Who Makes England's World T20 Squad?
England have some decisions to make.
How often have we heard that before, across a multitude of different sports? There's much debate over who Gareth Southgate might select in his squad for the European Championships this summer, while rugby union head coach Eddie Jones has some major thinking to do after those particular Englishmen finished second-bottom of the Six Nations table this year.
This post, however, will focus on the England cricket team, and their preparations for the upcoming World Twenty20 tournament in India later this year. With one of their most valuable preparatory series - five games away to the tournament hosts - having concluded on Saturday afternoon, this feels like a good time to take stock and examine who will make the squad for the tournament.
I've divided all the names you're about to read into five categories. The first four are reserved for players who already have Twenty20 caps for England, with those who are already on the plane kicking us off in the 'Certainly' group. Those who aren't far behind follow up under the title of 'Probably', and those who have a chance but need to impress are down as a 'Maybe'.
Finally, any players who have an outside chance, however infinitesimal, go down as 'Unlikely', before a fifth category comes in to account for those players who are right on the fringes but haven't yet made an appearance in a T20I. Just to add a sprinkle of excitement; we shall refer to these players as 'Wildcards'.
All clear? Excellent. Ready? Steady? Then let's go.
There aren't actually too many names who I see as cast-iron certainties, but one man who most definitely does fall into such a category is captain Eoin Morgan. His career statistics speak for themselves, and he is the only man to play more than 100 T20Is for England, of which 59 have been as captain.
Surrey's opening batsman Jason Roy is also comfortably already on the plane, as a mainstay of the English limited overs setup for the last six years, as are a pair of rival Roses wicketkeepers in Lancashire's Jos Buttler and Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow. Roy and Buttler are among the most destructive opening partnerships in world cricket, although personally, I would open with Bairstow and save Buttler for the later overs.
Completing the certainties, we have bowlers Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid, and all-rounder Ben Stokes. Rashid is, on his day, one of the best limited-overs spinners in the world and thus utterly indispensable, and Archer's pace is a vital part of England's weaponry in the bowling department. Stokes' explosiveness with the bat can sometimes be undermined by the odd expensive outing with the ball, but the way he can take a game away from any opponent with the sheer ability he possesses means he has to walk in.
Kicking us off here we have Somerset opening batsman Tom Banton, whose 360 degree inventive ability makes him a very dangerous prospect, but the glut of openers England have means he does need to maintain his levels of recent years. However, he should be in the squad, even if he doesn't play every game.
Following Banton in the batting department, we also have Dawid Malan and James Vince. Malan is the current world number one Twenty20 batsman and doesn't need to do much to secure his spot, but he might have benefitted from a more productive series in India, in which he only passed 25 once. Vince didn't make the squad for the India tour, but an excellent showing in Australia's Big Bash League, where he hit 537 runs at 38.35 significantly boosted his prospects.
Spinners are a necessity in India, so Moeen Ali should consider himself firmly in the selectors' minds, with an upcoming IPL stint with the Chennai Super Kings a handy opportunity to prove himself on the subcontinent. There should also be spots for brothers Sam and Tom Curran, who do not have to prove their skills in the shortest format, but a good run of form in the interim home T20s this summer will elevate their cases.
We round out the 'more likely than not' category with another pair of quick bowlers, in Chris Jordan and Mark Wood. Jordan has been a consistent performer for England in the limited overs arena in the past few years and is a handy option at the death, but his economy rate is not immune from taking a battering. Wood is much the same, with a proven pedigree at international level, but like Jordan, he can leak runs when not on his best day, so he might just need to show off a run of games where he tidies that up to prove himself.
We start here with Yorkshire's David Willey, who can offer a very useful left-arm option along with the potential for some late blows at the tail end of an innings. As a Yorkshire fan, I'm hoping he enjoys a successful T20 Blast campaign, which will help his case. Also in the White Rose department is Joe Root, who, while an absolute mainstay of the Test and one-day sides, is largely seen as too slow to force his way into a top order that contains a glut of big hitters. However, a dependable source of runs, of which Root is absolutely an example, cannot be understated.
