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England: Where they are, at the start of the county season

by Robin Stephenson

England, then, have been left licking their wounds after an ultimately brutal contest in India that they lost 4-1. Even the eternal optimists among the Bazballers will hopefully of reflected somewhat on a tour that they were expected to lose, but perhaps the manner of their defeat may provoke some thought. Joe Root’s infamous reverse scoop to Bumrah has been discussed sufficiently already, but more deep rooted problems also presented themselves.

Firstly, the positives. Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir were both left field picks, who bowled extremely well for such inexperienced bowlers, albeit in favourable conditions. Jack Leach’s injury in the first test robbed England of their only experienced spin bowler, and his accuracy and control were missed. Bashir collected two five wicket hauls, and his deceptive flight and high action suggests he will have a future at the highest level. Tom Hartley is similarly tall but is a flatter bowler, and may be better suited in the longer term to the white ball game, lacking variation currently to take wickets on flatter surfaces. The third spinner, Rehan Ahmed, lacks control but will hopefully get plenty of red ball bowling for his county side this season.

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Moving onto the batting, considered Englands stronger suit, Ollie Pope and Ben Duckett both scored fine hundreds but otherwise failed to score a single 50. Jonny Bairstow failed to score a single 50 even as a specialist batsman at 5, and Joe Root and Ben Stokes were both underwhelming also. Ironically the most consistent batsman was Zak Crawley, while Root finally came back into some sort of form in the last couple of games.

The disappointing returns of the top 6 means England need to give serious thought to how they move forward. The most obvious change will be Harry Brook, back playing for Yorkshire, to come in for Bairstow. While some advocate his retention and the dropping of Ben Foakes, I would personally retain Foakes and leave Bairstow to focus on the white ball game, given he is approaching 35 and has struggled to reclaim his best form with bat and gloves since his horrific leg break.

The top 3 appear set in stone, although I am a big fan of Josh Bohannon at Lancs. Ollie Pope is vice captain and bats at 3 yet his average hovers around the 34 mark, too low for a player of his calibre. England are reluctant to drop batsmen at the best of times however, and a couple of test series against lower ranked sides this summer seem to offer an opportunity for the top 6 to regain some form and confidence. It seems unlikely that peripheral players such as Dan Lawrence and John Bohannon will get much of a look in, injuries probably being the only opportunity they might get to state their case as international players.

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The bowling appears fairly stable also, with Chris Woakes in line for a recall following his Ashes heroics and likely to play a substantial role alongside Jimmy Anderson, with Ollie Robinson as another option if he can regain his pace and fitness, with Mark Wood to provide the extreme pace on occasions.

Fast bowlers like Brydon Carse and Josh Tongue may get a look in, which Matt Potts is the next cab off the rank in terms of seam bowling. Jack Leach seems likely to start as first choice spinner, with backup from Balbir.

Presuming that no “bolter” emerges early in the season, the side looks as it will be mainly composed of players who appeared over the winter. It has been speculated that a younger keeper such as James Rew or Ollie Robinson might get an opportunity, although this would be exceptionally harsh on Foakes in my opinion. We will await the selection of the first test squad of the summer then, to wait to see what the selectors are thinking!

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