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Just How Good Are England? part 1

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

The England test second XI

Every great side is built of strength in depth; what happens when a world beater gets injured? Just play another one. This three part series is an analysis of the true depth of England's talents in every format. In recent times the England set up has had both a pool of seasoned pros and exciting youngsters to choose from but just how good are they. Of course we start with the purest form and discuss just how good are the second string test Xi.

To start we must lay out the first XI; now this may not be everyone's first choice XI but it’s the one the selectors choose when given the choice. The openers are simply Burns and Sibley, Crawley slots in at 3 with the skipper at 4, Ben Stokes bats 5 with Pope at 6, Buttler is at 7 with the gloves with Bess at 8, Jofra at 9, Stuart at 10 and Jimmy at 11. It must be added that the choice between Jofra and Woakes was a tough one but ultimately Jofra is Jofra and is the fulcrum of English cricket's future in every format.

When deciding the second XI i based it largely off who has been in the most squads, who England like the most and who they kept in the bubble this summer. So here goes nothing.

Facing the first ball of this imaginary test we have Gloucestershire’s James Bracey. The unsung hero of the summer; Bracey probably wishes that he never made that 80 odd in the warm up game as it stripped him of a whole summer of first class cricket which would’ve been vital to his development. Strong against the quicks and a player who could take the gloves if our mainstay gets injured; Bobby Bracey is definitely one for the future and a handy player in most forms of the game. Furthermore he is seemingly the backup choice opener with him making the plane for Sri Lanka and being kept in the bubble all summer so he is the obvious choice for the opening slot.

His partner is Zak Crawley. Now hear me out, Crawley is England's first choice number 3 and their third choice opener so technically he is the second string opener. Showing promise in the position, with his 267 coming after Burns fell early, Crawley is the exact opener Trevor Bayliss would’ve wanted. A player with all the shots in the book and all the time in the world; Crawley is just very good. Of course I could wax lyrical about him all day but we all know now and I think everyone hopes he carries it on for years to come and his long levers help this England side both home and away. r

At first drop it's the god of cricket himself, mr Joe Denly. Denly is a perplexing batsmen, a batsmen who has the clear ability to score runs but for some reason felt scared to do so. I remember seeing his 94 live and thinking wow he could get 150 here before a Peter Siddle peach took his outside edge. His tour to South Africa was a time to prove himself after a ton in the warmups but he was the one negative in a widely positive tour for England. His tour was summed up by being bowled through the gate by Paterson in the final game. A number 3 who can play the strokes and dig in Denly is a truly reliable option and why he isn’t touring Sri Lanka is beyond me. He slots in at first drop.

At 4 it’s the man with the looks of a private school boy but wrists made in Mumbai, Essex’s Dan Lawrence. Anyone who has seen Lawrence bat recently will tell you just how good he is. We all know the story of him ditching his trigger movement and we can clearly see the rewards he reaped. Had it not been for a family bereavement chances are he may have played this summer in the absence of Ben Stokes. Nevertheless Lawrence is undoubtedly the next cab of the ranks and for good reason, his flick through midwicket is marvellous (among other things). Showing an appetite for runs and the ability to make 100s into big 100s Dan Lawrence is showing all the signs of being a future England great. Batting at number 4 is an ideal spot for him and honestly don’t be shocked to see him feature heavily in the winter tours.

At Number 5 we have Johnny Bairstow. What the England test side wouldn’t give to have Johnny from 2016 back but then what happens to the white ball Johnny of 2020? Bairstow is one of the finest English cricketers in recent times shown by his worldwide dominance in the shorter formats and his glimpses of brilliance in the longest. Of course the discussion about his technique is inevitable but England clearly want him back in and around the side and, whilst it does have the odor of the test side turning into a Joe Root boys club, you can see the logic and thinking behind it. However he comes in at number 5 in this side; is it too high in the order, just challenge Johnny on it and watch him score a triple hundred.

Number 6 was a tricky one because whilst I did want an all rounder Sammy Curran just simply isn’t good enough to bat at 6 (yet at least). So i’ve done a bit of rejigging to the side and Ben Foakes is going to take the gloves and be shunted up to 6. The Ben Foakes Jos Buttler debate is an exhausting one and one I'm shying away from. A hundred on debut and a player of the series award in his first test series Foakes has shown he can do it at the highest level. Dropped in the West Indies to satisfy Johnny Bairstow ahead of the world cup, Foakes has never had a good run in the test side and he absolutely deserves one. An expert with the gloves he is undoubtedly England's second choice keeper being promoted ahead of Johnny Bairstow and Ed Smith has confirmed he will be playing at some point this winter. Ben Foakes is a very good keeper and good enough to be a test batsmen and he is the number 2 and therefore he is taking the gloves in this side.

