Jos Buttler looks set to retain his role as England’s first-choice T20I opener, despite his job swap with Ben Stokes during their IPL campaign with Rajasthan Royals, but there’s unlikely to be an immediate recall for Joe Root, according to head coach Chris Silverwood, even though he restated his value as a short-form batsman during Monday’s intra-squad warm-up in Paarl.
Speaking to PA media in the lead-up to the first of three T20Is against South Africa, Silverwood admitted he had been intrigued by Rajasthan’s manoeuvrings in the UAE last month, in which Buttler was shuffled into the finisher’s role at No.5 with Stokes promoted to open – an experiment which paid dividends with one spectacular matchwinning performance, a 59-ball hundred against the eventual champions, Mumbai Indians.
However, the pair reverted to more familiar roles while facing off for Team Buttler against Team Morgan at Boland Park, and though neither produced a score of note at 1 and 3 respectively, Silverwood said that the rejig would not “muddy the waters” for England as they continue to build towards the T20 World Cup in just under a year’s time.
“It’s great that those two guys get experience of doing different things and I don’t think it ever hurts them as players to explore different options, but it doesn’t muddy the waters at all,” Silverwood said.
“We’re pretty certain about which way we want to go and we’ll do that. We are blessed with the batsmen we’ve got here, world-class players who are capable of doing a multitude of jobs in that order.
“I know Ben was keen to do it, he’s always keen to get up the order and give it a go. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, I’d say I was glad to see him do well.”
That wealth of options at the top of England’s order is one of the reasons why Root has been omitted from each of the last two T20I squads – against Australia in September and for this three-match campaign in South Africa. Given his workload as Test captain, and his integral importance to the ODI side, the selectors have felt it would be counter-productive to keep him in the T20I bubble on a regular basis when he is not currently a first-choice pick.
Nevertheless, Root was England’s player of the tournament when they reached the final of the last World T20 in Kolkata four years ago, and he seized a rare chance to restate his T20 credentials at Paarl on Monday, scoring an unbeaten 45 from 26 balls to ease Team Buttler to victory alongside Sam Curran (45 from 18).
Following on from an unbeaten 77 in a 40-over warm-up at the weekend, Root is arguably England’s form batsman on the tour, and while Silverwood seemed to acknowledge the possibility of a T20I recall on this trip, he also insisted that the team for the opening fixture at Newlands on Friday would be drawn from the first-choice squad.
“Never say never. Everybody that’s here is an option,” Silverwood said. “We’ve got a large group of players here but do have that squad that we’ll initially pick from. If guys are here and doing well, you never know, but we picked that squad and we’ll start there.”
Olly Stone is another player who impressed in the warm-up despite not being an official part of the T20I set-up. He claimed 3 for 12 in a high-class display for Team Buttler, and given that the series is set to be dominated by quick bowlers, with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje lining up opposite Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, the re-emergence of an extra pace option is timely for the England selectors.
“It’s been great to see guys who are not in the squad coming out and saying ‘we want to be in there’,” Silverwood added.
There may yet be plenty opportunities for Root, Stone, and other fringe candidates in England’s set-up, such as the reserve batsman Tom Banton, to make their cases for the T20 World Cup, with Silverwood acknowledging the likelihood of personnel changes within England’s bio-secure bubble, with tours of India and Sri Lanka also looming in the new year.
“I am looking at the moment, for players and staff, how do we get them in and out? Where can we make gaps for them?,” he said. “There’s uncertainty around family visits so it’s about how we make the best of what we’ve got available to us. It’s something I’m scribbling away in my notebook to try and find solutions and various options to get people home to see families and keep people mentally fresh.”
The build-up to the first T20I has been overshadowed by the news of two positive Covid-19 tests within the South African camp, but all of England’s results have so far come back negative, and Silverwood is confident that the measures taken to protect the team environment in their home summer will stand up to scrutiny on tour as well.
“Our main focus is on making sure everything in our camp is in order and that we observe the rules, regulations and protocols in front of us,” he said. “Hopefully that keeps us safe. We did pretty well in the summer with it. I’ll be led by the doctors but ideal scenario is no-one gets it.”
Men’s Hundred – Eoin Morgan
Middle order failing to fire, absence of three members of Test squad, Maxwell’s relatively late withdrawal hurt winless London Spirit
But five games into their first season, the Spirit have been the Hundred’s weakest side. They are the only side in the men’s competition yet to win a game, and were thrashed in their fourth and final home fixture (one was a washout) by Northern Superchargers on Tuesday night. The table is still tight enough that they are mathematically in the running, but any realistic chances of qualifying for knockout stages have dissipated.
Their first three defeats were all tight, with each game going down to the final set of five balls. At Edgbaston, they were just short of par in setting Birmingham Phoenix 145 to win, and in the home losses against Trent Rockets and Southern Brave, they were two boundaries away from getting across the line.
