Joe Root in the second test between England and South Africa, 2017
Mandatory Credit: Photo by PPAUK/REX/Shutterstock (8961833ah) England player Joe Root drives during the 2nd Test Match, Day 2, between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge, Nottingham on July 15 England v South Africa, Day 2, Nottingham, UK - 15 July 2017

Three Selection Conundrums for England ahead of Sri Lanka tour

By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • Alastair Cook bats brilliantly in his last Test and England must now find a replacement
  • Keaton Jennings is set to retain his place despite poor form, but should he be dropped?
  • England must decide which bowlers they should take to Sri Lanka
LONDON, ENGLAND – Alastair Cook’s superb innings’ of 71 and 147 guide England to a 118-run victory in his final Test and his country must now plan for their Sri Lanka tour without him.


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Replacing Cook is impossible but Burns has earned his chance

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In his last two Test innings, Alastair Cook scored 71 and 147 and demonstrated exactly what England will miss now that he has retired from international cricket. He was patient and focused from first ball to last, he made excellent decisions about when to play and when to leave and he chose the right shots most of the time. He is one of the best opening batsmen ever to play Test cricket.

Therefore, England must accept that the man who takes Cook’s place at the top of the order will not be as good. They must be lenient and patient and avoid comparing him to the legend he is replacing.

The batsman who should be given Cook’s place is Rory Burns. He averages 65.81 in County Championship Division One this season and has scored over 1,000 runs in each of the last five seasons. He is also determined, focused and patient at the crease, which enables him to bat for a long time and accumulate big individual scores.

In the past, he has received criticism for a poor conversion rate of fifties to hundreds. However, he has improved in that regard in 2018 as he has gone on to get over 100 three of the eight times he has passed 50.

And is it even a major problem that Burns has often struggled to convert fifties to hundreds? Former Surrey and Glamorgan cricketer Tom Lancefield does not think so.

In an interview with Surrey Live, he said, “What do England need more; someone who will score a flashy 100 one in every eight games and then not score anything in between or someone who will consistently bat through the new ball and provide a platform for the guys below him to score runs?”


Do England need to make more changes to their batting line-up?

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Keaton Jennings averaged 18.11 in the series, has not passed 50 in any of his last 19 Test innings and would have been dropped by most teams in by now.

However, despite this awful run of form, it seems likely he will be in the England squad to tour Sri Lanka after comments made by Head Selector Ed Smith and Assistant Coach Paul Farbrace.

Speaking on Test Match Special, Smith said: “Having spoken to people in the team, it’s obvious Keaton has got a very clear method and it’s just been a difficult summer to open the batting.”

Meanwhile, Farbrace told The Telegraph: “I would like to think he has done enough in difficult situations to be opening the batting come the first Test match in Sri Lanka.”

It is frequently suggestion by commentators and journalists that England persist with Jennings because there are very few outstanding alternatives in county cricket. However, does the Lancashire opener really deserve to be in the team ahead of James Vince, who has a higher Test average and has scored three hundreds (including a brilliant 201 not out in difficult circumstances) for Hampshire this season?

If England are determined to replace Jennings with a more natural opener, perhaps they should turn to Joe Denly. According to The Telegraph, the selectors are already considering picking the experienced Kent man for the Sri Lanka tour, so maybe they should be bold enough to put him straight into the team instead of a player who has failed consistently.

Both Denly and Vince should go to Sri Lanka, especially because England also need batsmen who can come in at No.3 if the Moeen Ali experiment does not work. They should also think about Sam Northeast, who averages less than 40 but has excellent technique and great character and could prove to be an inspired selection in the manner of Michael Vaughan.


Which bowlers should go to Sri Lanka?

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This is arguably the most difficult question England face. Their seamers have often struggled in the sub-continent and it for this reason that they will probably take four spinners to Sri Lanka. They are likely to be Adil Rashid, Ali, Dominic Bess and Jack Leach. That is the relatively easy part.

The hard part is choosing the seamers. Smith said on Test Match Special that England “would consider” resting James Anderson and Stuart Broad from the tour to ensure they are at maximum freshness for The Ashes next year.

Even if England’s regular new-ball pair go to Sri Lanka, they may not play every match. Speaking to The Telegraph, Farbrace said, “I would be surprised if they are not on the trip. If they don’t play every game, then so be it.”

Based on a squad of 16, if Broad and Anderson are selected and England take seven specialist batsmen (including wicketkeepers Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler), that leaves seven spots for all-rounders and bowlers. Ali, Ben Stokes and Sam Curran will fill three of those spots and Rashid, Bess and Leach will probably occupy three more.

So the selectors need to choose one other seamer. The leading candidates are Chris Woakes, Tom Curran, Jamie Overton and Jamie Porter. And, considering England often struggle on flat pitches, they should opt for the fastest bowler of the four: Overton.

England’s First Test against Sri Lanka begins at Galle at 4.30am GMT on Tuesday 6th November 2018.


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