T20 Blast: England Hopefuls.
The Blast is here. The love child of the modern traditionalist the Vitality Blast is for many the highlight of the English summer. With fans finally allowed back to cricket, albeit, in massively reduced numbers, the 18 counties will be licking their lips at the chance of high ticket sales and getting some cash in pocket. For nearly 2 decades now the Blast has been the feeder for the England T20i side and this year is no different so who can stake a claim for a chance in that inflated squad this winter?
Before we go over who can prove their worth to Eoin Morgan we must first look at where, in my opinion, England can make changes. For me, there are a few key areas where England need to strengthen and these are the 2nd spinner, a death overs specialist and a number 6 (preferably an all-rounder). I go into more depth about some of these areas in my post “Where Now?” (Linked at the bottom of this post) which was a reflection on the England vs India T20i series, but here I am going to discuss who I believe can realistically make the team come the winter.
Moeen Ali is not a spinner; not even in T20 cricket is Moeen Ali a spinner. Instead, Moeen is a top-order batter who can be used to fill an over in the power play and for very specific matchups. With a T20 World Cup in India, a second spinner is a necessity for any chance of success England are going to have. Englands first-choice spinner is Adil Rashid who on his day is worth 2 spinners by himself with his flight deception and changeups being able to bamboozle any batsmen (who can forget Kohli's face). However, Rashid has shown that he has off days where teams can punish him and England don’t have a backup at this point. So who are England’s options for the second spinner role?
The obvious choice is Matt Parkinson, the best domestic white-ball bowler who isn’t in the first choice Xi. Parkinson spins it more than anyone but also bowls slower than anyone and when he goes to the World Cup he should be used fleetingly on wickets where it is slow and low and batters won’t be looking to take him on. In the smaller venues with less in the pitch, Parkinson will be in danger of being taken apart by some of the worlds best players of spin. However, I cannot see a world in which Parkinson is not a part of the squad so who are those who can grab and challenge him.
Well for this I’ve got 2: Mason Crane and Danny Briggs. Both have already played for England in the shortest format so there is no issue there and both are also superb spinners who offer something different.
When Crane debuted for England he was young and a slight bit more expensive than he is now. However, his T20 record is one that impresses, with Crane claiming 45 wickets at 20 apiece whilst going at just a tick over 7 runs per over. Crane has had a superb start to the season and if he carries it on then he will play himself back into the thoughts of the selectors (whoever they are). Crane is a young leggie and much like Parkinson he could well get taken apart but he has shown the unquantifiable ability to come back after being hit and produce something special. Crane is also one of the smarter bowlers going which is a skill often overlooked in T20 cricket with him offering something similar to Rashid with
Briggs is in a different mould to Crane with the Warwickshire bowler offering more of a low economy than wicket-taking ability. Briggs is well known for hitting the good spots and eliminating each batters main scoring areas. Briggs has an impressive domestic record, especially over recent years and any Sussex fans will tell you just how big a loss it was when he decided to leave. There is a very strong argument to be made for the lack of use in a containing spinner in the shortest format as A- good players will find a way to score against your best ball and B- bowling tight just gives world-class players a chance to build a platform and see themselves in before the death overs where they inevitably increase their scoring. However, if Briggs can tie his economical bowling with the wicket-taking ability he will almost certainly be a part of the team.
England struggled big-time at the death this winter with the likes of Kohli, Pant and Pandya taking them apart more than once. England's main struggles came from Chris Jordan and Tom Curran both of whom are primarily Yorker bowlers at the death a skill which when it pays off is extremely valuable but when it doesn’t it is one of the most expensive balls out there. England already have 2 death overs sorted with Jofra Archer and arguably they have 2 more sorted with Sam Curran but having a death overs specialist would allow Morgan to give the former of these 2 more overs up top where he is alongside Shaheen Shah Afridi as the best new-ball bowler in the world. But who should England be keeping an eye on?
Obviously, Saqib Mahmood is a solid outside bet but he isn’t exactly a death overs specialist yet England could use him as one. Mahmood is a classic T20 quick with him taking 2 up top and 2 at the death though in the PSL this role changed slightly. Mahmood started taking more overs in the middle and as a reset of this, he looked more warmed up and in rhythm when it came to the final 5 overs of the innings. Mahmood is a king of reversing the white ball especially back into the right-hander's something that would make him of extreme value to England on the dusty wickets of India and like Briggs and Crane Mahmood has already made his debut so again there are no worries on this front. A good season overall should make England strongly consider taking the Lancashire quick to India but a good season at the death means that he could well be in that starting Xi.