Across the Pennines, there are also three members of the Red Rose with an eye on selection. Batsman Liam Livingstone could prove himself a useful member of the squad, although whether he has the ability to step up to international level remains unproven. County colleagues Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood will fancy their chances, but both are only 24 and should not be despondent if they miss out. Their time will come, with future tournaments aplenty.
Kent's wicketkeeper-batsman Sam Billings should be in the frame, but with Buttler and Bairstow ahead of him in the rankings to take the gloves, the pressure is solely on his batting, and whether that is consistent enough, certainly at international level, remains to be seen.
Two more bowlers complete this category, in Surrey's left-arm quick Reece Topley and Somerset skipper Lewis Gregory. I think Gregory is an excellent player, but he will require a sterling T20 Blast campaign to make it in. Meanwhile, Topley's recent injury woes have brought a promising start to his career stuttering to a halt, and he will also need to find a rich vein of form to force his way back into the national team setup.
Alex Hales probably shouldn't be considered unlikely, but unfortunately off-field events of the past couple of years - the details of which I won't go into here - have derailed his involvement in the national team. He would become difficult to ignore with a sterling run of form, but something being difficult doesn't make it impossible, and that mantra is certainly true for Eoin Morgan.
Warwickshire's Chris Woakes is an excellent bowler, but having not played a T20I since 2015, is unlikely to be selected. At the age of 35, Kent's Joe Denly is probably done with the national team, while Surrey's Ben Foakes hasn't played a T20I in two years, so it will be difficult for those two as well. T20 specialist Tymal Mills got the nod for four internationals after a good run for Sussex in 2016, but failed to impress and hasn't played since. Nottinghamshire's Jake Ball should be being talked about more, especially considering he was the T20 Blast's leading wicket-taker in 2020, but he will likely have to do it all over again before England consider him, which is a shame.
Also in the 'shame they probably won't pick him' category is Worcestershire medium pacer Pat Brown, who is exactly the sort of player I would lobby for England to pick far more often. A young, hungry player, who offers something a little different, and is proven in the domestic arena. Admittedly, Brown's T20I outings to date with England have not yielded much joy, but I like what I've seen of him for Worcestershire.
Finally, Ben Duckett of Nottinghamshire is worth mentioning as someone who also enjoyed quite a productive 2020 Blast season with the bat, and might be worth a punt if he can replicate that again. Unfortunately, however, much like so many others on this list, he might fall victim to having so much world-class talent ahead of him in the pecking order.
We round out with six uncapped players who might, just might be in the back of someone's mind if they can unearth some form and carry it through the summer. Opening batsmen Will Jacks of Surrey, Phil Salt of Sussex, and Daniel Bell-Drummond of Kent could be there and thereabouts, with Jacks having proven hitting ability - he hit an unofficial 25-ball century in a pre-season game against Lancashire in 2019. Bell-Drummond has consistently impressed in county cricket for several seasons now, and is, in my view, long overdue an international call-up. He was the leading run-scorer in the 2020 T20 Blast too, just in case anyone needed any further convincing.
Salt, who would represent the 'and Wales' part of the ECB's full name, flourished under Jason Gillespie's coaching in Hove, and should be given his chance at the top of the order. Another batsman who merits selection is Joe Clarke, who has continued his fine form in the domestic arena too since his move from Worcestershire to Nottinghamshire after the conclusion of the 2018 campaign.
Two fast bowlers complete the longshots category, as Salt's county colleague George Garton and Warwickshire's Olly Stone come into consideration. Although uncapped in T20Is, Stone has played for England before, so the selectors are well aware of his ability. Meanwhile, Garton is a cog in a frankly scary Sussex pace battery that also includes previous entrants on this list Jofra Archer, Chris Jordan, and Tymal Mills.
Just to round-up, it is important to note that there are still three series of Twenty20s to be played by the national team before the first ball of the showpiece event is bowled in October, meaning some players could come from nowhere to force their name into consideration, and thus provide some of the excitement to the squad announcement.
I have to confess that I wasn't able to locate a definitive answer for exactly how many members each squad should contain, but given that the rules for every World T20 thus far have stipulated a squad size of 15 players, it makes sense to assume that will remain the magic number this time too. What is certain is that those 15 will be incredibly skilled, with the overwhelming amount of limited-overs talent currently available to England a huge treat for all who will watch them.
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