England batting fringe tinged with regret as rare chances squandered with World Cup looming

Opportunity missed:  Phil Salt did not impress enough during England’s ODI series against Bangladesh (Getty Images)
Opportunity missed: Phil Salt did not impress enough during England’s ODI series against Bangladesh (Getty Images)

The All Blacks comparison has been made often with the England men’s white-ball cricket side in recent years, the familiar refrain among those on the fringes being that breaking into it is among the more challenging tasks in world sport.

When all are fit and available — an admittedly rare occurrence — there has seldom been more than a position or two up for debate and plenty of players have shown worthy form in franchise or domestic cricket for significant periods without getting anything like a prolonged crack.

So, when opportunities in this double-world-champion set-up arise — such as those afforded to James Vince, Phil Salt and Ben Duckett in the 50-over team in recent months — they must be taken.

Neither Vince, who now leaves the camp, nor Salt, who at least still has three T20s to come in Bangladesh, managed to quite do that during England’s 2-1 series victory, the pair’s agonised reactions to dismissals after making starts in yesterday’s Third ODI telling of a chance squandered.

Duckett, after scores of three, 20 and nought, will have flown away from the tour of South Africa earlier this year with similar regret.

With Jonny Bairstow still injured, Joe Root otherwise engaged, Ben Stokes (at least temporarily) and Eoin Morgan (most definitely) retired, the two series were billed as a chance for those referenced as evidence of England’s enviable batting depth to put proof to the claim. Instead, it is the tried and tested who have emerged with their places more secure.

Across 11 ODI innings in 2023, Duckett, Salt, Vince and Will Jacks, perhaps unfairly grouped with that trio, having played in Bangladesh as an all-rounder but, long-term, a contender to go up the order, managed just 153 runs between them. Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Dawid Malan and even Moeen Ali have each scored more on their own in only six knocks apiece.

Only Harry Brook’s 80 in Bloemfontein, sandwiched between failures in his debut series, could be considered an innings of substance by one of the hopefuls, and such has been the Yorkshireman’s impact in Test and T20 forms that, of that group, he was by some margin least in need of one.

The upshot is that, assuming fitness, England’s 15-man World Cup squad — to be named by the time they next play an ODI, against New Zealand in September — is taking clearer shape than one might have assumed this far out.

When opportunities in this double-world-champion set-up arise, they simply must be taken

Twelve players — Roy, Bairstow, Root, Malan, Buttler, Brook and Moeen, as well as bowlers Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Sam Curran, Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes — look certainties to go to India. Given the way he bowled in South Africa and the tantalising prospect of having three 90mph quicks to rotate, Olly Stone must be confident, too.

That would leave just two places, reduced to one in an instant were Stokes to make himself available. One will surely go to a spinning all-rounder, while the other will depend upon balance and seems a straight choice between an extra seamer or a spare bat.

Given Liam Livingstone, injured since the Pakistan Test tour before Christmas, can effectively fill two of those three roles on his own, the Lancashire man looks to be in the box seat and young Rehan Ahmed and Jacks may have to wait their time.

Going down the extra bowler avenue would make room for both Stone and Reece Topley, but even a bias towards the batting would not guarantee any of Duckett, Salt and Vince a shirt, knowing the Alex Hales option remains on the table.