Warm-up games give England selectors food for thought
England's fringe players have battled tooth and nail to impress Andy Flower and Alastair Cook
Heading into a series with competition for places often transforms the warm-up matches from non-events to fierce inter-squad battles.
That is exactly what happened at the start of England’s one-day tour of India as the fringe players in the squad battled tooth and nail to impress Andy Flower and Alastair Cook ahead of Friday’s first ODI.
England won both their tour matches, against a Hyderabad Cricket Association XI, in preparation for the series opener but the results in very different circumstances.
The batsmen had the best workout as a top order collapse in the first match gave the lower order a chance to shine, while the designated batsmen returned to form for the second game. The bowlers dismissed their opponents cheaply in both matches but still found time to impress.
Ravi Bopara was the saviour in the first game as his 73 salvaged a score floundering on 82-5. In partnership with the bowlers, Bopara steered England to a defendable 219.
Chris Woakes boosted his all-rounder claim with two wickets to follow his 46* before Steven Finn ripped through the tail with a hat-trick to seal victory.
In the second match, England’s inked-in selections of Cook and Jonathan Trott made scores above 50 but the headlines went to Jonny Bairstow, who pushed for his inclusion with another blistering innings. He smashed his way to 104 off a measly 53 balls to propel England to a total of 367.
Scott Borthwick, another England new-boy, did the damage with the ball this time. His leg spin claimed five Hyderabad victims, while Stuart Meaker claimed three wickets in an over as the home side were blown away for just 114 having been 69 without loss.
The results and performances give England a selection headache for Friday’s opener. Cook and Craig Kieswetter will open, although the keeper will be looking over his shoulder at Bairstow’s cavalier start, despite some improved performances himself.
Trott is a certainty to bat at first drop with his Warwickshire team-mate Ian Bell at five and the ever-improving Bopara at six. But the selectors have to make a decision over Bairstow.
His two displays so far have lit the touch paper but Cook will have to drop one of his household names to include him. The only position that’s under scrutiny is Kevin Pietersen’s number four spot.
Pietersen was the high profile inclusion in the squad so is unlikely to start the tour on the side-lines, but if his form doesn’t improve England will want to give the swashbuckling Bairstow a chance in the side.
With the ball, Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach will lead the attack as Finn, Meaker and Woakes tussle for the final seamer’s space. All three have taken wickets in the tour games but Finn’s experience should tip the scales his way.
Cook’s men have enjoyed playing two spinners in the one-day game of late, and Samit Patel faces stiff competition from Borthwick to partner Graeme Swann in the attack.
Patel dropped two catches in the second tour match and has had a stop-start England career to date. Borthwick’s five-for should push Patel out of the side although the Nottinghamshire man’s talent with the bat may save him.
Such competition for places reflects well on England’s strength in depth. However, many of the touring party are inexperienced at this level and the selectors are likely to revert to type for the start of the tour.
But if England want to dominate in all forms of the game it is important they do not leave the likes of Meaker, Bairstow and Borthwick carrying drinks for the entire tour.