Andrew Strauss readily admits England have been “appalling” in World Cups for the past 20 years and his efforts to change that in 2019 go as far as taking 26 county cricketers to Dubai this weekend for his North v South brainchild.
Eight of the 26 were picked via the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s most valued player ranking system and it is discovering new talent that Strauss and England head coach Trevor Bayliss hope to achieve during the series of three 50-over matches that starts on Friday.
The four most influential figures in English cricket – Strauss, Bayliss, Andy Flower and head selector James Whitaker – are in Dubai, where the South will be coached by England assistant coach Paul Farbrace and the North by bowling coach Ottis Gibson.
Keaton Jennings captains the North, James Vince the South and the players have been told it is character, as much as talent, that Strauss wants to see as he looks to widen the player pool for the World Cup in England next year.
“Never has there been a better opportunity for county cricketers to showcase their skills in front of Strauss, Whitaker, Trevor and Andy Flower,” Farbrace told The Daily Telegraph. “I have told the lads they have a brilliant chance here to play against another team that is as equally talented and it is a chance for everyone across the spectrum.
“We have told them it is not just a jolly. We have told the lads the only way we are going to find out about you is if you get in people’s faces and make it as tough as possible. That gives us a sign of their character. Trevor is as big on a person’s character as he is on their skill level.”
There is money at stake. A winner-takes-all £50,000 pot split with £10,000 for winning each game and £20,000 for the series. “It is not earth shattering in terms of Stokes and Mills’s IPL deals but for a week’s cricket out here, that is quite a decent pot of money on offer,” said Farbrace. “It all adds to the spice of it but we are just saying we want to see winners and guys play with real fight and guts as well as showing off their skills.”
The trip is useful for Bayliss, who has barely watched county cricket since he took over as England coach. Leg-spinners Josh Poysden and Mason Crane will be of particular interest to the selectors as they look to bolster England’s bare spin bowling ranks and potentially put pressure on Adil Rashid in the white-ball team.
“If we want to do well in the tournament [World Cup 2019] there is a recognition we have to do things differently to the past,” said Strauss, the England team director. “Performances in World Cups over the last 20 years have been pretty appalling. We need more of a focus on white-ball cricket throughout the game and broaden the base of players who are international-standard white-ball cricketers.”
Mark Wood will return after a long lay-off with injury, and if he emerges stronger and fitter then the whole experience will have been worth it for England given the value his pace can bring to the side.
For Vince, who scored a hundred for the South in a warm-up match, it is a chance to put last year’s disappointments behind him and re-establish his international career. Ben Duckett, who also hit a century for the North in a warm-up game on Wednesday, also has to show he has bounced back from his troubles in India.
Liam Livingstone, of Lancashire, had a wonderful Lions tour to Sri Lanka, breaking records set by Kevin Pietersen.
The series continues on Sunday in Dubai with a final match in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.