insisted "it doesn't necessarily follow" that Billings would keep in the Champions Trophy if Jos Buttler was injured, it does seem part of a longer-term policy. At the end of the ODI series in the Caribbean, Paul Farbrace - who is not officially a selector but is highly influential as the assistant coach - expressed a view that he thought Billings was now the No. 2 keeper in white-ball cricket.

Perhaps a couple of young players will feel aggrieved, too. Both Tom Curran and Liam Livingstone were discussed by the selectors and surely have a future in international cricket. It may well be that the T20 series against South Africa, or the ODIs against West Indies at the end of the season, present an opportunity to rest some players and provide opportunities for others.

"Liam is a very good player," Whitaker said. "And he'll keep knocking on the door. But we felt that to keep the order and integrity, Ben Duckett should get the nod for Ireland.

"Tom was talked about but he's now in the next generation, making headway. He made a good impact on the Lions tour. We recognise him and his brother Sam as talented cricketers."

It all left Whitaker feeling "very confident".

"This squad have earned the right to be selected and Eoin Morgan has done a very good job as captain," he said. "We're very happy that we're in a good place. We're very confident."

The only time Whitaker stumbled was explaining the decision to rest Bairstow from the early rounds of the County Championship having made him available for the IPL.

"Well, that's something we have no control over," he said. "I don't know how to answer that. We are comfortable with it. I haven't thought about what sort of message it sends out."

It is not a major issue now. But if Bairstow is a non-playing member of the Champions Trophy squad - and there is every chance he will be - he could reach the Test series against South Africa having played two first-class games this year and only one of them against a red ball.

In terms of the Champions Trophy, though, England are better placed then seemed possible when they departed the World Cup two years ago. And the fact that the squad - the team, even - is predictable at this stage reflects well on the form of the players and the consistency of the management.