Lewis Gregory faces all-round challenge to prove himself as England's finisher

Lewis Gregory belted an unbeaten 29 off 11 balls in England's warm-up game Getty Images

No man has come closer to international cricket without making a debut than Lewis Gregory. He has now been named in an England squad in all three formats without being handed a cap, though that long-awaited moment will surely come at some point during the five-match T20I series that starts on Friday.

Gregory could be the player who stands to benefit the most from this series. While the other uncapped members of England's squad - Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Sam Curran, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson - are all aged 22 or below, and safe in the knowledge that their best years lie ahead of them if they cannot force their way into England's T20 World Cup squad, Gregory is approaching his peak at 27. With David Willey, England's most regular No. 7 since the World T20, a surprise omission from this squad, Gregory finds himself effectively competing against Curran for that role in this side.

And Gregory's record at the death suggests that he is perfectly suited to the finisher's role. Since 2017, he has scored 280 runs from 133 balls in the final five overs of an innings in the Blast, hitting either a four or a six every 3.2 balls; no-one with a similar sample size has scored quicker at the death. In England's second warm-up game, he belted an unbeaten 29 off 11 balls, with a slammed six straight down the ground off an attempted yorker from Anurag Verma the pick of the shots. His method is simple: with an open stance and a low base, he is devastating against pace.

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"It's just trying to put people under pressure," Gregory explained after that warm-up game. "There's no real pressure on myself - it's just going out there and try to hit the ball as far as I can. It's something over the past couple of years I've done reasonably well and hopefully if the opportunity comes in the next five games, I'll be able to do a similar thing.

"I like to think that there's more than just a slogger in there. But whatever is put in front of me, I want to adapt to. If I get a go, that [finishing] is probably what I'm likely to be doing in this side, and I'll try to do it as best I can."

There are two considerations that detract from his case. The first is that Gregory's record against spin is a concern. Across his T20 career, his strike rate is just 104.83 against spinners, compared to 170.83 against pace. A combination of injury problems (he missed most of the 2019 Blast with a foot injury) and his batting position means that the sample is relatively small, but given New Zealand have been willing to hold either of Mitchell Santner or Ish Sodhi back to bowl in the final five overs in this T20I cycle, those numbers are a slight worry.

The other, perhaps more pressing, is that Gregory bowls. That may intuitively seem like a positive: his Test call-up came primarily as a medium-fast seam bowling; he had a superb Championship season with 51 wickets at 15.76; and another option with the ball is always seem as being useful for a captain.

But Gregory has fared no better than the average domestic bowler in the T20 Blast: since 2017, he has gone at more than 9.5 runs per over in each phase of the game, and he is sufficiently expensive that his record cannot be excused simply because of the fact he plays half his games at the high-scoring Taunton. In Tuesday's warm-up, he went for 27 in his two overs, with a combined 57 coming from the four overs he shared with Joe Denly, the pair filling in as England's fifth bowler.

While his expensive bowling should not count against his case to fill the finisher role, it is hard to separate an allrounder's two main skills: recognition that Andre Russell and Hardik Pandya are two of the best T20 batsmen in the world, for example, was undoubtedly delayed because of their relatively unremarkable bowling. Counterintuitively, Gregory's reputation as a batsman may suffer because of the fact he bowls.

And while England will not necessarily need their No. 7 to be a frontline bowler by the time the World Cup comes around, with Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali both likely to bat in the top six, for the time being they do not have anyone in their stead who can provide four overs as a guarantee. That means that Sam Curran - who is an excellent new-ball bowler - and his brother Tom, whose batting has improved markedly in the past two years, may provide more tempting options.

Therefore, England find themselves in a difficult spot with Gregory. They must balance their immediate challenge to try and win the series with the long-term need to work out whether he is good enough as a finisher at international level; how they go about it will be a clue as to how Chris Silverwood and Eoin Morgan see this side progressing.