Now I simply couldn’t mention a death overs specialist without mentioning Pat Brown. Brown burst onto the scene in 2018 and carried on his stellar form into 2019 consistently impressing at the death with his slower balls and more notably his almost unpickable knuckleball. The knuckleball quickly became Browns (and Worcestershire’s) most valuable weapon as it would serve up batsmen a severe lack of pace (often clocking in the mid to high 60s) and huge dip in the air. Whatever standard of cricket you play this is a deadly weapon to have. Brown is one of the best death bowlers in the country and impressed when he went away with England before picking up an unfortunate injury though this season he is making his comeback and could well book himself a ticket to India.
(Stats nerds fear not I’m working on the presumption Tymall Mills is already on the plane)
England needs a solid number 6 with the rest of the top 5 almost picking itself and Sam Curran slotting in at 7. They’ve tried having Ben Stokes at 5 with Eoin Morgan in this spot but Stokes is quite simply not good enough in either department to justify his inclusion and realistically if he is playing he should be in the top 3. Moeen Ali is an option here, but building a team around Moeen at 3 can make England strong favourites going Into this tournament. Preferably this spot will be filled by an all-rounder who can throw down some overs and score quickly at the end but who are the choices?
Before I delve into my more genuine picks, a quick ode to Ed Pollock here who despite not being an all-rounder has a scoring rate that is just impossible to not be drawn towards. Pollock has a T20 SR of 167.6 from 34 matches but this is just the start of his story. Pollock's underlying performance numbers are all kinds of ridiculous with his boundary percentage being 26 whilst his 6% if 10.88 and his 4% 15.74. Pollock is an elite boundary hitter and finds the fence as often as some of the greatest T20 players in history. Whilst he is a top-order batter for Warwickshire the thought of him blasting 30 off 10 in a World Cup semi-final for England is something that the stats obsessed part of me simply cannot overlook. Naturally, Pollock has his weaknesses and his lack of franchise cricket means he has not been exposed to different types of bowling such as high-class spin (which he struggles against normally) but even if his numbers dropped off he would still be sitting with the best of them. Look he won’t play but just keep an eye on the 25-year-old as he could do something special this summer.
Liam Livingstone is one of the best options out there and anyone inside the ‘stats community’ (or anyone who bothers to research) would tell you that he is both one of Englands fastest starters and best six hitters against all kinds of bowling. Livingstone is a power-hitting of the highest degree with his favoured shot being taking any ball on any line miles into the leg side. He isn’t the most elegant but a fully flowing Livingstone can take apart any bowler in the world. He isn’t a bad bowler either and a combination of him and Moeen can make up Englands 5th bowling choice. The issue with Livingstone is that he opens for Lancashire so having him down the order would be foreign however if he continues to impress as he has done for so long the selectors surely cannot ignore him any longer?
Lewis Gregory is my other choice for the finisher's role. Of course, my Brisbane Heat bias is coming into play here but his numbers during his time in teal were superb and his individual performances were a large part of the Heats late-season resurgence. Gregory can fill in two roles for England offering death hitting and effective bowling in the middle overs; especially on wickets that will take grip and turn. By doing this England are able to use Adil Rashid in the power play a plan which worked to good effect vs India with some of his best overs of the tour happening in that phase of the game. Gregory is also batting down the order for Somerset meaning that this role won’t be unfamiliar to him and he understands what he needs to do. Having already been involved in squads for all 3 formats of the game and captaining the Lions squad last year in Australia Gregory is clearly rated by the setup and if he can have good returns for his county at number 7 then he will be in the squad once again.
Overall England do have a superb squad already but they can strengthen it they just need the right players to perform. Of course the drop off from the blast to international cricket especially a T20i WC in India is huge however it is the best they can do. If England can get those spots sorted by the end of the summer, they stand a real chance at winning the lot and becoming the First Nation to hold both ICC white ball trophies simultaneously. Do you agree with my picks? I have left someone out who you think could shock us all? Let me know on Twitter @therunoutblog1!
(Honourable mentions go to Will Jacks, Dan Moriarty and Liam Dawson.)