“It’s the sort of problem that the selectors like to have” is an observation trotted out whenever a side do well with key players missing. I’m never sure whether selectors really relish this situation that much. They like to know what constitutes their best side.
But it is better to be in a “How can we possibly leave him out?” frame of mind rather than a “Who the devil can we pick?” pickle. This is where England find themselves at the moment.
The next major tournament, the World T20, takes place in March somewhere in India – we still don’t know where, which is a bit of a problem for any fans wanting to go – and England have to pick 15 players. There is plenty of competition for places. There are big players currently absent; Ben Stokes and Steven Finn would reasonably expect to be in the World T20 squad; so might Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and James Taylor.
After losing their first ODI in Dubai on 11 November England have since performed with great verve. The team are worth watching with plenty of youth, talent and smiles on parade.
They are not flawless, but they are increasingly fearless. The analysts around the world will not just be concentrating on Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Jos Buttler, but also Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Sam Billings.
Before contemplating World Cup glory, it may be time for a caveat. There are many better one-day sides around than Pakistan. They do not possess many batsmen capable of inducing insomnia among the bowling fraternity; their running between the wickets may well inflict premature baldness on their coach, Waqar Younis, and if the ball goes in the wrong direction, ie towards Sohail Tanvir, the fielding is suspect.
Even so, England have exhibited unusual confidence, not just in the way that they have played, but also in their selections for the T20 matches. They have not been shy of shuffling their pack and now the games have been won, this seems the most natural thing in the world to have done. A couple of defeats and it would have been a different matter.
Buttler’s status within the one-day set-up was confirmed when he captained the side on Friday, having been omitted on Thursday. He did not look or sound out of place as a captain behind the stumps or behind the microphone. He acknowledged some disappointment at missing the first T20.
“When you’ve been batting badly for so long you want to play all the time when you’re back in form. But I could see the bigger picture.”
Clearly he enjoyed his first taste of captaincy for a long time. “I’ve always been interested in leadership,” he said. “I’ve wondered what would happen if Eoin was injured and in just one game I’ve learned a lot.”
Buttler, whom Morgan was eager to promote to the vice-captaincy in one-day cricket, senses many parallels with his captain. “We have calm heads and we are similar in how we think about the game and in our demeanour.”
Both are committed to a free approach to white-ball cricket.
“We are retaining that fearlessness and perhaps our lack of experience is helping us,” said Buttler. “We are enjoying the big occasion.” (The last two matches with capacity crowds in Dubai have felt like big occasions.)
Buttler, however soft-spoken, will have an increasing influence on the decisions on the horizon. One of these may involve Liam Plunkett, who has taken six wickets in the two T20 matches, games he did not expect to play in. Out of the pacemen Buttler turned to him first when he needed a wicket on Friday night.
Plunkett highlights the selectorial dilemma nicely. He was left out of the Test squad for South Africa as Chris Jordan was preferred. Quite rightly, he does not completely hide his frustrations. “I’ve been here seven to eight weeks now and feel like I’ve worked hard on my game and my fitness. I feel like I’m in good nick. I’m gutted not to be going to South Africa for the Test tour. I’ll try to catch the coach later and see if I’ve done something wrong or what I need to improve upon. But you can’t dwell on it,” he said without entirely disguising that his disappointment will linger for a while.
Yet on current evidence, even if some of the UAE absentees are recalled, it seems unlikely that Plunkett will be ignored when the next white-ball squads are announced. But who will they omit in his stead? Yes, those selectors have some nice problems on the horizon.