England ODI squad shows West Indies series was vital
The two-match Twenty20 series against West Indies has served a purpose, writes Matthew Wiggins
For many, the announcement of England’s two T20 games against West Indies seemed somewhat of an afterthought.
A hangover from the Alan Stanford era, there was a feeling the games had been tagged on to the end of a summer of international cricket that has provided little in the way of challenges for England.
Both sides named inexperienced squads. And while West Indies’ struggles with their billboard players are well known, England suffered injuries to their stars and used the opportunity to blood some youngsters.
For all its negative attention – as it turned out the series at the KIA Oval was an informative one -it allowed England to experiment with highly-rated youngsters that have caught the eye on the county circuit, while also giving the fringe players in the squad a chance to to state their case for the ODI and T20 tour of India.
That squad, announced on Tuesday, illustrates the benefits of the West Indies series and what England have learnt from the games.
The most obvious aspect of the games was the proof that there are some really talented prospects coming through the system.
Alex Hales, Johnny Bairstow, Scott Borthwick, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler all featured in the series, and are yet to celebrate their 23rd birthdays.
Even more pleasing was the fact that they all made a contribution in some way to either match. Hales put the disappointment of his debut duck against India behind him to score 62* in the dominant 10 wicket win last Friday.
Ben Stokes top scored in the disappointing match that followed – and looked far more assured than his debut against India’s spinners in the ODIs.
Both Bairstow and Buttler would like to have had more of an impact – the former is still riding high from his blistering one-day debut against India, while both men added to England’s dynamic fielding abilities ““ Buttler in particular is showcasing his talent with a superb run out even for a wicketkeeper.
Scott Borthwick was the pick of the bowlers in the second T20, taking 1-15 and displaying control and variety by taking his wicket with a googly.
Borthwick’s emergence, along with the inclusion of Hampshire spinner Danny Briggs, who was second leading wicket taker in the domestic T20 competition, shows England have a wealth of options ahead of the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, where spin will be vital.
However, let’s not get too carried away. Yes, these players are talented. And yes, in the main, they adapted well. But they are young and very inexperienced at international level.
The dangers of fielding a great number of new faces was realised in Sunday’s match when the youthful England panicked in the face of a collapse and slumped to 88 all out chasing just 114.
Stokes and Borthwick were the only players of the new batch to do themselves justice and the group seemed to lack a real experienced leader to guide them home.
However, it is early days and all five will grow given the chance to play more games. Of the new breed of players Briggs and Stokes, who has a finger injury, have been overlooked to travel to India.
It is important to give the players who are travelling a taste of international cricket, especially in T20 – a format they have grown up on – in order for them to flourish in other formats.
Of the fringe players Ravi Bopara reminded everyone that he is capable of filling the role of all-rounder at international level, with England’s record bowling performance in the first match.
The Essex man backed up his 96 at Lord’s against India with 4-10 on Friday and it is his type of low medium pace bowling, along with spin, that will flourish in the sub-continent.
It seems Bopara is regaining the confidence that epitomised his cricket when he first burst onto the scene with three hundreds against West Indies in 2009, largely due to an extended run in the side.
Slowly, the same can start to be said of Samit Patel. After an unspectacular return to the one-day side against India, Patel took 4-45 over the two Windies matches at an economy rate of less than six.
As he flies out to India, Patel can find comfort in the knowledge that he is heading in the right direction but knows he must make a telling contribution if he is to stay in the England set-up this time around.
It was significant that England’s second match collapse against West Indies came on a turning wicket, faced with spinners of far less quality than they will come up against during the forthcoming tour.
In recognition of this, England recalled their premier batsmen, Kevin Pietersen, to help the side combat the turning ball. Pietersen averages 51 in ODI’s in India and in the absence of Eoin Morgan will need to dominate the Indian spinners.
As much as Pietersen’s was the marquee inclusion in the tour party, James Anderson was the notable absentee. England opted to rest Anderson for the tour, while Stuart Broad and Morgan miss out through injury.
Anderson’s exclusion gives Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach the chance to lead a seam attack that includes Steven Finn, a returning Chris Woakes and uncapped Surrey paceman Stuart Meaker.
But there is not a hint of panic about such important players missing such a tough tour. Why? Because the oh-so unwanted West Indies series proved that England have the youngsters capable of filling their shoes.