“I think throughout tournaments, and group stages, you will be beaten by better sides. There are very few instances when sides go unbeaten throughout a tournament. Where the problem for us lies is that the previous two games we played, we played well for the majority but in clinical parts of the game, we didn’t finish the job and that’s hurt us.”
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of their struggles has been the fact that the squad they assembled does not look like it was built with the long term in mind. While some sides have openly admitted that their draft strategy was to assemble a group that could develop over a number of years rather than simply targeting success in the Hundred’s first season, the Spirit picked a number of veterans and looked – to borrow terminology from the NFL – like a ‘win-now’ team.
All three players were signed as part of the draft in October 2019, rather than through the separate Test player mechanism. None of them held a red-ball central contract at the time – Crawley and Lawrence were both uncapped – and while it was not out of the question that they might miss some games due to inclusion in a Test squad in future seasons, the Spirit were unfortunate to miss all three simultaneously for the majority of this year. To make matters worse, one of the two games for which Crawley and Lawrence were both available was washed out.
“I think every team has gone through it, losing players, particularly their Test guys,” Morgan said. “It’s been challenging, but other sides have found a way. We’ve recruited well, we just haven’t managed to get over the line.
“We haven’t done a lot of things wrong in the previous games that we’ve played. Every game we’d played had gone right down to the wire but to be up there with the pace, you’re doing a lot of positive things. Today [against the Superchargers], we were just beaten.”
But the upshot is that the Spirit are the first men’s team facing a post-mortem into a season that has represented something of a false start. Mason Crane and Blake Cullen have shown flickers of promise with the ball, but positives for future years have been relatively hard to come by. Warne, who missed their last two games after testing positive for Covid-19, tweeted from self-isolation that their defeats against the Rockets and the Brave had been “embarrassing” – his verdict on the season to date is unlikely to be any more favourable.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Bangladesh vs Australia T20Is, 2021
The 1994 tour to Pakistan was the last time a full series was not available to viewers in Australia
For the first time since 1994 a tour by the Australia men’s team will not broadcast into Australia after a last-minute deal failed to materialise for the rights to the T20I series in Bangladesh.
It had been hoped that in the absence of a traditional television deal the series would be streamed on YouTube but there was no live coverage into Australia.
While the occasional one-off limited-overs match has not been seen in Australia over the last few years, it is not since the 1994 tour of Pakistan that an entire series won’t have been shown.
The majority of Australia’s tours are broadcast by Fox Sports who secured the recent series against West Indies just a couple of days before it started but a similar outcome has not happened for Bangladesh.
The ongoing Olympics that is taking most of the attention, the 1am finish time of the matches in Bangladesh and the fact Australia are missing a host of first-choice players may also have been factors in the attractiveness of the series. However, it also highlights what is likely to become an increasingly challenging broadcast market, particularly for perceived lower-key tours.
The series will be the last chance for both sides to work on plans and assess players ahead of the T20 World Cup in October. It was confirmed on Monday that Bangladesh’s proposed series against England of three T20Is and three ODIs in late September had been postponed until March 2023.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
IPL 2021 – Eoin Morgan to return to Kolkata Knight Riders for second half of IPL
He says involvement of other England players in the tournament, scheduled in September-October in the UAE, was a matter of personal choice
England were due to play three ODIs and three T20Is in Bangladesh in September-October but the ECB and the BCB released statements on Tuesday morning confirming that they had “mutually decided” to postpone the tour until March 2023. The IPL is due to resume on September 19 after its postponement midway through the season earlier this year, with the tour’s postponement opening up the opportunity for England’s white-ball players to take part ahead of the T20 World Cup in the UAE.
Speaking after his London Spirit side were beaten by Northern Superchargers in the Hundred at Lord’s on Tuesday night, Morgan confirmed that he intends to return to captain the Knight Riders in the rest of the IPL, and said that the involvement of other England players with contracts in the tournament was a matter of personal choice.
“It’s a complete individual decision,” Morgan said. “I think it was a win-win either way. If we went to Bangladesh we’d play in conditions that are foreign to us. If some guys go to the IPL, they’ll play in similar conditions [to the World Cup] or for guys that need a rest, they take a rest.
“We’ve a lot of cricket to play between now and then. We’ve planned on the tour going ahead – that’s been part of our planning for a long time now – but equally, given the nature in which we now compete and live our lives, it’s not a bad thing for guys to either take time off or go to the IPL if they feel refreshed and have enough energy.”
England’s only two remaining T20I fixtures before the World Cup starts on October 17 are due to be played in Pakistan on October 14 and 15, with the ECB and the PCB both confident that the tour will go ahead. The IPL final is also due to be played on October 15, creating a possible clash for any players whose franchises reach that stage of the tournament.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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