As a package it looks as promising as one arriving on your birthday. There is no world-class spinner in England’s 15-man squad for the Champions Trophy, but otherwise, owing partly to home advantage, they can be rated as strong as any of the eight contenders.
The special ingredient in England’s solitary global prize, the World T20 of 2010 in Barbados, was Graeme Swann, whose four overs in the final cost only 17 runs. They were aided by Australia’s strategy, which had their captain Michael Clarke, never a T20 batsman, come in at No 3 and block Swann, while their prodigious hitters went almost unused.
As a pair of spinners however, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are not far short of Swann and Mike Yardy, whose three overs in that World final were so expensive, costing 34 runs, that he was not called on for a fourth.
England’s squad for this Champions Trophy, which will pe played from June 1-18, was announced at Edgbaston in an executive room overlooking the pitch where England lost the final of the 2013 Champions Trophy, out-spun by India on what was as near as Britain gets in early summer to a raging turner.
England have to be better prepared this time, not only because has it been a dry spring but also because the International Cricket Council will take control of Cardiff, Edgbaston and the Oval a fortnight before the tournament, and their groundsmen will not risk the wrath of India by preparing green seamers.
In the one selection issue, Jake Ball was selected as the final seamer in the squad ahead of Steven Finn, who has to be content with a place in the 14-man squad to play two one-day internationals against Ireland on May 5 and 7. “Variation,” was the bald explanation which England’s chairman of selectors James Whitaker gave for the preference of Ball.
This is fair enough though. Finn did a good new-ball job in England’s last one-day series in the West Indies, but the standard of the opposing batsmen was pitiful: perhaps only Jonathan Charles would have been in a full-strength team, supposing the moon had turned blue and the West Indies board and selectors had condescended to pick the best available.
Finn did what he did well, after Ball had injured himself in the warm-ups, but one trick was sufficient for the West Indies to give away their wickets.
Ball can do a little more with a new ball than Finn, and a lot more with an old one, such as cutters and slower-ball bouncers. England have two opening bowlers, in Chris Woakes and David Willey, so Ball could replace one of them; and he can cover for the older-ball pace bowlers, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood, in addition to Ben Stokes.
Above all, Ball can attack and pick up wickets – 12 in only six ODIs to date – which is the radical difference in strategy from England’s traditional one-day teams, who specialised in containment. Eoin Morgan’s sides plan to bowl their opponents out, with Woakes and Willey swinging the new ball, Plunkett banging it in (although he has acquired more tricks than that), Wood steaming in with his 90mph pace – provided his groin has mended – and Rashid tossing up the ball and turning it both ways.
In one department England are indisputably the strongest of the eight countries: they have wicketkeepers in Jos Buttler and Sam Billings and Jonny Bairstow. Buttler is unchallenged as No 1, but as he will be participating in the Indian Premier League along with Stokes and Woakes next week, he will miss the two games against Ireland.
Whitaker stated that Billings would keep then, to “showcase his skills to his captain” while Bairstow plays as a batsman. Both however would be in contention were Buttler injured during the Champions Trophy.
England can change their squad before May 25, although Whitaker stressed that even if Ben Duckett “scored 150” in both games against Ireland he would not break into the Champions Trophy squad. Thereafter an ICC technical committee has to agree that a replacement is being summoned because a squad player is injured, not for tactical reasons. Whitaker did not nominate any reserves but Liam Dawson, as the reserve spinner, Duckett as reserve batsman, and Finn will eye their mobiles.
England 14-man squad versus Ireland, Royal London ODI Series
Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) (Capt.) Moeen Ali (Worcestershire) Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire) Jake Ball (Nottinghamshire) Sam Billings (Kent) Ben Duckett (Northamptonshire) Steven Finn (Middlesex) Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire) Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire) Adil Rashid (Yorkshire) Joe Root (Yorkshire) Jason Roy (Surrey) David Willey (Yorkshire) Mark Wood (Durham).
England 15-man squad versus South Africa, Royal London ODI Series and the ICC Champions Trophy
Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) (Capt.) Moeen Ali (Worcestershire) Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire) Jake Ball (Nottinghamshire) Sam Billings (Kent) Jos Buttler (Lancashire) Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire) Liam Plunkett (Yorkshire) Adil Rashid (Yorkshire) Joe Root (Yorkshire) Jason Roy (Surrey) Ben Stokes (Durham) David Willey (Yorkshire) Chris Woakes (Warwickshire) Mark Wood (Durham).