The England Cricket team are well into their tour of South Africa, and their first test match is just around the corner. The Boxing Day test versus South Africa in Durban is sure to be a cracker of a match. Both sides will be looking to make a point to the cricketing world, especially South Africa, who, following a 3-0 drubbing against India in their last series, will look to bounce back on home soil. With the test in Durban being the first of a four-test match series, Head of Sport Matt Bullin takes a look at the England squad and gives his opinion on what England’s starting XI should be (in batting order).
1. Alastair Cook (Captain)
After a tortuous few years Alastair Cook finally found form in the 2015 Ashes- and he has hasn’t looked back since. England’s captain and leading test run scorer, coming off the back of a personally successful tour of the UAE in which he scored a sublime knock of 263, as well as 460 runs (in total) in the three test series, will look to continue that form in South Africa. With his batting undoubtedly back to his best, his captaincy has also improved vastly in the last year or so. Often criticised for his traditional ‘English schoolboy’ style of captaincy, the last twelve months have shown that he is now able to take advice from his senior players, and put some more experimental fields or tactics in place.
2. Alex Hales
The Nottinghamshire opener has been knocking at the test side’s door for some time now. Already an established one-day player for England, in both formats, and having scored his maiden ODI ton versus Pakistan- he should be confident. He has already shown his ability to adapt his technique after he was slightly ‘found out’ against Australia, something that the previous members of the England opening test batsmen conveyor-belt were unable to do as quickly or as positively. He has waited patiently for his chance and I for one, believe he is ready to make the step up into the test arena.
3. James Taylor
Another Notts man, Taylor has arguably impressed even more than Hales did in the UAE. Taylor for one, made a test appearance for England- a chance Hales was denied. Making an assured 76 in the final test of the tour, cementing his place in the one day side in which he further pushed for a place in the test side, averaging 74.5 in the ODI series. Despite traditionally batting at number four or five for his county, I see no reason why he can’t make the jump to three- having proved he is more than capable of coming in early in the innings, as well as ploughing on once a foundation has been set. Taylor, a man that has often been overlooked by the England selectors is finally getting his chance, and scoring a century in the first warm up game versus a South Africa invitational XI he’s clearly looking to grasp it with both hands.
4. Joe Root (Vice-captain)
The first name on everyone’s team sheet. Since he was pushed down the order after a brief (and unsuccessful) spell opening, he has been in truly tremendous form. With one test match to go he has already broken his country’s record for international runs (all formats) in a calendar year, and has been England’s go to man in a crisis over the last twelve months. With Captain Cook trusting him more and more, Root will only grow as a tactician and as a batsman.
5. Jonathan Bairstow
Jonny Bairstow had a fantastic domestic season for Yorkshire in 2015, scoring over 1000 runs in the Championship as well as improving his wicket-keeping tenfold. But it was the runs that helped him regain his England place after a few years out of the side, filling in for Jos Buttler admirably with the gloves. A man that has rarely disappointed for England, despite a fairly modest average of 26.4 after 20 test matches, he will be hoping to cement his position in England’s test middle-order.
6. Ben Stokes
After a fairly indifferent few months with the bat and a nasty shoulder injury, Stokes burst back onto the scene with a devastating unbeaten 158 off just 129 balls in England’s first warm up game, waving away any worries that his shoulder injury may be hampering his performance. Still just 24 years old, he has already showed the potential to fill England’s treasured all-rounder roll, and if he continues to improve his temperament in both disciplines there is no doubt he can be a star for England for years to come.
7. Jos Buttler (Wicket keeper)
Another man who has come back into form after a dry spell with the bat, his magnificent, match-winning 116* of just 52 balls (10x4s, 8x6s) in the final ODI against Pakistan won England the match and ultimately the series. With that knock as well as a timely 49* in the previous ODI, Buttler showed glimpses of returning to form with the bat. His wicket keeping is improving all the time, but he’ll be out to impress with Bairstow eagerly waiting in the wings.
8. Moeen Ali
In the UAE the pitch conditions meant England had to use two spinners in their side, with the pitches most probably being much greener and less likely to deteriorate over the five days in South Africa, just one spinner will be needed. So unfortunately for Adil Rashid, he misses out on the tour all together with Moeen Ali being the preferred choice for his match experience in Tests, more controlled and consistent bowling and handy lower order batting. While Rashid gets some valuable T20 experience in the Australian BBL, Ali will get the chance to prove why he’s England’s current number one spinner.
9. Stuart Broad
With 21 wickets Broad was England’s leading wicket taker in the 2015 Ashes, including that historic 8-15 at Trent Bridge. Despite not continuing his wicket-taking form he still bowling superbly, showing great maturity and control to keep the economy rates down on the dead UAE pitches, again proving why he still leads England’s bowling attack. With some presumably more bowler friendly pitches in South Africa, Broad will be looking to pick up where he left off in the Ashes and get stuck into a resolute South African batting line up, particularly after impressing in the warm up games so far, taking 3-18 against the first warm up game vs SA Invitational XI.
10. James Anderson
England’s leading all-time test match wicket taker in all formats of the game, James Anderson has spearheaded England’s attack for the last five years. And he also showed, along with Broad, why he should retain his spot, taking 13 wickets in the UAE, as well as showing control and temperament bowling on the flat pitches. One weapon largely absent from his armoury in the UAE: swing. But conditions in South Africa will be much more swing friendly, allowing him to utilise his skill with the swinging ball, meaning Anderson will be even more of a threat than he was against Pakistan.
11. Steven Finn
Steven Finn was a late addition to the England touring squad following a speedy return from injury, and he immediately made a strong claim for a spot in the test side with sparkling figures of 4-34 in the second warm up game. Finn is already an established member of the England limited overs sides, but a mixture of injury and loss of form has kept him out of the test set up since he initially burst onto the test scene in 2010. Having done reasonably well when called upon over the summer, he’ll look to cement his place in the test side if given the chance.