England’s winter record in test matches for 2017-2018 makes pretty grim reading.
Played 7. Lost 5. Drawn 2.
Go back further and England have failed to register a test match away win since the 1-1 series draw with Bangladesh in 2016.
That’s one win in 13 away test matches.
England showed signs of improvement in the 2nd test against New Zealand.
Stuart Broad bowled with great rhythm and control, and at a decent pace too.
In the first innings, Jonny Bairstow registered his 5th test match century with great support from Mark Wood, who although picked for his bowling, registered an entertaining and well crafted maiden test match 50.
In the second innings, Stoneman and Vince showed glimpses of their potential, similar to the 1st innings at Brisbane at the end of November, however failed to kick on and reach that elusive century.
Root and Malan registered decent half centuries, however Root once again failed to convert that into three figures.
Leach bowled with good control on debut, if not a little full at times, but one feels with more game time at the highest level and a chance to prove himself, he could be the solution to the front line spinner conundrum.
However England’s inability to finish a team off when they are on the ropes again came back to haunt them, as New Zealand batted out, fairly comfortably in the end, for the draw.
England’s tactics were dubious at times during the New Zealand 2nd innings.
Why did they persist with the bouncer tactic, having watched Broad collect his wickets bowling a fuller length?
What have England learnt from this Winter?
Judging by some of the performances not a lot, however selection going into the Summer fixtures against Pakistan and India is not going to be easy.
Cook looks terribly out of form.
The good news as far as England fans are concerned is that he is free to play for Essex in the CC fixtures.
Judging by last year’s performances he looks odds on to score a bucket load and play himself into good touch.
Stoneman and Vince registered half centuries to leave lingering doubts with the selectors.
Whilst looking at their overall contributions at test level would give you indication to look for alternative options, I personally do not feel the England selectors have the ruthlessness about them to drop them for the first test.
That said, they will know their spots are by no means safe, and the message should be loud and clear to these batsman.
Go back to your counties and score big runs before the first test on 24th May at Lord’s.
Root, consistent as ever, just needs that break and three figures.
Interestingly, his average as captain is higher than non-captain, and I feel in part that due to the lack of confidence in the England top order, there is even more pressure on him to score big runs.
Malan should be persisted with and left in his best position of five.
Stokes at 6 is a shoo-in however, as a pure batsman will have to produce a lot more.
I’m sure once he’s back to full fitness we will see the best of him again.
Bairstow is currently world class and talk of him playing as a specialist batsman and introducing another keeper should be quashed.
His glove work is now top notch and there isn’t a better number seven in the world.
Would I like to see him up the order?
Yes I would, but only as high as five.
The alternative there would be to have Root at 4, Bairstow at 5, Malan at 6 and Stokes at 7.
To have him open or bat at three I think would effect his game, and as we’ve seen with a few of his dismissals, potentially leave him open to cheap dismissals.
At 8, I still think England should pick Chris Woakes.
Stuart Broad no longer has the technique or mentality to bat any higher than 9/10/11 in my opinion, and despite Chris Woakes’ performances abroad, he is a great competitor, skilled bowler and highly competent batsman.
Broad and Anderson are guaranteed picks which then leaves the selectors with the difficult decision to go for an all out seam attack, or a front line spin option.
Personally, I feel that a specialist spin option is vital in all conditions, so my pick would be Leach.
Go with Wood and you’re reliant on the part time spin of Root and Malan to tie down an end and hopefully snare a few wickets.
That then means Mark Wood misses out, but if Ben Stokes is fully fit and bowling, his absence shouldn’t be felt too badly.
Plus there are still question marks over Wood’s fitness and his ability to play a sustained amount of matches.
You can always vary the attack accordingly dependant on conditions.
Back to solutions then and what can England look at should Cook, Stoneman and Vince all have bad starts to the season.
If England wanted to keep an additional spin option as back up to Leach, one potential solution would be to have Moeen Ali at 3.
This wouldn’t be my personal preference however, that is his permanent position for Worcestershire and he was batting there when originally selected for England.
In terms of possible openers there is Duckett and Jennings, who have course have had a small run in the team but couldn’t take their opportunity.
Both players are of high calibre and a strong start to the season may see the selectors take note.
There’s been lots of talk about Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond, whilst at three, Dan Lawrence of Essex is another option.
There is also Livingstone, part of the squad but overlooked in favour of Vince, Gubbins and Robson, both of Middlesex, and also fellow Lancashire team mates Alex Davies and Hameed.
Daryl Mitchell of Worcestershire is another option and consistent CC run scorer, plus Burns of Surrey.
Interestingly, Wisden magazine ran a detailed article on Jason Roy and his test cricket ambitions.
In cahoots with his ODI and T20 exploits, you only have to look at his record for Surrey when batting at 6 to see how talented Roy is.
I think it would be a case of fitting Roy in and moving people around, rather than him being a direct replacement.
Ultimately, there are people in positions paid a lot of money to make important decisions.
I for one am not adverse to change, although one feels the first test will be much of the same.
Let’s hope that a number of players stick their hands up so high at the start of the season, that they will be impossible to ignore.