England face selection issues as well as a stern Sri Lankan test

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England’s cricketers begin their 7-match ODI tour of Sri Lanka on Wednesday in Colombo. The team play 2 warm-up games before the series starts, today (SO, FRIDAY) and on Sunday, before the real action gets under way. With a mere couple of months to go before the World Cup gets under way in the spring in Australia and New Zealand, England still have at least 2 or 3 selection dilemmas which they hope this series will give them a chance to address in detail.

First is the question of possibly the most important spot in the whole batting line up; number 3, the man who comes in and must either play safe if a wicket has been lost early, or carry on the good work and keep attacking if the openers have put a fine partnership together. Ian Bell was playing there at the back end of the summer against India, but many have argued that it should be Joe Root, as he is surely the man who the batting will be built around in the next few years.

Other calls have been for Gary Ballance, who did so well there during the summer Tests and actually has a very good limited overs record for Yorkshire, and Eoin Morgan, who as currently the sides most potent batsmen surely must be considered. A left-field selection would be Jonathan Trott, one of England’s best ever ODI batsmen and a man who would have been a certainty 18 months ago before his extremely sad struggle with exhaustion and burnout. If physically and mentally in fine fettle, he definitely should be considered.

Other areas where the matches against Sri Lanka will offer a chance to experiment is the middle order, where England simply have too many players for the positions. James Taylor, Ravi Bopara, Ben Stokes; all have been chopped and changed in recent months without the right combination ever really being found. Taylor must surely be right in contention, having been one of the best players during the English domestic season, while Bopara should count himself unlucky to have been summarily dropped from the side after a long run in it. Stokes meanwhile definitely deserves another chance to show his undeniably enormous potential, which so far he has only managed to show in bursts – consistency should be his aim for the series, whether with bat, ball or both.

If this feels like I’m simply suggesting that every area in the England team (except the captain at the top of the order and the wicketkeeper) isn’t really settled yet, that’s because they really aren’t. The discussion must now turn to the bowling selection quandaries. How many bowlers should play? How many spinners should play? Does Ben Stokes (an extremely talented all-rounder) deserve to be in the side as a bowler alone and is he good enough to bowl 10 consistent overs in an ODI World Cup.

With neither James Anderson or Stuart Broad present in Sri Lanka, this is an excellent chance for the lesser-known members of the attack, men like Harry Gurney and Chris Jordan, to really stake a claim and show why they should be the ones on that plane to Australia in February. Steven Finn is also back in the reckoning; having apparently conquered whatever demons were plaguing him last winter he should be given a few games in order for his fitness, speed and consistency to be assessed.

The uncomfortable truth for this series is that Sri Lanka should win it comfortably. On home soil, playing at night when conditions become almost unbearably humid, on pitches which will of course favour the home side, and against a side struggling to find their best XI, the hosts are very reasonably huge favourites for the series. However, the good news for England is that even in defeat many positives can be taken. If at the end of the series they are several steps closer to finding their best side to play in the World Cup opener, then they can reflect on a useful and fruitful trip. If they’re not however, then they really will be in trouble.

 

Euan Cunningham

 

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