The youngest Curran slots in at number 7. On average a 4th seamer but has shown the ability to be a 3rd, and handy enough with the bat (just ask India) to slot anywhere between 6 and 8 he’s one of England's most valuable assets. Sam Curran has played some great knocks, 60 odd against Sri Lanka in 2018 and a 50 against India to drag england back into the game; Sam Curran is a solid batsmen. His bowling, as mentioned, is a touch streaky but whilst he may not be express pace his trickery and his ability to set up batsmen is very useful. His dismissal of Quinton De Kock in the 2nd test of the series stands out as a significant one in the context of the game but also a prime example of his bowling ability. Going full speed and fast at De Kock Curran then goes to a surprise slower ball that digs into the pitch, is spooned by De Kock and safely taken at mid off. Curran, I apologise in advance, makes things happen and his test skills shouldn’t go unnoticed. He is a firm part of England's future in nearly every format and especially in the longest. He is often one of the first names mentioned when discussing a replacement and i wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years time he’s still there. But for now he is the 4th seamer in the second string Xi with a bit more pressure on his batting.

At number 8 It’s Chris Woakes. Woakes is good with the bat but personally i cannot see him being better than Curran. He is better than Curran with the ball. Now there may be some complaints saying that he played the last games of the summer, but this was only in the absence of Ben Stokes and well Stokes plays above all. Anyway Woakes is a truly great cricketer, in fact he is the only player currently playing to have a 5 for a 10 for and a 100 at Lords; pretty impressive. Woakes once again showed his class in English conditions this summer being a menace with the ball extracting good seam movement as well as swing but his most notable performance was the final test in South Africa. For a long time the complaint over Woakes was his ability overseas but his new found skills with the dreaded Kookaburra has changed this tune. His control of line and length along with actually digging the ball into the surface meant Woakes had seemingly cracked overseas bowling. If Woakes cracks overseas bowling he will absolutely have a chance at opening the bowling with Broad at the Gabba later this year. The tours to India and Sri Lanka will be a real test for him with both bat and ball and could be career defining. Yet Woakes is leading the attack in this side taking the new ball and soon may be a part of the first Xi.

Coming in at number 9 is Ollie Robinson. Robinson is obviously very well thought of in the England set up. I for one was convinced he would be handed his debut in the 3rd test against the West Indies this summer (i blame the ECB posting his face all over social media for that one), but alas it never came. If this England side is serious about the Ashes, Robinson has to play against India this summer. First to rest their bowlers but second because he can be a true asset to the side. One thing Mohammed Siraj and India showed us is that express pace isn’t everything but actually immaculate line and length and building pressure is also extremely important in Australia. Robinson is the perfect man for this. A towering 6’5 and as said immaculate in line and length, another stellar year for the Sussex man will almost undoubtedly book his ticket to Australia next year. I digress, for this side Robinson is taking the new ball with Woakes and will make a pretty good job of it too, his batting isn’t half bad either with a first class hundred to his name. I want to see Robinson play for England and i firmly believe we will in the next 12 months (just hopefully not at sydney). Jack Leach is the spinner at number 10. Of course many England fans (myself included) would rather have Leach than Bess in the first choice Xi but the selectors don’t agree. Leach is a very good spinner and is undoubtedly England's best for the red ball arena. His ability to contain and his accuracy are vital elements to his success in his brief test career, 34 wickets at 29 with a 2.8 econ are very good numbers. Part of the spin trio that bowled England to a 3-0 win over Sri Lanka and a cult hero after the 2019 Ashes (as well as outbowling Nathan Lyon) he looked a sure fire England mainstay for a while. Yet an average performance on a flat one in New Zealand and then being hit with illness Leach was replaced by Bess who after very promising returns in South Africa is now England's number 8. Despite being the better spinner of the 2 Leach is kept out by his batting not being better than Bess’ which is just absurd as why sacrifice one of your crucial bowling components for a few extra runs, oh because it’s England that’s why. Yet in this side he is the front line spinner prepared to defend and attack.

Finally at number 11 is the express paceman of our side. It was a close call between Wood and Stone but it did eventually fall to Mark Wood. Wood is contagious, very rarely on a cricket field is he not smiling or providing a mood lifter to his teammates. Now as mentioned earlier this England side is gearing towards competing in Australia, and on a flat one in Perth with limited crowd and a set Smith or Labuschagne, the buoyancy of Wood could be exactly what England need to boost them. Of course Wood has other attributes for one being the fastest England bowler is a big boost, his bouncer is sharp but his stock ball is skiddy and can shock a batsman. Wood also will run on for 4-5 overs and bowl his heart out; Mark Wood wants to win England test matches and it shows. Wood is the first change seamer in this side and after Robinson and Woakes have kept things dry the batsmen will then have to attack the 96mph bullet coming for the head of stumps and ideally hole out to Joe Denly at deep square leg. Wood is not far from the England first team, especially overseas, and it’s clear to see why and as a result he makes the second string Xi.

The Xi:

  1. James Bracey

  2. Zak Crawley

  3. Joe Denly

  4. Dan Lawrence

  5. Johnny Bairstow

  6. Ben Foakes (WK)

  7. Sam Curran

  8. Chris Woakes

  9. Ollie Robinson

  10. Jack Leach

  11. Mark Wood

And so the Xi is complete. The side itself doesn’t look world beating and the batting is definitely the weakest link with the bowling actually being a formidable makeup. This side could very well compete in tough conditions and would pose a quiet threat to the current England side. If I had to choose three players to become mainstays in the test side it would be Woakes Robinson and Crawley, as an opener. So there we have the second string test Xi, let me know what you think and who would you have included? (@therunoutblog on Twitter)

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